Sunday, July 1, 2018

道はその日その日の生活の中に : The path is in day-to-day life

path is in daily life

Someone sent me a Buddhist card with the Japanese words “道はその日その日の生活の中に”.
In Japanese this reads “michi wa sono hi sono hi no seikatsu no naka ni”.

The meaning of the words is:
道 (michi): path, way, road
その日その日 (sono hi sono hi): each day, from day to day, day-to-day
生活 (seikatsu): life, living
の中に (no naka ni): in, within, inside, in the midst of

So altogether it means something like “the path is in day-to-day life”, or “the (Buddhist) way is within daily life”.

Think they’re right.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grace before meals – a Buddhist version


We used to say “grace” before our meals sometimes when I was growing up in Ireland. My parents didn’t make a rule of saying it at mealtimes, but every once in a while we would. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was nice to say it together like that sometimes. 

In Japan, people usually  say “itadakimasu” (i-ta-da-ki-ma-su) before starting a meal. There are plenty of different uses and translations for “itadakimasu”, but in the context of mealtimes it’s an expression of gratitude before eating, and literally means something like “I humbly receive”. This usage is said to have its roots in Buddhism and the idea of respect for all living things, which extends to gratitude to everything and everyone that went into making the meal including the plants, animals, farmers and cook. 

The kind of “grace” they say before meals at Buddhist temples in Japan is different to the usual “itadakimasu”.  Depending on the temple, the monks and nuns may say two or three different verses or chants before each meal. Among them, one verse that is recited at most temples is what we call in English the “Five Reflections”  or “Five Contemplations” (called “go kan no ge” in Japanese). Here is an English version of the Five Reflections that we sometimes say at our retreats.
We reflect firstly upon the insufficiency of our effort in this life. We contemplate the effort which has gone into the preparation of this meal.
We reflect secondly upon our merit. We consider whether we are deserving of this meal.
We reflect thirdly upon the sources of our mental illusions and mistakes. We must avoid greed, anger and ignorance.
We reflect fourthly upon the reasons for eating meals. It is to avoid becoming weak and thin.
Finally we reflect upon the ultimate reason for taking meals. It is only to attain the truth.

Click here for a PDF file of the Five Reflections in English, with the Japanese version on their too.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Japanese Prime Minister Doing Zen Meditation (and a little Zen story)


The Japanese Government have just started a campaign called “Premium Friday” to encourage businesses to let workers finish up at 3 pm on the last Friday of every month. The idea behind the campaign is to stimulate the economy by giving people more time to get out and spend money at the end of each month – which is right around payday - and to also cut down on excessive working hours (and stress levels) among workers. 

Last Friday was the very first “Premium Friday” and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe took to his Facebook page to describe how he was spending the afternoon. Here’s what he wrote in Japanese:



The translation is something like this:

“Meditating (emptying my mind). I’ve been doing some zazen on Premium Friday. I’m busy everyday, but for the first time in a while I had some quiet time and feel refreshed and calm.
I think I’ll visit a museum in Ueno after this.”

I don’t know if the museum in Ueno that Abe went to after the meditation was the National Museum, but if it was he might have come across the big picture they have in there of a priest in the Obaku School of Zen Buddhism, which was painted about 100 years ago by a Japanese artist named Takamura Shinpu. I was down there recently and (with permission) snapped a photo of it on my phone. Here it is:




When I saw the picture, it reminded me of a Zen koan (short story) from a long time ago about Master Obaku, the founder of the Obaku school, in which the Prime Minister of China visits a temple where Master Obaku is and sees a picture of a reverend monk on the wall. The Prime Minister says that he can see the picture, but would like to meet such a reverend monk in real life. Eventually the monks in the temple introduce him to Master Obaku. When the Prime Minister sees Master Obaku, he asks Master Obaku to give him one or two words to change his life. Master Obaku calls out loudly, “Prime Minister! Where are you?” 


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Zen Buddhist Meditation in Tokyo

Just a note to say our Saturday zazen classes in Tokyo will be starting up again this Saturday, February 25. Click here for more information. Beginners are welcome. 🔰

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gudo Nishijima Sensei Interview - Sept 2008

This is a short interview with the late Gudo Nishijima Roshi (1919 - 2014), my Buddhist teacher, in which he talks about his idea about practicing zazen (meditation) everyday in daily life, and some other topics. The video runs for about 6 minutes. Thanks to Ingrid for the video.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Zen Meditation Retreat at Jampa Ling Centre in County Cavan - August 1 to 3, 2014



We'll be holding a Zen meditation retreat at the Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre near Bawnboy village in County Cavan over the weekend of August 1-3. The retreat is suitable for anyone interested in Buddhism and/or meditation, and beginners are welcome.

The retreat will run from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. imageAt the retreat we'll be practicing sitting and walking meditation, and will hold some talks and discussions on Buddhism as well as some periods of light work in the gardens and around the Centre. There will also be free time for walks through the woodland and surrounding area, and to visit the Centre's beautiful walled garden. All meals during the retreat are based on a vegetarian menu.

The cost for the retreat is 80 euros. You can email me at to register. The closing date for registration is Monday, July 28.

Email me for more information or check my webpage at


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Couple of essays for the present moment




A friend of mine has written a couple of essays relating to the present moment for a magazine called “Culture Counter”. The first one is called “Phenomenological eco-mysticism”, which is about some experiences he had in the US and Japan recently. The second one is called “Overcoming the cult of the present moment”, which compares what is sometimes meant when people talk about being here and now, and something the Buddhist monk Dogen wrote about the present moment in his book Shobogenzo.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Master Gudo Nishijima’s Wake



My Buddhist teacher, Master Gudo Wafu Nishijima passed away on January 28 at the age of 94. I attended his wake tonight in snowy Tokyo. It was a very nice service with his family and friends and many of his students in attendance. We chanted Buddhist sutras and offered incense, and remembered his great life and kindness to us all. The photo above is of the altar with Master Nishijima’s framed picture.

Sensei, thank you for all your kindness and help, and please rest in peace.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tokyo Meditation Class on May 25


I’ll be holding a Zazen meditation class in Tokyo this coming Saturday, May 25. Anyone interested is welcome to attend, and attendance is free. The first part of the class will be from 11 am to 12 noon, and the second part will be from 12.30 to 2 pm. You’re welcome to come to both the morning and afternoon parts, or to either one. The schedule is:

11.00 – 11.25  Zazen

11.25 – 11.35  Kinhin (this is a slow walking practice)

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)

If it’s your first time to do Zazen and you’d like some instructions, please come about 10 or 15 minutes before the start and I’ll show you what to do.

The class will be held at Tokyo University’s Young Buddhists Association. You can click here to download a map with directions to the Young Buddhists Association from the Marunouchi and Oedo subway lines. Both lines run through Shinjuku station. The stop on both lines is called "Hongo-Sanchome".

If you’re coming from Hongo-sanchome station on the Marunouchi line, turn right after passing through the ticket barrier and follow the alley out to the main street. The building where the meetings are held is across the street. You can cross at the traffic lights on the corner (see map). If you’re coming from Hongo-sanchome station on the Oedo line, take exit no. 5 and turn to the left after leaving the station. Follow the main street and then turn left again at the corner with the traffic lights (see map).

The entrance to the Young Buddhists Association is next to the Nicos travel agency (directly behind the bus stop). You'll see a "Zazen Practice" sign on the glass door at the entrance.

Here's a video showing how to get to the meetings from Hongo-sanchome station on the Marunouchi line.


Directions to Zazen Class from Hongo-sanchome subway station on Marunouchi line

Email me if you need more information, otherwise feel free to come along on the day and give it a try.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Retreat in Cavan

We held a retreat last month at the Jampa Ling main houseBuddhist Centre in Bawnboy in County Cavan. It was our first time to hold a Zen retreat there, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But it turned out to be a real nice retreat with a real nice group of people. Some people were trying a Buddhist retreat and meditation for the first time, while other people had been at a retreat before and had been doing meditation for several years or more. The people who were trying it for the first time seemed to enjoy it overall, and no-one complained about sore legs or the bad jokes. The people who had been to retreats before seemed to enjoy the atmosphere and zazen at Jampa Ling as well. During the retreat we got a chance to meet the Tibetan monk who lives at the Jampa Ling Centre and some of his students. It was my first time to meet a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. After chatting to him and his students, I realized that even though there are differences between Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, there’s plenty of common ground as well.

garden buddhaApart from meditation, one of the activities during the retreat was a work period each morning for about 40 minutes. During the work period we chopped veggies or worked in the garden or cleaned up around the Centre. I was in the garden crew for both days. Usually I work indoors, so it was great to get outside in the fine weather and do some weeding and mess around with the wheel-barrow, although the bit of weeding I did was nothing compared to some of the work that was done by other people in the gardening crew. The person in charge of the gardens at Jampa Ling told me afterwards he was delighted to get so much help. He didn’t expect people would get into it so much, and he told me to let everyone know they were welcome back anytime! I didn’t get a chance to chop any veggies during the retreat, but I appreciated all the work people did to help with the food prep and wash-up during the retreat.

The Jampa Ling Centre is in a great location surrounded by woodland lake swimand lakes. In one of the free periods during the retreat a few of us walked up to the nearby lake for a swim. I hadn’t brought my swimming togs so I just went in for a paddle, but the wise folks who had brought their swim gear really enjoyed the water. To get to the lake we had to walk through a field that had some cows and a bull. I grew up in the countryside and I’ve come across the odd bull that’d get very upset if you approached his field on the wrong day, so I was a bit worried when someone told me there was actually a bull there as we were walking through the field. I had visions of us being chased and attacked by the bull, and then having to cancel the retreat and it being all my fault. Luckily though, the bull must have picked up on the fact that the retreat was strictly vegetarian, and he and his herd let us pass in what I interpreted as a kind of mutual understanding of live and let live.

jock There were really friendly dogs and other animals around Jampa Ling as well. One of the dogs was the cute scotch terrier in the photo, and another was a very friendly border collie who was one of those dogs that loves to run after sticks and bring it back for you to throw again. If he saw you walking around, he’d run off and get a stick and bring it over and drop it down a few feet in front of you. Then he’d back off a few yards and crouch down and wait for you to throw it so he could run after it and bring it back to repeat the process over and over. If you walked past the stick without throwing it, he’d get it and drop it down in front of you again, and would keep doing that until you either gave in or went somewhere he couldn’t find you. Well he got plenty of throws out of me and lots of other people during the retreat. I’m sure he must have thought it was great to have the Zen folks around for the few days as well.

Anyway, I’d like to thank everyone who came to the retreat, as well as those who wanted to come but couldn’t make it this time. I know quite a people travelled a long distance to be there. Thanks also to everyone at Jampa Ling who made us feel so welcome. Hopefully, we’ll be able to organize another retreat there at some point.

(Ps. Many thanks to Michael for the photos.)