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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
38 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 3 into Koji, the lead singer from the rock group Ball whom I hadn’t seen in months, and we had a conversation about Zen and “Japanese unique- ness,” or rather I was the passive recipient of his wisdom on the topic. “Are you still studying Zen?” he asked. I replied that I was. “It must be very difficult for you as a for- eigner. Everything in Japanese culture comes from Zen, and so we Japanese are born into it. The four seasons, nature, flower arrangement, Noh theater—it all comes from Zen. It is easy for Japanese to understand Zen, not so easy for a foreigner, I think.” Had I just heard right? Did he actually say that the four seasons and nature come from Zen? No wonder it’s dying then, I thought, with this kind of idiotic nonsense being bandied about. At the same time, though, I felt he might be par- tially right, in the sense of the Japanese having a natural affinity for Zen, since so many of the positive qualities of their culture are infused by it. But I also felt a deep sense of indignation, especially after the “subarashii roshi” conversa- tion, that Koji and no doubt other Japanese held me and my Zen pursuit in such seemingly low regard, as if I were a dog trying to master verb conjugations, when actually I was destined to be a “subarashii roshi.” Not long after this encounter with Koji, I was hiking through a gathering mist at the top of one of the hills that surround Kamakura. It was my haven from all the gaijin-baiting schoolchildren who tormented me everywhere I went, and every Saturday morning I would find myself there after zazen at San Un Zendo, hiking its trails for hours, my head down in solitary thought. Months earlier I had found off to the side of one of the trails near Engaku-ji temple a tiny tatami-floored hut that I had appropriated as my private monk’s koya for a few hours every Sat- urday and Sunday for some mountain samadhi. On this morning, I settled into a peaceful sitting period in this, my rickety fortress of solitude, when suddenly, out of nowhere and before I had time to react, a group of schoolchildren discov- ered my retreat, ran over to it, threw open the door, and saw me sitting cross-legged with a look of absolute shock on my face. Usually, children’s cries of “Gaijin!” were reined in by the tongue-clucking of an accompa- nying adult, but these winsome tykes had raced ahead of their teacher on a school outing, and when they saw me sitting there in half-lotus, bug-eyed at being discovered, they let out with a piercing, collective “GAIJIN!” as if their coun- try were under attack in a Godzilla movie and I was Godzilla. Their teacher finally caught up with them, saw me, bowed uncertainly, gave me a funny look, and shooed the kids away. I could hear them all the way down the trail: “I can’t believe it, we saw a gaijin in that little hut!” “What was he doing just sitting there?!” “I think he was doing zazen!!” “What’s zazen!?” and so forth. That did it. A line had been crossed. Com- ing on top of my conversation with Koji, I had reached a breaking point. I now no longer had the false luxury of solitude even in my dusty koya; the little pricks would find me there as they found me everywhere else. And then a pri- mal scream of volcanic proportions erupted from deep within my guts: “I HATE YOU FUCK- ING PEOPLE AND I HATE YOUR FUCKING COUNTRY!!’ In my self-imposed arhat isolation, I was developing a real paranoia about Japan.