great realization

Dogen wrote in Gakudo Yojinshu [Points to Watch in Practicing the Way], "The Buddha-way is right under your feet." Ikko Narasaki Roshi elaborated on this, writing, "The Buddha-way is not some special kind of way. It is simply the way in which you live completely."

My teacher credits most of his understanding of Buddhism to Ikko Roshi. I never got to meet him before he died, but I feel like he is my spiritual grandfather. And like my biological grandfather, who has also passed away, I often suspect that he is disappointed in me from his place in heaven or wherever.

Ikko Roshi stressed the importance of living in a monastery and following the Eihei Shingi, Dogen's standards for monastics. I'm not living in a monastery any more. It's kind of weird, especially since all of my Zen practice has been in a monastery. I have no experience with Zen as a lay practice or as a daily zazen practice. For me, Zen practice is just being in a monastery. I've started working on this Buddhist studies program in Kyoto for American college students, and while it is definitely a Buddhist thing, it's also definitely NOT being in a monastery. So I'm having to re-define what Zen practice means to me. I think it has something to do with the Buddha-way being under me feet, meaning that I create it as I go along. Something like that. It's scary, and I'm kind of worried I'm going to crash and burn, but it's also exciting.

There are some good things. I have my own room! We are staying at an inn for Pure Land pilgrims, and it is pretty bare bones. My room is six tatami, the bathroom and shower are downstairs, and there is no kitchen or way to cook food, but I'm in heaven. For the last three years, I've shared a room with five other women. Five women in a room this same size. You can only imagine what that's like when we're all PMSing at the same time. Now I have my own room with wireless internet and an air conditioner. Luxury!

Yesterday in the orientation to the program, we got to talking about "enlightenment." Everyone was really interested in talking about that. Is enlightenment culturally conditioned? Is it the absence of something or the attainment of something? Do enlightened beings act the same? Questions like that. I don't really care about this kind of enlightenment. I'm way more interested in my room and my awesome coffee that I made this morning, with the ground coffee and funnel and cup I bought. 

Dogen backs me up on this one. In the Gyoji chapter of Shobogenzo, he wrote "Do not aspire to great realization. The great realization is everyday tea and meals." That's pretty clear, I think. Dogen never experienced coffee, but I think if he had, he would have included it in the "great realization" category. 

I bought my breakfast yesterday at a convenience store and kept it until today. It's a banana, a hard-boiled egg, and a rice roll stuffed with fermented soy beans. Isn't that cool that you can buy a hard-boiled egg at a convenience store? I'm pretty happy about it. And I made the coffee myself with hot water and ground coffee and a filter. Also pretty neat. Then I opened the window that looks out onto this ugly construction site, ate my Japanese salaryman breakfast, and experienced profound tranquility.

Okay, that's all the great realization I've got for you today. 


  1. much chuckling and appreciation here in my land.

  2. As an ex- expat and current deep thinker, I am really, really enjoying your blog. Just saying. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    -A random voice from your past

  3. Thank you, dear Claire, for sharing your experiences and thoughts. While I never became a nun, I thought about it a good bit, and value my times of alone-ness and tranquility a lot. Love, your Aunt Ann.

  4. Great blog. Please keep writing.


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