Showing posts from March, 2015

Japanese Is Backwards

In the years I've spent practicing in Japan, I've always assumed that what I am learning here is applicable in the West, because, as they say, the Way has no North or Southern ancestors. But recently I've been wondering, what if the cultures are just too different? Even if dharma is ultimately the same everywhere, what if I'm dealing with two, mutually exclusive cultures and spiritual practices?

I'm taking a class on translation right now, and while studying for a test this week, I was struck by the profound difference between the two languages. In Japanese the verb is at the end, and unlike English, the modifier precedes what is being modified (so adjectives and things are at the beginning of the sentence usually). Japanese is backwards. Or, English is backwards, depending on your point of view.

Take for example the opening of the famous novel Snow Country:
A literal translation might read: National border's long tunnel (object marker) c…

Loving the Mountains

We get into the van, Dojo Roshi in front, Shugetsu-san driving. D. is next to me and two monks are in the back. I'm wearing samue and my robes are folded up in a cloth in the trunk, along with my sutra book and The Tale of Genji, which I should be reading for school. We pull away from the monastery and drive down the narrow road out the gate, past the huge, plateauing vegetable patch filled with rows of Chinese cabbage.

"Gesshin," I hear Dojo Roshi say my name in the front seat, no honorific "san" needed for me, as usual. I lean forward so I can hear him better. "Ohisashiburi obosan shinai, neh." he murmurs. It's been a long time since you've acted like a monk, hasn't it.

"Actually, I'm a monk for my whole life," I retort, annoyed. He's commenting on how now I'm in school, living a student lifestyle. In his mind this makes me no longer a monk; I'm only a monk in a temple with my head shaved. His comment stings. W…

What a Horrible Institution!

I'm going to my monastery today for the next week. My head's shaved and I've got on my black samue and I'm looking forward to being back in the monastery (however, I'm also eating caramel popcorn and listening to Pink. My friend made me an empowering dance music play list called "i'm walkin here fuckboy"... so... that's happening, too). 
The first time I ever went to the monastery was with my then-boyfriend, who'd lived there for a year in college. He was my introduction. Over the years, I've introduced several people to the monastery; I brought my mom and dad when I ordained, and they've come back several times since. When I was working on the study abroad program this fall, too, I brought the students there for a week. At this point, the monastery is like my family. This is kind of weird and problematic, especially since I'm supposed to have "left home," but I really feel like the monastery is my family, with all the sam…

Death and Taxes

Yesterday I paid my taxes for the first time. Hurray for me!
I didn't really need to pay my taxes. My income last year hovered right at the poverty line, and I used most of it to pay for college tuition. Since I'm poor, I am a prime candidate for Not Having to Pay Taxes, but-- you know what? This is the first time in my life I've even earned money that is taxable! So for me it's kind of a thrill. I decided to pay taxes just for fun.
Okay, by "fun" I mean "a valuable and worthwhile experience that might aid in my maturation into adulthood." For some reason, that sounds like fun to me.
I'm making light of this because this month I've been drowning in bureaucratic forms. I'm renewing my passport, changing visa statuses, changing my registered place of residence, applying for a scholarship, applying for next semester at school, and two or three other things that are too boring to even write down. There have been a lot of forms. This month, a fr…

What Attainments?

Aoyama Roshi once said in a dharma talk that true selflessness is unaware of itself. True selflessness, she said, is like a person in a house up in the mountains lighting a lamp in their room; a traveler wandering through the valley below, who is lost and frightened in the dark, looks up and sees that light and feels comforted. The person lighting the lamp doesn't know someone else can see the light, doesn't know anyone feels comforted by it. That, she said, is true selflessness.

Two days ago I had dinner with a nun named Kito Sensei, whom I met when I was practicing at Nisodo. Kito Sensei is ninety years old and lives alone in a small temple in Nagoya. Kito Sensei was the muse for Paula Arai's book Women Living Zen, the only book I know on the subject of nun's practice in Japan. She features prominently in Arai's writings, including her second book, Bringing Zen Home. But beyond being mentioned in writing by a single academic, Kito Sensei is unknown outside of th…

(I Hope) Practice is Forever

Today I was waking up from a nap, dozing in that in-between state between sleeping and waking, while Beyonce’s song “Halo” was dripping through my consciousness. I think I watched the youtube video of that song in the morning, and like any catchy pop song, it stayed in my brain most of the day, even through my nap. As I was waking up and thinking of this song, I had a memory of being in Kyoto this fall, when I was a teaching assistant on a Buddhist study abroad program. The memory was of a particular dinner with some of the students, who were all about twenty-years old, when one guy led me on a crash-course review of what I’d “missed” in the last three and a half years while I was in the monastery. 
He told me about ISIS, and about Beyonce releasing her “visual album” without advanced notice, and how the shock and awe of the Beyonce-mania overloaded Twitter, causing it to temporarily crash. Lots of other things happened in three years that had nothing to do with Beyonce, but this is wh…