Saturday, December 12, 2015


from Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan’s Most Rigorous Zen Temple
By Kaoru Nonomura
Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
Paperback  $16.95  Publication date:  September 2015
© 1996, 2015 by Kaoru Nonomura
Published by Kodansha USA, Inc.

“Roads come into being as people begin to travel with new purpose in places previously unmarked, each miniscule step helping to wear a path in the ground.” (p. 12)

“However valuable the act of eating may be, without the corresponding physiological process of waste elimination, the life of the individual could not be maintained. This too is completely natural. The natural human act of elimination is, like all of life itself, replete with truths, and this is what maintains the harmony behind the existence of all things.” (p. 46)

“Among all the thinking that human beings do, the question ‘Why?’ has always been predominant. Undoubtedly it has played an enormous role in helping to bring about what we call progress. But in the course of each day’s round of activities at Eiheiji, the question ’Why?’ is virtually meaningless. Delving into the rationale for every single action would mean that nothing ever got done smoothly. What is essential is to accept without question what you are asked to do, and throw yourself into it entirely. There is no room for subjectivity.” (p. 97)

“In my old life, I ate without reflecting in particular upon the act of eating as such. I ate when I was hungry and stopped eating when I was full. Any thoughts I had on the subject concerned how to get the tastiest food possible, no more. But here at Eiheiji, eating was a major undertaking. It was not a question of hunger or satiety, or of food tasting good or bad. The point lay in the act of eating itself. Eating was the Dharma, the essence of Buddhist teaching, and vice versa.” (p. 99)

We lined up again and circled clockwise around the central altar, each one bent forward from the waist with his hands heldpalm to palm and his head bowed. Circumambulation, a form of worship going back to ancient India, is the act of moving around a sacred object. Moving in a clockwise direction also suggests the east, the symbolic source of life, and beyond that the south, also associated with the sun. . . .Outside all was radiant. Everything that met my eyes shone brilliantly in the rays of the new-risen sun. The buds on the old plum tree in front of the Buddha Hall would surely swell to bursting in the spring sunshine of the long-awaited day.” (p. 112)

In the Christian monastic tradition, work is a means of supporting a life of prayer. Continued prayer is the goal, work is the means. But for Zen practitioners, work has inherent spiritual value and is integral to the life of discipline.” (p. 195)

The box was full of washrags that were made from worn and faded scraps: bits of old flannel nightgowns, cotton kimonos, and thin hand towels, stitched together in multiple layers with stout thread. . . . I picked up one of the cloths and asked myself if I had ever put anything to such long use. After a lifetime of throwing things away one after another without a second thought, the sight of so many carefully saved rags was like a dash of cold water in the face. . . . From that day on, I kept one of the washrags from the old people’s home in my desk drawer,and sometimes, when I was feeling down, I would slip it out and look at it. Every stitch was replete with the burning spirit of someone whose faith had stayed strong over a lifetime. In the warmth and solidarity of that person’s handiwork, I could laugh away the frailty of my heart.” (p. 245)

“Yet life’s very unpredictability is what makes it interesting. Though I had no way of knowing where I might be or what I might be doing the following New Year’either, I was heartened by the thought that uncertainty can be a dynamic, life-giving force. Whether such a thing as destiny might exist, I couldn’t say. Rather than worry about it, I wanted only to go on believing in the reality of my own existence, day by day.” (p. 284)

“Devoting oneself to sitting, getting used to sitting, and conquering the pain of sitting are all equally pointless. The only point in sitting is to accept unconditionally each moment as it occurs.” (p. 292)

“Days at Eiheiji are relentless in their sameness. For a while in the beginning, the monotony was upsetting and bewildering to me. Day after day, from the moment we got up until the moment we went to bed our time was strictly regimented, without variation. Over and over we repeated the same routines without end and without question. What was that monotony about, I used to wonder. But now I realize that apart from a few special days now and then, life mostly does consist of one dull, insignificant day after another. Human beings are attracted to drama and variety. The humdrum we hold in disdain. Wrapped up in the routines of our daily lives, we let them slide by unnoticed. But I believe that hidden in these ordinary, unremarkable routines of life is a great truth that requires our attention.” (pp. 292-293)

“By contemplating life as it is, stripped of all extraneous added value, I found I could let go of a myriad of things that had been gnawing at my mind. Through the prosaic repetition of Eiheiji’s exacting daily routines for washing the face, eating, defecating, and sleeping, this is the answer that I felt in my bones: accept unconditionally the fact of your life and treasure each moment of each day.” (p. 293)

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