In The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, Watts describes that it is impossible to explain in English, all that is Zen. In fact, the Zen masters explain that Zen is beyond words. He describes how most Japanese Zen masters do not even try to “explain” Zen. He admits that although his Western background and his attempt to explain Zen in words by definition fails to capture the true core essence of Zen. However, he argues that because he lives between both worlds, he is able to describe Zen in words much more clearly than the masters might imagine.
That’s what I think about the good books about Japan written by non-Japanese. Japanese often don’t explain context or pretend that everyone knows what is going on. I think this leads to a lot of misunderstanding and the development of unspoken rules and culture shared only be small groups of people hidden in most part from the public. Publishers in Japan are also very sensitive about publishing books about taboo subjects in Japanese.
Chokei said, “Even if the arhat (an enlightened one) were to have evil desires, still the Tathagata (Buddha) does not have two kinds of words. I say that the Tathagata has words, but no dualistic words.” Hofuku said, “Even though your say so, your comment is not perfect.” Chokei asked, “What is your understanding of the Tathagat’s words?” Hofuku said, “We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!” Hofuku did not give his friend an answer, because it is impossible to give a verbal interpretation of our way. Nevertheless, as a part of their practice these two good friends discussed the Bodhisattva’s way, even though they did not expect to find a new interpretation. (Suzuki, 1982 p.54 – 55)
Ito, J. (2010, February 24). Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein [Review of the book Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein]. Joi Ito’s Web. Retrieved from http://joi.ito.com/weblog/2010/02/24/tokyo-vice-an-a.html
Suzuki, S. (1982) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Tokyo: John Weatherhill, Inc.
toyokan towers on guard in the fog. Taken on June 1st, 2009.
Woke up in time today for the twice-monthly 6 AM zazen session at our local temple. Zazen is a form of meditation and life attitude that is most closely tied to buddhism, but is really religion independent and open to anyone.
The way these work is you show up a little before 6; at which time the temple has the sort of peaceful, bordering on holy serenity that any building has at that hour or in the morning.
Remove your shoes at the entrance and then your socks too, before you enter the main room. Immediately after entering you’re supposed to bow and then walk with your left hand in a fist near your sternum and and your right hand wrapped around the outside of it.
Walk to a pillow and bow again to the room and anyone else who may already be there. Then, turn towards your pillow and bow one more time, before sitting in your meditational position. Pro’s use the lotus, amateurs like me stick to seiza.
At least those are most of the steps you are supposed to complete in roughly the correct order.
At 6 the monk walks silently into the room and rings a bell.
Then it’s just you, your thoughts and whatever pain creeps into your leg in the next 45 minutes.
Ideally I believe you’re supposed to have a clear “mind like water” type deal and “let go.” I’m not quite there yet, but I still find the time worthwhile though I could not really articulate to you, why.
Afterwards the monk rewards you with matcha – the best tea I’ve ever tasted – accompanied by some sort of sweets. Today it was anko. It’s almost as good as mom’s snack she made for you when you got back from grade school.
An interesting twist that quite surprised me was that smoking in that room and everywhere except the main room in the temple is daijoubu, or OK. That blew my mind.
The other morning meditator left fairly quickly for his reasons, so that left me alone for a while to converse with the monk. I asked him what age he became a monk, he said something about studying something in college but not finding his heart in it and then starting his training at age 23 at Eiheji, the “Temple of Eternal Peace.”
Then, he hobbled into another room [he's been in and out of hospitals for months now with foot problems] he came back with a book written partially in English about the Temple with pictures.
As I was looking through the shots of exactly what I’d imagine a zen temple to look like he came back with another older book about the same temple, that featured a shot of him as a young man.
He said the men in training get up every morning around 4. Mediate for an hour, do work for two hours and then eat breakfast. They were only allowed to talk during certain specific break times, but not at morning or night. He did this for three years from ages 23 to 26.
Seeing I was interested in reading more about the temple, he said I could keep the book.
It has this entry about his temple’s founder Zen Master Dogen.
He “lost his mother at the age of 8. With the awareness of impermanence he became a Buddhist monk at Yokawa of Mt. Hiei when he was 13 … at 24 years of age he went to China … at Mt. Tien-tung [he] attained his enlightenment … In 1227 he returned home … It was 1244 when he built a temple called Daibutsuji and later changed the name of this temple to Eiheiji … the Eiheiji now has 15000 daughter temples and 8 million laities.”
If you’re interested in more information on the temple, I found this video insightful.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDuePyaEBFc&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0&border=1]