Friday, April 29, 2005

Children, Tour Groups and Temples

Here are a few photos that show the part of temple visiting which, I must say, I enjoy. The children are obviously curious about me and given half a chance they start to ask questions and we get into conversations, all be it simple ones.

We visited Todaiji on a Saturday, the children were in their uniforms non the less. The park around Todaiji is famous for its tame, cheeky, deer. School children often wear their uniforms outside of school time, girls wear a variety of sailor suit uniforms and boys uniforms are modeled on Prussian Army uniforms. There is an explanation....

There is a large hole in one of the pillars at Todaiji which is large enough for children to crawl through. If you can go through it you will have good health, so it is said.

Tour group on Mt. Hiei, note the woman out front with the flag.

Tour groups as we have known them. This time at the famous 'Golden Pavilion', Ginkakuji , Kyoto.

Largest Wooden building...

Being inside this huge building in the presence of the huge Buddha and several other immense statues is something that cannot be described. As with several other temples we visited in Kyoto and Nara there is simply no explaining the profound effect of these ancient places.

This is said to be the largest wooden hall in the world and even so it is just one third of its original size. The other two thirds were on the width. It houses a huge statue of Virocana Buddha.

This is a copy of a photograph showing a large ceremony in progress in the 1980's. It give one an idea of the scale of this temple.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Zuikoji, Seki, Mie-ken, Kansai.

This was our first visit of the day, the second one being Umpukuji in the afternoon.

The priest came and picked us up from the station in his car and was able to fit us into his busy schedule for a two hour visit. Zuikoji was the family temple of Suigan Yogo Roshi and now is run by his son and his wife. (Priests of the Soto School in Japan may marry unlike the priest in our Order.)

Suigan Roshi helped Rev. Master Jiyu with making translations of a number of chapters of the Shobogenzo both while she was living at Sojiji and also when she moved to Umpukuji. These temples are about ten miles distant from each other.

While visiting here Iain and I were each given a fan with calligraphy done by Suigan Roshi which we will both treasure.

The temple gardener was putting up a prop for a tree limb in danger of falling down and breaking. Helping elderly trees in this way is common practice in Japan.

The main hall at Zuiko-ji. Rev. Master Jiyu would often walk over to Zuiko-ji from Umpuku-ji, a distance of about ten miles, to assist Yogo Roshi during large ceremonies.

Thought somebody might like to see a close up of the precentors chair.

Soon after we arrived Rev. Yogo's wife served tea and brought out the family photo albums for us to look at. There was a very moving photograph of his father, when Abbot of Sojiji, dressed in full ceremonial robes extending his hand in greeting to his wife. She was wearing a blue-green small kesa much like the ones the Lay Ministers wear in our Order (Order of Buddhist Contemplatives).

While exploring the family photo albums this splendid formal portrait of Suigan Yogo Roshi was found. Towards the end of his life he was Abbot of Sojiji. He died about a month after Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett in late 1996.

Found in the family album. Koho Zenji in the center and Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett in the third row directly behind Koho Zenji. Photo taken at Sojiji. Yogo Roshi is in the photo too we think.

Suigan Roshi and his wife taken outside of Zuiko-ji.

Rev. Yogo (son of Suigan Yogo Roshi) with his son, wife, gardener and Mugo...taken outside of Zuiko-ji.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

One of a series of posters found on Japanese trains and stations. Neat!


On the second to last day of visiting Dharma relatives and temples associated with my spiritual ancestry we visited the temple where Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett spend a few years running a temple in the small village of Hagino in Mie-ken. It is just off highway 43, 10 km NW of Tsu.

The village Head Man met our bus at the highway on his bike and escorted us through the rice fields to the temple.
This was the smallest temple visited so far and it was beautiful! I can understand why Rev. Master liked it so much.

Outside the temple.
The statue on the altar is a Kanzeon.

Main Altar.
The building was in good repair and obviously loved and cared for by the congregation.

View of the main altar from the kitchen.
The village Head Man had arranged for nine of the congregation and the local Tendai priest to meet us at the temple. It was quite a shock to walk in and find them all sitting in a row waiting in anticipation. We talked for a while then it was clear we were expected to do a ceremony so we sang the The Scripture of Great Wisdom in English followed by an offertory. At the end the priest gave me a small fan to extinguish the candles which seemed to be some kind of honour being proffered. Afterwards we all had tea and cakes. Conversation was not easy however the general impression we got was of being very welcome. One member had brought a bound copy of the village record book which had a photograph of Rev. Master in it.

For me this was the most moving visit made on this tour as it brought me close to knowing how it was for Rev. Master to function as a parish priest in Japan.

The reception committee.

We talked...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Every Day, is Every Day.

And then there are the people who do the hard work sweeping up the fallen leaves and petals.

There is a saying in Zen Buddhism which goes "Every day is a good day". Ms. Yoko, who we met for lunch yesterday in Nagoya, remembered her teacher Yogo Roshi saying "Every day is every day"!

The late Yogo Roshi was one of Rev. Master's Jiyu Kennett's Dharma teachers when she was in Japan.

Let There be Serenity.

This is the best I can do for today.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Yes, mopping the platform!

Seen at Nagoya station while waiting for the shinkansen ("bullet train") this afternoon.

Back to the Robinson Household.

You may have read in the news that there was a serious train crash in Japan in which 50 people died. Thankfully Iain and I arrived back safely to be met at the station by Edera who had come in the car to pick us up. While we were traveling these past 9 days Edera has been invaluable, if not essential, to the smooth flowing of our travels. Many thanks Edera, we could not have done it without you.

It is good to be back to daily life in the Robinson household where Edera teaches English to school children in the living room, which is converted to a school room when the youngsters are here. Tonight three teenage boys were sharpening their English skills on me, "where do you come from?", "who do you most admire?", "what is your favourate food"? etc. Ordinary life in this home is a good counterpoint to the encounters of the past days where we have been sitting drinking tea and eating cake in awe inspiring circumstances. Not in my wildest imaginings did I think there would be such a wonderful welcome given in temples and by senior monks in the Soto Zen School. Not to mention the individuals, lay and monastic, who showed such kindness in so many practical ways.

I will not write much more now as it is time to take a bath and get a good nights sleep.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Mind a Blank.

During the day as I get on and off buses, walk round temples, eat meals etc. small events catch my attention and I think 'now that would be good to write about', however now faced with the blank mind goes blank!

Being in the presence of 1001 statues of Kanzeon and about that many school children was interesting and memorable. The power of that many images of Kanzeon completely over-took everything else going on in the hall. It was deeply moving.

Sitting gazing out across raked gravel and rocks at Ryoanji's famous zen rock garden was equally moving. There is no explaining it, I could have sat there all day even with the crowds rising and falling around me.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Eiko the Cook.

You might want to go and read one of the comments attached to the posting titled Eiko. Edera, Iains wife, kindly translated a posting Eiko had put on her blog around the time we had lunch at her place. Eiko is a cook we might want to take example from in terms of her attitude of mind as well as her wonderful ability to make food that feeds not only the body.

Up a Mountain.

While the destination(s) each day are significant in that they are temples where my spiritual ancestors took important steps in their lives, the journey there holds or contains important steps in my life. Today was no exception.

We pointed ourselves at Mt Hiei rising 4000 ft. out of the valley where Kyoto spreads itself. Dogen Zenji was ordained on this mountain at Enrakuji as a boy of about 12. We saw the ordination platform where this took place, it being perhaps the oldest building on the mountain. There were a vast number of buildings, many steps up and down, all the while a huge bell was being rung by devout pilgrims. Sitting by the ordination platform one got a sense of our tradition stretching back into distant time, to China and India where the Buddha taught over 2500 years ago. Yes, certainly a deep sense of continuity shown, or connected with, on todays journeying.

One thinks of a mountain of that size as being bare at the top with rock outcrops, not so with Mt. Hiei. We took a somewhat unusual route by bus and train and then two separate cable car rides. And temples! There are several temples scattered in the heavily forested hill side, but we had come in via the 'back door'. Following a party of pilgrims we found ourselves at the very top of the mountain scrambling on uneven ground, nothing dangerous by the way. Eventually we caught up with the party and since they knew the way we walked into the first temple via the ancestors grave yard, very impressive.

Later in town we went to Kennin-ji, a Rinzai temple near the centre of Kyoto, where Dogen departed from to travel to China with Myozen when he was 21. While we were on the tour a young monk ran after us saying "Dragon ceiling" and proceeded to escort us to the hall where indeed there were dragons painted on the ceiling, very impressive. It was the first time we encountered Zen gardens and I must say I really like them! Watch out for pictures when we get a chance to publish them next week.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Kosho-ji, Uji.

Hi there. It is raining to-day and I felt like I needed a rest...however we took off late from the Hostel for Uji. Uji is sort of the green tea capital of Japan, from the train we saw rows of tea bushes and I'm growing used to drinking green tea. The green tea ice cream is growing on me, as it were!

At Kosho-ji Zen Master Dogen wrote some of his major works notably Fukanzazengi, and about half of the Shobogenzo as well as Daishingi and Gakudoyojinshu. I will type some information I was given while at the temple:

"Dogen returned to Japan at the age of 28, and first of all returned to the temple Kennin-ji (we will visit there tomorrow I think), but later moved to live alone in a tiny dwelling. To this place came many disciples and from this humble beginning developed the temple of Kosho-ji. During a period of 11 years of staying at Kosho-ji temple, Dogen strove to expound the principles of Buddhism, not only by direct teaching but also from four important books....." (which are list above)

Latter in the information is the following:
"The temple has endeavored to follow and expound the Zen Buddhist teachings of Dogen and today this temple continues in this tradition. In the present difficult situation fo japanese Buddhism, this temple edeavors to continue to be true to the essence of Dogen's interpretation of Zen Buddhism, and to exist as a Buddhist temple rather than as a tourist showplace".

I was amazed that it was possible to walk into the shrine for Dogen, offer incense and make bows. This temple was very much 'alive' with practice and it did indeed feel like a temple rather than, as they put it, a tourist showplace. The setting was amazing, it being up in a wooded valley away from the town, fresh grean trees in every direction. There were four monks going about their work, one was mending the paper on the sliding doors that act as walls as well as doors in Japanese buildings . We left them as they were having a tea break in the kitchen which was equiped, from what I could see through the door, in a traditional temple way.

That's about it for to-day. My one hour of free internet access is almost up and it is time to get back to the Hostel. Thank you to all of you who write comments, it is good to know you are there traveling along side. Now who is going to be the brave person to add there photograph to their Blogger ID. Adrienne, how about it?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

In Kyoto.

Just landed in Kyoto and this computer is in the dining room of the Hostel where I have a room for four nights. Thankfully there is not a que behind me to use the computer so I have taken this opportunity to catch up with email and to check the Blogger. As it is late I'll not attempt to write in detail but just give you the event that stands out in my mind for each day since last writing.

Raigakuji, Koho Zenji's temple. Eating dinner informally in the temple kitchen with Misawa Roshi who revealed the year of his birth. Iain and I spent the next ten minutes doing silent mental arithmatic and both coming to the conclusion that he had to have made a mistake. He looked at least 20 years younger. We did a memorial for Koho Zenji at his grave marker both in Japanese and then in English.

Yokoji, the temple where Koho Zenji was ordained and at one time was Abbot, the 512th! For Iain seeing Keizans grave, yes Keizan died here at this temple. For me, gulp, it was celebrating morning service chanted in Japanese. That came about by my saying 'yes' to what I thought was an invitation to join the lone priest for morning service, only to find him advancing on me hold a lotus sceptre. A great big long red one and there was no turning back! Iain said afterwards 'I'll never forget that', and nor will I. I can only say 'I did my best'. We did a memorial for Koho Zenji here too.

Eiheiji, founded by Dogen Zenji and one of the two main training temples in the Soto Zen Sect. Let's see...having tea with Matsunaga Roshi after evening meditation rounded off a day on trains, five of them. The joy and serenity that eminated from him was awesome. And for Iain? 'The warmth of the welcome we discovered there'. Morning service, in the presence of 330 trainees was 'big' really big and then being led up to offer incense in memory of Dogen Zenji was beyond words.

And then there was the adventure into the mountains to visit Hokoji a temple established by a contemporary of Dogen Zenji. Poor yet happy monks, eleven of them. More on all of this another day.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Attention to Detail.

While transfering trains this morning I had a cup of tea 'to go' on a station platform. The tea bag label was stuck down with scotch tape to the side of the cup so it wouldnt fall into the liquid, the way it invariably does. And, if that wasn't enough, there was a small sticker over the hole one drinks from so that the heat wouldn't escape. In Japanese the label carried a reminder that the liquid inside was very hot. It was!

For a Briton this is all good news.

Created on Chino Railway Station in a public access internet room. That's approx. 50p an hour or 80c USD

Friday, April 15, 2005

Rev. Okabe

At Fukuji-in we met Okabe Roshi, who had served as Keido Chisan Koho Zenji's chaplain for many years, including the time when Rev. Master Jiyu was serving as his junior chaplain. Here, left to right, are Prof. Shimizu, Okabe Roshi, myself and Noguchi Roshi. Reverend Okabe is my Dharma uncle and Reverend Noguchi a Dharma cousin It certainly felt like being with family while visiting at this small temple as we were able to meet in an informal way.
This was a the last visit on a very full day. First Sojiji in the morning where we met Oyama Roshi a senior lecturer who had visited Shasta Abbey in 1979 and remembered Rev. Master Jiyu, I could write pages on that visit alone. Then there was the memorable Japanese lunch and then the time with these wonderful monks. Noguchi Roshi did much to make arrangements for a stay at a temple while we are traveling this next week and asked if we would come back on May 1st, 'for more talking' as he put it. We will be there.


In the afternoon we visited Fukuji-in with Professor Shimizu. This is a small temple in the Asakusa area of Tokyo where Keido Chisan Koho Zenji was resident priest during World War 2 - when the original temple was destroyed in 1945 - and which he worked to rebuild.

At Fukuji-in we met the present resident priest - Rev. Noguchi - and together we held a short service at Keido Chisan's memorial tablet in the cemetery, which was just a short hop across the road. We did a second memorial for Koho Zenji' mother and parents of Professor Shimizu. Fukuju-in is Professor Shimizu's family temple.

Professor Shimizu

On Friday we enjoyed a Japanese-style lunch offered by Prof. Shimizu, Keido Chisan Koho Zenji's grand-niece. She recently retired from a university career as a physicist researching and teaching quantum optics. We all really enjoyed her company and appreciated her generosity.

Over lunch she shared some of her presonal childhood memories of her great-uncle with us, and how he encouraged her in her studies. She mentioned that he had instilled into her the importance of education for woman and this in turn influenced her in her professional life as a teacher.

Electric Town in Tokyo

The last two days have been very busy and today we need to be at the station before nine to make it to the temple we will be staying at tonight before evening. We are travelling to west Japan today and will return on the 26th April. Opportunities to post during the next week are likely to be limited to a visit to an internet cafe in Kyoto or Nagoya. However here's a little information about recent activities.

On Thursday Iain had to collect his passport from the Chinese Embassy so we took the opportunity to visit Akihabara, the "Electric Town" area of Tokyo where there are hundreds of stores selling all the latest electronic gear. I was a bit like a kid in a candy store however the noise level was such that my purchase of a camera was done at double quick time.Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Offering Incense and Making bows.....

Posted by Hello

Here is the Vice Abbot of Chouju-in, a Soto Zen Temple in the countryside near Narita.

Thanks to Eiko for making the visit to this temple possible. We enjoyed our short stay and will probably go back during Golden Week towards the end of the month if possible. Everything in this small temple was familiar, the priest was friendly and spoke English well.

In the Ihaido (a section of the temple where memorial tablets are enshrined) we saw 88 bags of sand, with the temple seal on each bag, which had been collected from the temples on the classic pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku. Thus the merit of the pilgrimage was offered for the benefit of all those enshrined in the Ihaido, and all beings.


Here's Eiko (on the right) who owns the Fura Restaurant where we ate lunch. She is a friend of Edera and made us feel very welcome. All of the dishes were served on hand made pottery and the meal was presented with great care and attention to detail. Thanks Eiko for a wonderful meal.

Posted by Hello

Crossing the Road.

This afternoon when we were out in the car we gave way to a school girl who wanted to cross in front of us. First she bowed to acknowledge the offer then walked briskly across the road and then turned and bowed again in the direction of the car. This, apparently, is relatively normal behaviour for young school children.

Earlier Edera, Iain's wife, saw this Haiku on the side of the road:

If you hold the wheel
With the Buddha Mind
No accident will happen.

Happy to be here.

I am so happy to be on the road at last and feel astonishingly 'at home' in Japan. Everything, the roads, the houses, the gardens, the rooms...everything is on a mini scale, rather like in Cornwall only smaller! People are SO polite, so considerate of others in their actions it is completely touching.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Arrived OK

I am lost for words...very tired, better sleep soon.

Monday, April 11, 2005

*"The green mountains are forever walking...."

*From the Shobogenzo, (The Eye and Treasury of the True Law), chapter Sansuikyo, "The mountain and river Sutras" by Great Master Dogen. Note: In some translations of this chapter the above quote reads "The green mountains are forever moving..."

This morning I woke with the words of something I wrote while I was out walking a couple of days ago. You can see part of it over there to the left under the title to this 'Blog', (that's short for 'Web Log' by the way). Here is the whole piece:

Rise up!
Rise up and greet the dawn.

Step out!
Step out and the Great Earth,
Leaps joyfully.

Walk on!
Walk on and forget...

It is said that the Great Earth is the foundation of gratitude and refers to the fundamental ground of Everything. That's a 'great' larger than normal conceptions.

So, now there are many hours in the air with Air Canada, 18 hours I think.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Vancouver, Canada.

I am in Vancouver at the Lions Gate Buddhist Priory where Rev. Master Koten is the resident priest. Tomorrow, April 11th, I fly to Tokyo, Narita landing on April 12th at 3.55 pm. The time on this Blogger is set to Japanese time.

Please feel free to leave a note via the comments, I welcome that.

There will be more postings so do check back from time to time.

A Pilgrimage to East Asia

The following article was first published in the Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives and is reproduced here with some edits.

In early April I’ll be high above the Canadian Rockies and a few days later, after a brief stop in Vancouver, I’ll land at Tokyo, Narita. There Iain Robinson, a British lay minister who lives in Japan, will meet me. This will mark the start of a two-month pilgrimage to Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. Iain will accompany me in Japan and China. Points of call will include Dharma relatives and temples associated with our tradition in these countries. I’ll be arriving back at London Heathrow in early June on route for Throssel. The underlying question is, “Why do this? Why leave the comfort of the known?” For anybody who is poised on the brink of a next step, small or large, this sort of questioning can often be part of the process of taking it. Here is my story, so far.

The original inspiration came from a simple welling up of gratitude towards the Ancestors of our tradition. Looking closer, I found a reservoir of gratitude associated with being joined to the line of ancestors and having a proven path to follow. What a gift! At that time I saw myself offering incense and making bows at Keido Chisan Koho Zenji’s grave at Sojiji, Japan. That was four years ago and thoughts of following through with the incense offering have come and gone within the ebb and flow of daily life. The thought of traveling to Japan was essentially filed under, ‘maybe one day’. Now, however, all conditions seem to have ripened on their own, unbidden, and this is the time to take to the sky.

For me the essence of practice is to point forwards and answer the call of the day, do the very best one can, and know contentment in that. There is a sufficiency in this that does not require more. However, we all know that, while this may sound simple, training is not easy. On the practical level just preparing for this journey is no easy matter, as would be the case for anybody—to carve out two empty months. On a deeper level the preparations present constant challenges to dive beyond the arising fears. I am in no doubt that this pilgrimage is an act of exercising faith, every step of the way.

While there are a number of known reasons for this journey however, in essence, the fundamental purpose for taking it remains a mystery. For me this is not a problem. At heart, facing life is every person’s unspoken story, a life journey of moving from the known to ‘unknowing’.

I currently do not have a permanent home temple; however, you are welcome to visit my personal web site where you will find articles chronicling my progress as well as details of my schedule while I am traveling for the next five months.

If you are encouraged and inspired by what you read here, that is good. If you are poised at the brink of a next step, as I am, then raise your foot and the road will appear before you. Be willing to not know where that step will lead.