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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not a Long Way to Tipperary for the January Buddhist Retreat

 maidin

  My friend Harry Bradley is organizing a Zen Buddhist retreat next month in the lovely Glen of Aherlow in County Tipperary. The retreat will start at 7 pm on Friday 20th January and end at 5.30 pm on Sunday January 22nd.

  The focus will be on zazen (seated meditation), kinhin (slow walking) and samu (work periods). There will be no chanting or formal ceremonies, although zendo etiquette will be observed (bowing on entering and leaving the zendo, bowing before and after sitting).

  The retreat is suitable for anyone who’s already practicing meditation or who’s been to a Buddhist retreat before. There will be no official teacher there, but some of the people attending have a good bit of experience with meditation. There will be some themed discussions during the retreat as well.

 

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  The venue for the retreat is “Tigh Roy” in the picturesque Glen of Aherlow in Tipperary. The Glen of Aherlow sits between the Galtee mountains on one side and the Slievenamuck Ridge on the other, and has five spectacular lakes and some really breathtaking scenery. It should make a fine setting for the retreat. There’s more information about venue at http://www.tigroy.com/

  The cost of the weekend, including all meals and accommodation, is €145 (per person sharing rooms with two single beds). Booking is essential as places are limited. A deposit of €45 will ensure a place on the retreat.

  For more information or to book a place, email Harry at harrybradley@eircom.net.

  You can follow some updates about the retreat at http://longriverzen.blogspot.com/

 

cottage

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Question of Existence and Time

elefantas

 

  Time and existence are as important for Buddhists as for anyone else. But the Buddhist idea about time and existence is different to most other ways of thinking about them. In general, we tend to think of time and existence as two separate things. I know I do anyway. Time is one thing, and existence or reality or whatever you like to call it is something else. The Buddhist idea isn’t like that though. Buddhism says that time and existence are two ways of talking about the same thing, they’re not separate from each other.

A while back, before he entered hospital, Gudo Nishijima sent me a copy of an email he wrote to someone who asked him about this.

The question was:

I read the chapter Uji (Existence and Time) in Master Dogen’s book Shobogenzo. In the chapter Master Dogen said:

''It is a complete realization that the whole of time is what the whole of existence is, and that there is nothing more than this''.

When he writes that, is he talking about the existence of a human being or about the existence of the Universe? If he’s referring to the whole existence of the Universe in that statement, it means that even the Universe is not limitless and consequently is dependent on time?

Gudo Nishijima’s answer was:

Master Dogen doesn’t say anything about the existence of a human being or the existence of the Universe in that statement. He says that existence and time are absolutely related with each other.

Master Dogen insists that without existence, time can not exist, and without time, existence can not exist at all. In other words, he insists that without existence, time never exists, and without time, existence never exists.

Therefore we should think that existence and time are very much related with each other. So it’s impossible to think about existence without thinking about time, and it’s impossible to think about time without thinking about existence.

Existence and time should be considered together, and it might not make sense to consider the question of existence and time without thinking about them like that.

Master Dogen clearly insists such opinion.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

It’s only a small point in some ways, but that’s the Buddhist idea about existence and time. That’s why you sometimes hear people talking about “being here and now”. “Here” is the existence side, and “now” is the time side. And even though people use that phrase to describe feeling really present in the moment and focused on what’s happening right now and nothing else, actually the phrase “being here and now” applies to everyone. To you and me and all the folks in the neighborhood. And it’s like that right throughout our lives. There’s no other way. The only place we can ever be is where we are at each moment. So in a way it’s not a big deal. It’s the same for everyone.

What happens to most of us, though, is that our thoughts distract us from where we are and what we’re doing. So instead of focusing on slicing the veggies, we’re thinking about what happened a couple of weeks back when we saw those dancing elephants in Iceland. Or maybe we think about how great things would be if we could manage to get a nice job in London… We all know how it goes. We’re doing something that we’re not too excited about and our mind is drifting off somewhere else.

This is something you’ll notice if you do meditation. You’ll be sitting there on the cushion, and your mind will be going all over the place. That’s what happens to me anyway. When I do meditation, very little is happening outwardly, I’m literally just sitting there. But my mind can get really active imagining all sorts of different scenarios about different things or dreaming about all kinds of experiences that are never going to happen. But if you sit there for a while, gradually your mind starts to settle down all by itself, and during the meditation you can notice that, hey, you’re just sitting on the cushion doing your meditation. That’s basically “being here and now”. It’s not a big deal, and in a way it’s very simple, but it’s kind of a nice thing to notice too.

And when you get up off the cushion, that “being here and now” might stay with you for a while, and you might notice that being here and now isn’t so bad after all. The only thing about it is that even though people can write and talk about it, “being here and now” isn’t really something we can leave to our imagination. It’s something we have to experience for ourselves. That might sound difficult, because sometimes when we hear words like “being here and now”, it sounds like it must be something really intense that’s very faraway from where we are at the particular time. But actually it’s not like that. You’re already experiencing it. It’s just a matter of noticing, or maybe not noticing, it.

When I used to talk to Gudo Nishijima about this kind of thing, he used to say something like “we are enjoying the present moment”. It sounds really simple, and in many ways it is, but a lot of times we get dragged away by our thoughts of somewhere else or some other time and miss out on the things that are happening right in front of us. Doing meditation helps us to notice that.

So if you’re looking for a way to enjoy the present moment a bit more, you know what to do. And figuring out where and when to do it is easy too, right?

 

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Know a Way to Eliminate Suffering from Life

 

TokyoOct2011

 

My friends Ingrid and Jiku-san came to Tokyo recently from Chile for a short visit. Ingrid is a student of Gudo Nishijima Roshi and Jiku-san is a student of a Japanese monk named Daisetsu Tangen Roshi. They both became interested in Zen Buddhism after they had been practicing yoga for a while.

Ingrid’s first experience with meditation was at a yoga class in Chile. After doing meditation there, she decided to try it at home, and continued to practice at home for 10 years. Later she began to practice with a small Buddhist group in Santiago. She came to Japan a few years later and met Nishijima Roshi in Tokyo. Afterwards, she started a Buddhist meditation group in Chile, and helped to organize Nishijima roshi’s visit for talks and retreats in Chile in 2004.

Jiku-san’s first name is Patricio, but people usually call him by his Buddhist name “Jiku-san”. He first encountered zazen when he was doing a yoga instructor’s course in Nepal. A few years later his job as a photographer brought him to Japan to do a feature on a Zen retreat at a temple named Bukkokuji. Bukkokuji is in a town called “Obama-shi” in Fukui prefecture. Daisetsu Tangen Roshi is the abbot there. When Jiku-san came to the temple, he liked the life there so much that he decided to stay. He eventually spent 10 years at Bukkokuji, before deciding to return to Chile to teach people about zazen and Buddhism. When he returned to Chile, he and Ingrid opened a Zazen dojo together and began to hold retreats and classes. Jiku-san also taught zazen at a prison there for 7 years. Recently, Ingrid and Jiku-san opened a new dojo called “El Zendo” in Chile. El Zendo is in a small town named Tunquen on the Pacific coast, about two hours from Santiago.

I asked Jiku-san and Ingrid to give a talk to our Saturday Zazen class while they were in Tokyo. They kindly agreed. Jiku-san told us about how he first became interested in Buddhism, and about life at Bukkokuji temple, including the daily schedule and going on begging rounds (called “takuhatsu”), and how the 10 years there changed his own life. He also told us about his experiences teaching Buddhism in Chile and at the Chilean prison, and about El Zendo. Ingrid told us about her experiences practicing at home on a daily basis for 10 years while raising her family, and how she ended up meeting Nishijima Roshi when she came to Tokyo, and later on began to practice together with Jiku-san in Chile.

I recorded the talk on my MP3 recorder. It lasts about 50 minutes. There’s also plenty of questions and answers during the talk. (The title of this post is something that comes up during the talk.) You can click here to download the MP3 file (47 MB).

By the way, one of the things that Jiku-san mentions during the talk is that people at the temple used to scrub themselves everyday with a “tawashi”. A tawashi is a small scrubbing brush that the Japanese usually use to scrub vegetables or pots and pans, but at the temple they found it was a good way to keep themselves clean too.

You can check out the El Zendo website at www.elzendo.cl. Jiku-san and Ingrid hold retreats there on a regular basis that everyone is welcome to attend. They told me sometimes people visit them from other countries in South America and from North America too.

Incidentally, the photo at the top of this post was taken the day we held the talk. Ingrid is in the center, and Jiku-san is on her right. The person on Jiku-san’s right is Harumi Saito. Harumi Saito began to practice zazen in the 1970’s with Nishijima Roshi at his Saturday classes in Tokyo, and has helped to organize the Tokyo classes for many years. He also taught zazen in a city near Tokyo for several years. He still comes to the Saturday zazen practice on a regular basis. On Ingrid’s left in the photo is Kimika, also one of Nishijima Roshi’s students. Kimika was one of the people who accompanied Nishijima Roshi on his visit to Chile in 2004. I’m the bald guy on Kimika’s left. (Thanks to Shinji for the photo.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Zazen Practice in Tokyo

 

 

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Just a note to say that our zazen class in Tokyo will be starting up again tomorrow after the summer break. The class is suitable for beginners, and anyone interested is welcome along.

The times are:
11.00 - 11.25  Zazen
11.25 - 11.35  Kinhin (slow walking meditation)
11.35 - 12.00  Zazen
12.00 - 12.30  Break (for lunch or a rest)
12.30 - 1.00    Zazen
1.00 -  2.00    Talk (optional)

Click here for more information and directions.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Knew You Were Going To Ask That

 

sixth sense

 

Here’s a question someone asked me a while ago:

Do you have a sixth sense?  How do you experience it?

Everybody has a sixth sense, except they don't notice most of the time. In Japan there's an expression "i-shin-den-shin" which means something like "heart-to-heart communication". Without saying anything you can sometimes pick up a vibe from someone else. Or it’s almost like we can communicate with someone even though they’re not anywhere near us. It's like if you stop off at the bakery on the way home from work and see a nice apple strudel and decide to buy it. But when you get home the person you live with has bought the exact same thing!

I watched a TV show recently about research someone did to see if a dog could tell when their owner was on the way home. It wasn’t to check if the dog had figured out the time the owner came home at each day. It was to see if the dog could tell if its owner was on the way home at a random time during a particular day. The dog lived in a house in a country town, and its owner spent most weekdays in a nearby city. The researcher arranged for the owner to come home from the city suddenly one afternoon, and recorded the dog’s behavior from around the time the owner started to make her way home. Sure enough, the dog started to become more alert right around the time the owner began to leave the city. By the time the owner got within a few miles of the house the dog was waiting right next to the door. It was strange to see, but the owner or the dog didn’t seem to care too much. They were just happy to see each other.

I’ve a feeling that if we worked on this we probably wouldn't need mobile phones anymore.

Or maybe it's just a coincidence...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dublin Fundraising Concert For Japan

 

JAPAN poster small

 

Here’s some information about a special fundraising concert being held in Dublin next week to aid the Japan disaster victims. Many of Ireland’s very best traditional musicians are taking part, and it sounds like it’s going to be a great night. It’s being held next Tuesday, May 10, at The Button Factory in Temple Bar. All proceeds go to aid Japan and the Japanese Red Cross.

Here’s what’s happening:

Traditional Music Legends to Show Solidarity with Japan

On Tuesday, 10th May, a host of traditional music legends will show their solidarity with the people of Japan by holding a special fundraising concert in The Button Factory, Dublin. T with the Maggies, Altan, Dervish, Liam Ó Maonlaí and Dónal Lunny will whip out the jigs, reels and beautiful ballads on the night in a celebration of traditional music.

The concert will be streamed live online so that people in Japan can see that Ireland is in solidarity with them. All the groups and musicians have a huge following in Japan where some fans are so dedicated to Irish traditional culture and music that they even learn to speak Gaeilge.

"All of us in the trad world wanted to do something after the years of support the Japanese have given to both Altan and the other bands. This is our small way of showing that they are in our thoughts. We guarantee a great night on May 10th and you can be sure that a few surprise guests will show up also!" said Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Altan & T with the Maggies, who is co-organizing the concert.

"The concert is being co-organized with Chika Usami who is from Iwaki City, Fukushima, Japan but lives in Ireland. Chika said, “If I had been in Iwaki during the earthquake I would have been affected, my friends and family are still under threat from the nuclear power plant which is only 40km away, and I thought there must have been a reason for me to have been in Ireland. I wanted to do something to help Japan and tried to think what connected Ireland and Iwaki and I thought of Altan. They had performed in Iwaki in 2009 and I had met Altan after the concert and they invited me to come to Ireland sometime. Part of the reason I came to Ireland was because of how much I enjoy traditional Irish music and culture.”

ADM: €20  (Unreserved Limited Seating).

Advanced sales are available from www.tickets.ie or Claddagh Records, Cecilia Street, Temple Bar Tel:353 1 677 0262

Further Enquiries : www.buttonfactory.ie | TEL: +353 1 670 9202

Friday, April 22, 2011

3-day Zen Retreat in Golden Week

 

 

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If you’ll be in Japan during golden week and wouldn’t mind spending a few days at a Zen temple in the countryside, you might be interested in a retreat we’ll be holding at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka from April 30 to May 2. The retreat is suitable for beginners, and anyone interested is welcome along. There’s some more information about the retreat here.

 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Earthquake Experience

 

Tsunami 1

 

As everyone knows, we had a terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were left without their homes and jobs and belongings. About 150,000 people are still living in temporary shelters at schools and other public buildings. Several towns and villages were completely destroyed. To make things even worse, the Fukushima nuclear power plant was severely damaged, and it’s been leaking radiation into the atmosphere for more than a month now. There have been lots of strong aftershocks since then too, and people are worried that there may be another big earthquake before long. So it’s been a horrible time for people in Japan. But despite it all many people are doing what they can to help each other, and are trying not to lose hope for the future.

I live in a place called Ibaraki Prefecture. It was one of the areas affected by the earthquake, although the damage here wasn’t as bad as in the worst affected areas further north. I’ve lived in Ibaraki for almost 20 years. We’ve had some strong earthquakes before now, but the earthquake in March was on a different scale to anything anyone here experienced before. Usually when an earthquake occurs, there’s a big kind of “thud” right at the start and then things start shaking and the vibrations gradually become stronger, and finally ease off after a minute or so. But when the earthquake struck on March 11 it was such a strong “thud” that it was clear from the start that it was a huge one. I was at home that day, and was doing some zazen on a cushion beside my desk when it struck. When the earthquake started, it was so strong that right away I jumped off the cushion and went under the desk. The walls in my room started shaking and all the things we had on shelves or in cupboards began to fall onto the floor. The shaking kept getting stronger and stronger, and everything was moving or falling down. The walls were moving back and forth and I thought the whole place was going to collapse.

After one or two minutes the shaking eventually started to ease off. I got out from under the desk to see if our place was okay. Some things had broken, but luckily there was no really serious damage. Our TV had fallen over, but it was still working. I turned it on to check the news. All the channels had emergency news about what was going on. The earthquake had destroyed buildings all over the north east of Japan, and the news was warning people about a large tsunami. The announcers were telling people to move away from the coast as quickly as they could. The channel I was watching was showing live pictures of the ocean that were being taken from a helicopter. It showed the tsunami approaching the coast and then moving inland through one town. A lot of people were trying to escape from the tsunami in their cars and on foot, but the tsunami was too big and moving too fast. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it. People were being swept away without any chance of escaping. It was very shocking to see what was happening. The tsunami moved inland for several kilometers and destroyed everything in its path. Then it went back to the ocean again. Almost nothing was left standing after it had gone.

Later on there were stories on the news about some people who managed to survive the tsunami. Even though they had survived, many of them had lost their parents, or spouse, or children in the tsunami. There were reports of how people tried to escape the tsunami by going to designated safe areas in their towns. The designated safe areas were meant to be safe places to go in the event of a tsunami, but the tsunami that day was so big that even those safe areas were washed away.

Over the next few days, we started to get more information about what had happened. Reports about the number of dead and missing kept increasing. Soon we heard that almost 10,000 people were missing in one town alone. Thousands of people had been buried under the debris left by the earthquake, and thousands more had been swept away by the tsunami. The rescue teams are still searching for missing people now, but many of them may never be found.

We also started to hear about a major problem at a nuclear power station in Fukushima. Fukushima is about 160 kilometers from where we live. The power station had been hit by the tsunami, and the reactors were damaged and radiation was escaping into the air and sea. The people living in towns nearby had to leave their homes and move to temporary shelters further away. Some of those people had lost family members and friends in the earthquake and tsunami, but were unable to return to their towns to search for them because of the radiation. The people who had to leave those towns may not be able to move back again until the radiation levels drop. No one knows how long that’s going to take, but it might be five or ten years or more.

There were a lot of problems in our own area for the first week or so after the earthquake. The water and gas supplies were cut off, and there was a shortage of gasoline because the gas stations had run out. Most of the shops were closed because they were damaged by the earthquake and it was unsafe to let people inside. The shops that were open soon ran out of food and water. It was difficult to buy any food for a few days, and there were huge queues even if you could find a shop that was open. The trains had stopped running too because of damage to the rails. There was an awful lot of concern about the radiation from the nuclear accident too. Nobody knew exactly what was going on, and whether it was safe to go outside or not. Some of our neighbors left the area because they were worried about how the radiation was affecting us.

But even though there was a certain amount of panic, most people were trying to stay calm and do what they could to get through it. People were sharing things and trying to help each other. After a week or so, things began to come back to normal in our area at least. The water and gas were gradually restored, and shops began to open again. The schools reopened as well after a few days. After another week or so the trains started running again and the gas stations opened too.

In some ways life is returning to normal in Japan now. But there’s an awful lot of recovery work to be done, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster is going to be with us for a long time. There is still a very deep sadness about what has happened, but it seems like the people who were directly affected by the disaster are taking each day as it comes, and trying to do what they can each day. The community spirit is very strong in Japan now too, and a lot of people are working together to help each other recover. Even the people in our neighborhood seem to be a lot closer and friendlier than before. I don’t know how long that’s going to last, but it seems like the disaster has changed the way a lot of people think about what’s important.

I like to think that Japan will recover from what’s happened, although it’s going to take a long time. Probably some things will return to something like the way they were before the disaster, but some things in Japan will never be the same.

 
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