Category name:Buddhism

Cherry Blossom Wisdom

April 18, 2011 / Comments Off

This is the cherry tree outside my school.

The same tree a few days later.

And today.

Despite some very windy weather the cherry blossom was fairly tenacious this year in Kyoto. Tonight’s heavy rain though, should finish off the stragglers….

Here’s a poem I read recently that I thought particularly beautiful:


As the blooming cherry flowers
Withered away yesterday
Everything in the world
Fades away
Someday and forever.

And today again
You cross the mountains of living
Carrying false dreams
Quite seriously.

(from Iroha – ancient Japanese alphabetic song)
Aug. 1993
Poem by Nanao Sakaki from the collection Let’s Eat Stars.

Here are the trees inside my school.

Incidentally the sign reads,


For my birth
I am thankful.
Grateful too
To be alive.

Taken from the Dhammapada, it’s a simple reminder to celebrate and affirm the life we have been given.

Many thanks to Ken Rodgers for lending me Nanao Sakaki’s book… I think I’m going to have to order my own copy though.

The Company You Keep…

February 7, 2010 / Comments Off

Here’s “this month’s word” as posted in all the classrooms around my school:


yoki tomo ga ari yoki nakama to
tomoni aru koto ha kono seinaru
michi no subete aru

My co-teacher mumbled something about it probably being from some sutra or other, but he basically had no idea. It is obviously old though. Notice the old fashioned よき instead of the current よい for “good”. Also notice the use of the kanji 善 for “good” instead of the alternatives 良い or 好い. To me this suggests a more moral sense of “good”; good as in “right” and “proper”. 聖なる道 literally means “sacred path” but in this case it probably means simply a good way to liveway meaning the Buddhist way of course.
Here’s my translation with vocabulary notes below:

to live the good way
being together
with good friends and good companions
is everything

善き  – よき = good
友 – とも = friend
仲間 – なかま = companion
ともに – together, in company with
聖なる – せいなる – sacred, holy
道 – みち- path, way
すべて – everything, all


September 29, 2009 / Comments Off

Very often these aphorisms from Buddhist scripture can seem like obvious common sense. Still, it’s good to remind yourself of these things and bear them in mind as you go about your day. This one is posted up in my school staffroom. 


ayamachi wo shiteki suru hito ha gai no arika wo shiraseru hito

あやまち ayamachi – fault or mistake
指摘する shiteki suru – point out
人 hito – person
害 gai – harm, hurt, damage, injury
ありか arika – place, whereabouts, hiding place
知らせる shiraseru – causative of shiruto know, understand, feel

Those who point out the faults of others, are telling you where
 their own affliction lies.

Simple pop psychology? At first glance this seems similar to Mr. Shakespeare’s sonnet 121: “they that level at my abuses reckon up their own”, however, the emphasis is a little different. The narrative voice of the sonnet is speaking defensively in response to criticism: “I am that I am” etc. The sutra however, is asking us to reinterpret the act of criticism as a cry for help. People are critical because they are unhappy and insecure in themselves and perhaps it gives them some small comfort, a little ego boost perhaps, to point out another’s perceived inferiority. It’s that little voice inside your head that says “I might be an idiot, but I’m not as stupid as that guy!” We’ve all done it, eh? A wise person though, realises that the act of criticism is actually a way of broadcasting your own problems to the world. Now, if I can keep this in mind, will I be able to turn another’s negativity around and use it positively to understand them better? And conversely, will I be able to keep my own mouth shut? (!)  This sutra is asking us to feel compassion towards those who basically we don’t really like very much. It’s a tricky one. And irksome. But it’s true.

I’m off to England for two weeks as of tomorrow. I may be able to post occasionally while home – but I wouldn’t bank on it.



September 28, 2009 / Comments Off

This is a line from the Buddhist sutras I’ve seen posted up around my school recently.

shizuku no mizu demo hate ha kame wo mitasu

滴 shizuku – a drop, a drip
水 mizu – water
果て hate – the end
甕 kame – a jar, a jug
満たす mitasu - fill

Even dripping water, eventually fills a jar.

This follows on nicely from the last post: 千里の行も足下に始まる. Whereas that message was about the importance of getting started on something, this message is on the importance of continuing. Keep up your efforts on a regular basis, and though you may not see any dramatic progress, you will eventually be satisfied with your achievements.


September 24, 2009 / Comments Off

This is the 今月のことば or word for the month at my school:


千里 senri – a thousand ri (a ri is a measure of distance equivalent to 4km).
行 kou – as a verb this kanji means go, but here as a noun we can say journey
も mo – also, even
足下 ashimoto – feet but more probably here step
始まる hajimaru – begin

Here’s my translation:

Even a journey of a thousand leagues starts with one foot forward.

Whatever task you undertake, no matter how great it may seem, that first step forward to get yourself going is very important.


September 24, 2009 / Comments Off

We haven’t had one of these for a while. Here’s this month’s meditation from Hozouji.

Kokoro no annon koso, mi no gokuraku

心 kokoro – can mean heart, but also mind or soul
安穏 annonpeace, quiet, tranquility
こそ koso – used for emphasis
mibody or self
極楽 gokuraku – (heavenly) bliss, the Buddhist Pure Land or Paradise.

身も心も is an expression used to talk about body and soul, and the use of both here gives the meditation internal balance. However, the use of こそ throws the weight of importance onto the first part of the couplet: 心の安穏 – the heart’s tranquility. Does this imply that rather than chasing some heavenly paradise, we should first place greater emphasis on attaining peace of mind? Would attaining tranquility in the here and now, bring heavenly bliss to our bodily selves? I’m not sure! Here’s a clumsy translation:

It’s peace of mind, that’s the self’s bliss!

Perhaps my mentor Masaya will come to my rescue and give me his thoughts…

Update: Later that same evening Masaya wrote to say:

I looked at the poem you posted. This one is very simple. It’s about body and mind.
From the Zen perspective, body and mind are one. So, peace of mind means peace of body.
In this poem, 身 means “body” rather than “self”.
It’s peace of mind, that’s the body’s bliss.

I like reading these poems. Thanks for letting me know.
Thank you, Masaya!

Back in the Saddle

September 7, 2009 / Comments Off

Three of the 16 Arhats at Kenninji Temple: "...the Arhats support all who sincerely desire to follow the Dharma."

Ted left me a bunch of books by Brad Warner before he left and I managed to polish off the first one, Hardcore Zen, pretty damn quick. It’s an easy read though (if you’ve read his blog you’ll be familiar with his light humorous style), and the content is pretty cool too. Basically he details his early involvement in the punk scene in the 80s, how he came to Japan with the JET program and then somehow managed to wangle a job with the company that makes the TV show Ultraman and other rubber monster flicks. All through this biographical stuff though runs the thread of  Zen; how his life has lead him towards zazen practice and how things like the questioning attitude and anit-authoritarianism of punk rock  reflect quite nicely some key principles of Zen. Don’t take anything for granted. You have to work things out for yourself, he tells us. And as he talks about what Zen means to him and how he became an ordained Zen priest himself, he stresses that you shouldn’t just take his word for it. It’s something you can only do for yourself. And that means zazen practice. Meditation. Sitting down and doing nothing for a while and just figuring out who you are and what your life is about. Now a lot of people might say: “That’s all very well but how can I make time for meditation in my busy modern life? Let’s face reality: I’m just too busy!” He has an excellent response to this towards the end of the book in what is probably my favorite passage.

...Why would you want to waste time sitting on a cushion staring at a wall when there are so many “important” things you could be doing, like watching a rerun of The Simpsons, logging on to the internet to see if anything crucial has been added since this morning, or hanging out getting into a condition you’ll regret the next day?
You may be busy with work and family and responsibilities and all that, I sure am, but I’ll bet you also waste a hell of a lot of time every day. You devote hours and hours each week to “relaxing” in ways that aren’t relaxing in the least. You kill time. You steal a nap. You screw off.

I feel like he’s talking to me personally here. Did he just describe my summer vacation? Well, my vacation is over now, I went back to work again today. And do you know what? I’M REALLY HAPPY ABOUT IT! I think I probably need that little bit of structure in my life. Left to my own resources with seemingly endless amounts of free time I’m gonna fritter a fair bit of it away.  But when my time is limited I tend to use it more effectively. Today I was up at 6, I did a good, satisfying (and fun) day’s work, then I went to the gym with my workmates. Then I came home and cleaned my apartment. Then I threw a cafe review up on DK. Then I went for a jog. And then I came back and made dinner. Now I’m typing this. When I have less time I value it more, clearly. Of course I feel absolutely cream crackered, but in a good way, so I reckon I’ll sleep well tonight. Of course I’m also damn lucky to have finally found a job that I enjoy, and that actually gives me the energy I need and makes me feel positive enough to pursue other things… But anyway, I’m getting off topic. Reading something like Brad Warner’s book or just chatting this summer with someone like Ted, who has done so much during his time here simply by “following his bliss” with dedication and enthusiasm, is both inspiring and energizing. I want to pursue the things that call me, just like Ted. And I want to sit and face a wall like Mr. Warner. On a little island in lake Biwa this summer I said a little prayer to Fudo Myo-o, the deity that personifies resolve. That sword of his will cut through excuses. Who could slack off under that ferocious glare?


On Sunday I paid homage at Kenninji: the place where Kyoto zen began. It’s important to feel rooted, to see how small things can grow, and to see just how far a little resolve can take you.


On Wednesday I’m going to go looking for that place Ted recommended when we were talking that time over micro-brews.  I’m going to find myself a regular place and time to practice.  I’m going sit down and shut up.

I’ll leave the last word to Mr. Warner:

If you were bound and gagged inside a wooden barrel just about to head over Niagara Falls, you’d pray for just one more minute to live. And yet, while you’re alive, what do you do? You get bored. You wish to be elsewhere. You wish to get whatever you’re doing now over with. You want to speed by those boring minutes like your life your life is a video where you can fast-forward through the commercials. When the end comes you’ll be wishing you could have back all those boring moments you zipped through. But you killed them. Dead and gone. Try putting some of that time to good use and see what happens.

HARDCORE ZEN is available from

Spice up your life with thoughts of death!

July 22, 2009 / Comments Off



hito no seimei ha hibi ni kyou ya kagiri to
omoi tokidoki ni tadaima ya owari to
omou beshi

[by Ryukan founder of the tanengi or many recitation school of Jodo Shu]

This is another one of those Buddhist meditations that get posted up around the walls of my school. Let’s take it to pieces!

人 = person
生命 = life or existence
日々 = every day, day by day, daily…
今日 = today
や = this particle is equivalent to the modern で
限り = limit
思い = think
時々に = sometimes or often
ただいま = now, or right now
終わり = the end
べし = should or must

Here’s a rough translation:

In your life you should think  each day: today is the end
you should think each moment: this moment is my last.

Seems a bit dark at first glance, doesn’t it? A common criticism of Buddhist thought! But actually if you think this way, as each day or even each moment as your last – those days and moments become more precious to you. You are less likely to waste them and more likely to spend them well. It’s a common conversation question at my weekly clinic: “What would you do if the world were to end tomorrow?”
or “What would you do if you knew you had only one year left to live?” Well, what would you do? How would you live? Are you living that way now? Maybe you should. Maybe I should too…

Anyway, I like the way that saying is constructed with the almost repetition or mirroring of hibi ni kyou ya kagiri to with tokidoki ni tadaima ya owari to. It makes it easier to remember. They know what they are doing these Buddhists.
Here are some pictures from around my school I didn’t get around to putting up earlier. Upon entering or leaving the school premises we have to bow. It’s an important sign of respect.


This is Chris and I at the school entrance. Chris works like a beaver, constantly turns out new material, has a genial sense of humour and likes Doctor Who. So I like him.

Chris is very happy about his lunch.
Our hardest working co-worker.
Andrew and Bartolo in the gym. Two of the nicest guys you could hope to work or play with.
The view out the back.
There’s also a very nice chap called Matt. But he “doesn’t do photos” and I’m a great respecter of people’s wishes. Well, his wishes anyway.  終了

Dzongsar Diary & The Life of Buddha

June 24, 2009 / Comments Off

I don’t think I have mentioned it before but my old college buddy, Craig Meulen, is currently teaching and studying at a renowned Buddhist monastical institute in Himachal Pradesh, India. He has a blog about his experiences there and it is worth checking out.

The ‘real’ Dharamsala is not so high and is very Indian. The place that the world has come to know is actually called McLeod Ganj – a connected town high up on the hill. It was here that the Indian government offered the Tibetans some land and in the last fifty years the Tibetan colony here has grown and grown and taken over the hillside. …I have to say that I was very disappointed with the town itself. It is a real tourist trap. Very crowded and not really a place where you would hope to experience Tibetans being Tibetan – here they just seem to be selling Tibet on T-shirts and every other type of souvenir imaginable. LINK

A little while ago Craig posted a youtube video of a BBC documentary “The Life of Buddha”. This too is worth checking out. What struck me is that whereas for Christians, the literal existence of the Christ and the sequence of events that make-up his lifestory is all important, this is not so true of Buddhism. The traditional tale of Buddha’s life is clearly in large part a fairy-tale deliberately constructed to dramatically illustrate his teachings about the right way to live. Whereas Jesus’s teachings are clearly secondary to the cult surrounding his Christ persona, in Buddhism the teachings are everything. Doesn’t stop it from being a good story though. Watch and enjoy!

Saved by the Night Watch Bell

December 30, 2008 / 1 Comment

Just time for one last post before the end of the year methinks. There’s a fresh post up on Deep Kyoto of my favorite Irish pub in Kyoto: Gnome. Now for the last message of the year from Hozouji Temple:


It reads: 反省と感謝でおくる除夜の鐘

反省 - hansei = self-reflection
感謝 – kansha = thanks
おくる – okuru = send or give?
除夜 – jyoya = the watch night on New Year’s Eve
鐘 – kane = bell

As the old year gives way to the new in Japan, temple bells throughout the country are rung exactly 108 times. In Buddhist tradition this is the number of earthly desires. As the bell peals we are released from the regrets of the old year so as to greet the new year afresh. I wonder if the lack of a kanji for the verb おくる is so as to deliberately blur the meaning between sending and bestowing. The night-watch bell sends out the old year and bestows on us the new? Here is a rough idea of what this poem means:

In reflection
and in thanks
send out the old year
with the night-watch bell

That’s all from me in 2008. I had a good year. Lots of nice students and friends and good experiences to give thanks for. Especially I would like to thank Udo Bartsch and Fumi Hirai for giving me the trip of a lifetime in South Africa and I would like to thank M.T. for being my rock. A Happy New Year and see you again in 2009!

Update January 4th: Here’s a note from Masaya on the above:

Happy New Year, Mike.
I just looked at the poem. おくる is tricky.
I think it’s like おくる in 見送る(see somebody off).
When you 見送る, you are there to see other people leaving.
So, おくる is like let someone/something leave/go/pass while you are there to see that happen.
In the poem, it is more like “listening to”.
The poet listened to the bell and thought about the year that was about to end, and his mind was filled with self-reflection and thanks.
除夜の鐘 signifies the end of the year, so it can be that おくる has the idea of seeing off the year.
Does it make sense?
Take care,

Actually, I looked a little closer at my dictionary entry for おくる today and lo and behold, when I scrolled down just a little bit further I found that very meaning and an example sentence too: 旧年を送り新年を迎える ~ See the old year out and the new one in!
However, my translation seems to hit the mark anyway, so I think I’ll leave it as it is. Thanks Masaya!