To round out my trip to Japan, I stayed at Shōganji Zen Retreat for four nights.
Here is an essay I wrote while I was there:
This appears to be the first rule of temple life and it translates in one form or another to an immutable law of life.
Food on the table must come from somewhere.
If it is not gardening, then hunting, working, shopping, scrounging, begging, thieving...who knows, but that effort brings reward is obvious.
The honest effort of squatting in the dirt, hoeing and pulling weeds mirrors the concentration necessary to keep the mind clear of thoughts so meditation can take place.
"A little bit at a time," says Jiho Kongo, the head monk, quite naturally offering the practical wisdom for which Zen is renowned.
In the same way, there is no miracle pill in the spiritual life, a commitment to weeding is required. For as long as it takes.
Being at the temple reminds me of visiting Zolli, the small village in Campania, Italy, where my family is from. Despite being 500 metres from the beach, Shuki, near Oita, is hilly, wild boar roam, much of the land is overgrown and there are a lot of old people around.
So it seems a fair question: how is my weeding different from the lot of the farmer anywhere in time or space? Surely this is just the history of the world.
The difference is the zazen which starts the day.
Meditation shows us how to uncover the precious jewel within the heart and the gardening which follows feels like polishing the jewel, cherishing it, sharing it, rather than just hiding it away.
What would be the point of digging for treasure just to lock it away again?
To start the day with meditation is a supreme blessing.
You don't need to be in a Zen temple to experience this.
How we approach what comes after meditation, whatever it may be, is the point.
To discover in our daily activities the extension of our meditation is the challenge.
More of a challenge than meditation even.
Disclaimer: I actually only spent about thirty minutes gardening the whole time I was at the temple!
I have lots of photos from the temple and the region, but for now, here are a few.
I really like taking photos of spiders and I took a lot of the Jorō Spider all over Japan as it is extremely common. It is quite hard to get a sharp photo of a spider for various reasons, but I took this one very soon after arriving at the temple. As legend has it, these spiders have a very dubious reputation.
Here are Ingar, from Norway, and Alice, from Adelaide, my home town, who were also staying at the temple.
This is Andrew, the incomparable Englishman, another visitor, swinging in a tree.
I stayed in a eight tatami room with sliding wooden doors and this is the scroll from my alcove. I have no idea what it says and did not think to ask.
When I asked Jiho who his favourite poet was, he told me it was Kanzan and then gave me one of this poet's verses he had copied out. I just got it back from my framer.
I recited one of my poems to Jiho, miming the words to reinforce the Engish.
He responded with, "Ah, satori feeling!"
As well as some incense from Kyoto, I gave Jiho a copy of a poem I composed in the Tokyo National Museum. The Toyokan building there is full of Buddha statuary from China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and India.
The Light of the world
Is Thy Entire Being
So many Buddhas