Sun, Moon, Truth
Roshi Kobayashi had just finished the Aragyo.
For 100 days, from November to February, in a temple at the summit of Mt. Hiei, Buddhist monks undergo austere ascetic instruction. For the duration of their training the monks remain dressed in white.
In Buddhism, white is the traditional color of Death.
The monks eat one serving of clear miso soup and vegetables a day. Meal time is three minutes. They are allowed two hours of sleep. Upon waking, they drill holes through the ice on the surface of a nearby freshwater pond. The monks purify themselves in the frigid water. The ritual is repeated seven times daily. After each ice-water purification, they practice chanting the sutras. All while standing barefoot in the winter snow.
They endure the cold, hunger, sleep deprivation, and constant pain in their feet in order to learn how to perform the Gokito ceremony.
The purpose of the Gokito, or Kito Blessing as it is more commonly known, is to influence the environment around them in some inscrutable manner, so as to gain protection from harm or a purification of the spirit for the receiver. In some cases, the blessing is incanted if there is a disturbed, restless, capricious or malevolent being, such as a shade, troll, demon or other spirit that must be warded off or even placated. The Gokito is considered sacred among prayers.
Only a monk who has completed the Aragyo can recite the Kito blessing. To receive the blessing is one of the highest honors that a monk can bestow upon a practitioner of Buddhism.
Snow was falling in a sheer white lace veil when Kobayashi prepared to make his way home from the temple atop the mountain. It was the kind of lazy snow that collects in the canopies of evergreens. The kind that slowly muffles and then blankets and then silences, everything. The kind that would melt quickly in the April sun but not before leaving behind the icy crystalline traces of Mother Nature’s tears clinging to tips of the branches of the seasonally barren trees.
However, April was a long way off and so too was Kobayashi’s home at the base of the mountain.
He pulled on his flax cloth leggings and laced up his straw sandals around them. When he stepped outside, he breathed in deeply.
The air smelled new.
He grabbed his walking stick. The trail down the mountain would be treacherous today and the staff would help keep him from falling to his death.
Through the archway of an open-air pagoda, Kobayashi saw a group of monks tending to the Karesansui garden.
Sometimes called a Zen meditation garden, Karesansui is a form of Japanese art. The garden is an enclosed shallow pit containing sand, gravel and rocks. The sand is raked in patterns that suggest rippling water. The garden contains no vegetation of any kind. The sand is continually raked smooth to create new lines if weather or human elements disturb the lines. The rocks have been said to alternately represent the islands of Japan, a mother tiger with her cubs swimming to a dragon or part of the kanji symbols representing the connection between mind and heart. There is no documentation supporting any of these interpretations.
The creation of some gardens, like the one at this mountain temple, date back thousands of years and the secrets of the sponsoring thoughts of the gardens and their true meanings died with their architects millennia ago.
This particular garden, however, the one inside the open-air pagoda, was masterfully conceived in its use of visual space. It was meant to be viewed from a single seated position.
It was 90 feet long from east to west and 30 feet wide from north to south. The area contained 15 irregularly shaped rocks of varying sizes. All of them were balanced on smaller white pebbles and carefully arranged on a bed of white sand. Amazingly, the larger rocks were organized in such a manner that a viewer could only see 14 of them at any one time; from whichever angle the garden was viewed.
Kobayashi bowed reverently in deference to the monks’ dedication to the Karesansui even in these harsh conditions. The monks bowed returning the show of high regard in the same manner in which it was received. Their eyes smiled and wished him a safe journey home.
As he trudged deliberately forward toward the main temple, Kobayashi contemplated the sutra associated with optical illusion of the missing stone.
There are only three things that cannot remain long hidden from view: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
The drone of chanting from behind the closed temple doors could be heard from 50 yards away. The drum that kept pace added syncopation to the consistent, low level, almost monotonous hum.
It was the monks’ harmonic call in lyrical response to the music of the spheres.
It was the Daimoku.
The Lotus Sutra.
Though the Lotus Sutra defies all English language translation, understanding it is essential to grasping the fundamental concepts of Buddhism. In 1253, the Buddhist cleric, Nichiren, established the practice of chanting ‘Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo’ as a means to enable all people to put their lives in harmony or rhythm with the law of life, or Dharma.
In the original Sanskrit, the chant indicates the elements of action and attitude, and refers therefore to the correct action one needs to take and the attitude one needs to develop in order to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime.
Nichiren said of the Lotus Sutra:
“When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one is called a Buddha. This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.”
Three young acolytes with freshly shaven heads were sweeping evil spirits away from the doorstep of the temple when they saw Kobayashi approach.
They immediately supplicated themselves in the fresh snow. Kobayashi continued his walking meditation without breaking stride. When he came upon the trio, he bent down and gently touched the open palm of his hand to the back of each one’s head.
They rose and held their hands tightly pressed together in front of their chins. Their fingers pointed heavenward as they all bowed deeply.
“Namaskar, Roshi!” they each chirped in turn.
Roshi means “elder teacher” or “teacher of masters” and is an honorific title bestowed upon a person who has been certified to give spiritual instruction. Despite its literal translation, the title has nothing to do with the actual age of the individual who receives it. It is used to indicate respect and veneration. The title is granted to one who has a great understanding of Dharma and most Roshi have undergone many years of
arduous training under a master.
Namaskar is also an expression of deep respect.
It translates literally to: “The God in me, sees, recognizes and worships the God in you.” The word is spoken at the beginning of written or verbal communication.
When greeting a peer, Namaskar can be said with hands together in front of the chest and a slight bow. To indicate deep respect, one may place the hands in front of the forehead, and reverence for a god or the holiest of persons may be indicated by placing the hands completely above the head.
However, upon leaving only a wordless hand gesture is made.
It was more than apparent to Kobayashi that these three students were hoping against hope to be imbued with words of enlightenment.
He returned their show of respect in the same manner in which it was received. He pressed his palms together and placed his hands over his head.
And then he bowed, silently.
The three acolytes thanked him profusely with their eyes for the gift of the instruction on respect. They gathered their brooms and continued the task of exorcism as Kobayashi glided past them and entered the temple.
Though opening the door to the temple issued in a blast of winter’s breath, the chanting of the Daimoku did not stop. Kobayashi removed his sandals, closed the door behind him and lit four pieces of incense. He bowed in the direction of the four winds and walked toward the altar behind which stood a 50 foot golden statue of the Buddha. He placed the incense in a holder on a long table of sacrificial food.
And for the first time in 100 days, he prayed.
The prayer was a simple one. As all prayers should be.
It was an unadorned yet fervent statement of that which is so.
He thanked the Buddha for his present level of gratitude.
When he was finished, he remained in the full lotus position. He greedily breathed in the negative energies of the Universe, purified them through his spirit and exhaled them as prana: pure Ki energy.
Buddhists believe that Ki is the natural energy of the Universe. It permeates everything. They believe that Ki is not breath; it is the power that makes it possible for us to breathe. Ki is not simply “energy,” it is what gives energy the power to be energy. Ki is the power that makes gravity act like gravity. Ki is what makes electricity, electric. Ki is also the power behind movement and thought.
Being energy, Ki has both positive and negative poles. Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to maintaining a balance between the positive and negative poles, in both movement and thought. They do this in order to demonstrate to “ordinary beings” that with balance comes harmony, and with harmony, inner peace. They are, in effect, the physical manifestations of the Yin and the Yang.
The symbol of the Yin and the Yang is a circle. The circle represents the wheel of life. In a circle, there is no beginning and no end. The circle is divided into two halves. The left side of the circle represents negative energy, or evil. The right side, positive energy, or good.
The left side of the symbol is traditionally blue in color, the right side, red. The combination of the two colors is purple.
In Buddhism, purple is the color of knowledge.
A line slightly meanders between the two halves denoting the winding path that life guides us along in order to achieve balance and knowledge.
However, within each half is a smaller circle. At the very bottom of the blue half is a red circle and at the top of the red half is a blue one. The significance of these two circles is profound. It means that at the lowest point of evil there is good and, conversely, at the highest point of good, there is evil. And at each of these points is knowledge.
Around the outside of the symbol of the Yin Yang are further instructions on how a monk should conduct his life. There are six Kanji symbols which when studied in their entirety summarize, the Law of Life, or more accurately, the Law of Karmic Equivalence. They are drawn directly opposite each other. Conduct across from consequence, thought from environment and character opposite destiny.
The message of the symbols is clear.
The manner in which you conduct yourself in this life is equal to the consequences you will receive in the next. The nature of your thoughts will manifest themselves in your environment and the strength of your character shapes your destiny.
As Kobayashi ended his meditation, passing through various planes of existence and alternate realms of consciousness, he felt the Ki of his master nearby.
It made him smile inwardly.
His master touched his open palm to Kobayashi’s forehead.
He passed the ancient blessing for travelers onto him:
“Just as the soft rains fill the streams,
pour into the rivers
and join together in the oceans,
So may the power of every moment of your goodness
Flow forth to awaken and heal all beings,
Those here now, those gone before, those yet to come.
By the power of every moment of your goodness ?
May all dangers be averted and all disease be gone. ?
May no obstacle come across your way. ?
May you enjoy fulfillment and long life.”
Kobayashi felt a renewed sense of energy and vitality wash over him. His place, purpose and destiny in the Universe were now illuminated and thus made clear.
Kobayashi opened his eyes.
His master was walking back to his place in front of the chorus of monks.
The old man sat.
Effortlessly, he pulled his legs akimbo and placed his hands in his lap close to his stomach, right hand resting on top of left palm. He purposefully brought his thumbs together until they were touching each other as if making the steeple of a church.
The old man closed his eyes.
He began to recite the Daimoku.
And even though there were a hundred monks chanting in the temple, Kobayashi could hear his master’s voice, singly and above them all.
It wasn’t the first time he had had such clarity of perception.
Throughout his life, Kobayashi had been taught how to concentrate on a specific sound. He had heard and appreciated the beauty of the sound of a single leaf falling from a tree and of ash from burning incense. He had heard the laughter in a bubbling stream kissing rocks and stones and fish in passing as it made its way onward toward the ocean.
And he had heard the fury of the Mother Nature’s lament in the form of rain on his roof in the full, starless, blue black of night.
However, this sound, the sound of his master’s voice, the lyrical response to all that was and all that will be, was different.
It had a heartbreakingly beautiful quality of tone. It was not mournful or joyous. It was neither too full of pride nor empty of humility. It did not dance with the gratitude of having more life to live nor did it bemoan the inevitability of death.
And yet it was an amalgam of all these things.
It was balanced and, as a result, balanced. everything.
Kobayashi hoped against hope that his prayers, one day, would carry energy into the Universe in that very same way.
Kobayashi stood up.
He bowed deeply before the Buddha, pressed his palms together and held his hands high above his head. His eyes thanked him silently for the gift of the instruction on perfection.
He bowed in the direction of his master, thanking him for the gift of dedication.
He bowed to the monks in the temple, thanking them for their loyalty to truth.
Finally, he bowed to the doorway through which he had come, thanking the Outside World in advance for lessons yet unlearned and instruction yet untaught.
Though Kobayashi had completed the Aragyo and was now a High Buddhist cleric, he left the temple atop Mt Hiei with his soul right-sized. He opened the door to the temple, laced up his sandals, grabbed his staff and deliberately walked through the snow and out the front gate.
The city of Kyoto, on the island of Honshu, sits at the foot of Mt Hiei. In the year 794, Kyoto was named the Imperial capital of Japan. Some believe that it remains so today. In fact, Kyoto means “western capital”. Kyoto remained Japan’s Imperial capital until the city of Edo, renamed Tokyo, or “eastern capital” assumed the title in 1868 without Imperial decree.
The confusion in the city’s personality does not end there.
Over much of its storied history, battles for control over the city of Kyoto have degenerated into bloody wars between Samurai and Buddhist clerics. The last and most destructive of which was the Onin War that lasted from 1467 to 1477. Kyoto would not fully recover from the devastation for another 100 years.
Fortunately, Kyoto has not known war since. The city took the opportunity of long-standing peace to become the intellectual capital of Japan. However, as a direct result of this effort, Kyoto was short -listed by the United States Government as a possible target for the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. It was stated in a memo to President Truman, that because Kyoto was the intellectual capital of Japan, “. its population would best be able to understand and appreciate the significance of the weapon.”
Either through divine intervention or by the hand of Harry Stimson, U. S. Secretary of War for the Truman administration, Kyoto was removed from the list at the last moment.
Today, Kyoto is a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area. Thirty-seven of Japan’s finest universities stand along aside multinational, multi-billion dollar corporations in the shadow of over 2000 Buddhist temples.
This mix of industrialized Western concerns and ancient Eastern traditions and philosophies has turned Kyoto into a diametrically diverse, if not schizophrenic, city.
The snow that was falling now was indecisive.
It would soon turn to rain.
Red light. Bicycles everywhere. Horns honking. Cars waiting. Waiting. High-rise office buildings survey the mayhem below. A cell phone rings. Walk. People rush between the stark white lines of an expansive crosswalk. The reflections in the store windows distort the truth. ijnaK. Kanji backwards. The neon signs still flicker. Self -promote. Beckon. Automotive traffic hiccups forward and then mimics the scurrying pedestrians speeding along the lines parallel. A cell phone rings. Plate glass reflects the scene. Geisha walk past businessmen. Businessmen pass candy ravers. Candy ravers pass mothers pass old men pass tourists pass peasants. A cell phone rings.
Horns honking. Don’t Walk. Green light.
He adjusts his earpiece and stands on the opposite side of the street.
He listens intently.
“Will the buyer have the money on delivery?”
His mouth was moving before his mind had had time to engage the gears. There was furious increase in pitch on the opposite end.
A repetition of the instruction to insure precision.
“Yes, Kyodai.” Another flurry of words.
An audible click.
They did not stand for insubordination. He had lost the top of his left pinky as a result of one such incident already. The next time they would not be so lenient.
They were Yakuza.
The Yakuza are among the largest and most structured crime organizations in the world. In Japan, members of the Yakuza have also been referred to as “boryokudan” meaning “violence group”. However, the Yakuza consider this term to be an insult as its use can be applied to any violent criminal.
The word “yakuza” literally translates as 8-9-3.
Ya = 8, ku = 9, and za = 3.
Its significance stems from Japan’s counterpart to Blackjack, Oicho-kabu. The difference between Oicho-kabu and Blackjack is that in the former, the objective is to get a total of 19 rather than 21. The sum of 8, 9 and 3, is 20.
A score of 20 is the Blackjack equivalent to busting in Oicho-kabu. It is from this that the term Yakuza originates, implying that just as a 20 is without worth in the card game, the Yakuza are without worth to society.
Not that they have no use in society, but rather that its members are people who in some way do not fit into society — society’s misfits.
He had just finished a cigarette when he parked the white Daihatsu panel van in front of “the house that looks like they built the city around it.”
The snow that had been falling earlier and had turned to rain had passed. There was a break in the cloud cover. Above it, the sky was clear. The moon was full and round and bright.
He turned off the radio and stuffed his pistol in his waistband.
The streets were slick. The mixture of melting snow, streetlamp and moonlight made the surface of them glisten as if the asphalt had been mixed with stardust.
He gathered his tools, pulled his shirt over the handle of his gun and got out of the van. Though this particular street was quiet, there were trees here, a couple of blocks over he could see headlights and taillights announcing the arrival and departure of people still moving, still doing.
He opened the gate.
The pathway leading to the front door of the house divided a continuous and perfectly manicured garden. The owner of the home had gone to great lengths to make certain that the architecture and placement of the house did not disrupt the symmetry and balance of nature it invaded.
In the moonlight, still birdbaths reflected the sky. A pair of cherry blossom trees had just started developing their first buds. Opposite the trees was a Karesansui garden. A very large rock was set directly in its center. Concentric circles that looked as if the waves of the Sea of Japan emanated from it were raked with precision around it. There were Bonsai trees set on tables at a suitable height for both pruning and viewing. Below them, rows of potted plants. Bamboo trees framed the garden. In springtime, it would be breathtaking.
Tonight, he saw none of it.
He held his maglight in his teeth as he opened his lockpick set and bent over to unlock the door.
There was no lock.
It wasn’t until the last leg of his journey that Kobayashi’s white robe had started to accumulate some of the city’s grime along its bottom edge. His straw sandals and flax cloth leggings were also defenseless against the constant and magnetic attraction of the dirt and oil brought up to the surface of the concrete by the rain.
He noticed none of this.
For most of the day, as Kobayashi had shuffled along the streets of Kyoto leading up to his door, his thoughts were focused on the time he had spent in the mountain temple. Except for the times when they weren’t.
When Kobyashi came down from the mountain, he hadn’t expected the city to be different. He hadn’t expected there to be love running rampant in the streets, peace to rein supreme, or hate to have been abated. Everything was just as it should have been.
He knew it was he that was different and inexorably changed by the experience.
But that made all the difference in the world.
All along the route during his long walk home devout Buddhists, of all ages, knelt and bowed their heads in his passing.
They did this not so much in reverence for the robes of the cleric he now wore but in their hope-filled expectation that somehow, someday, someone would imbue them with gift of enlightenment. They hoped against hope that they too could pray as he prayed, worship as he worshiped, believe as he believed.
What they didn’t realize is that they were just simply standing too close to the mirror. A small step backward and longer glance inward is all it would take.
He felt compelled to touch them and bless their spirits. He felt himself instantly absorb their confusion, their uncertainty, their pleading for answers, their want of the illusion of control, their negative energy and he replaced it with his own positive energy, his present level of gratitude.
That was in gloaming of the daylight hours.
It was full night.
Spirits of a different sort inhabited the streets now.
He had already moved most of the larger artifacts into the back of the panel van when he came back for the scrolls. They would bring a good price on the open market and would return him in good standing with his Kyodai. He was a foot soldier in the organization and he had honor and rules and orders that he must abide by. He didn’t have time to consider the plight of his Karma or the consequences of his conduct.
As he greedily grabbed an armful of scrolls from the bookcase, he noticed Kobyashi standing in the doorway of the house.
He dropped the scrolls and grabbed his gun.
He quickly chambered a round and pointed the gun at Kobyashi’s chest.
His mind was a race of thoughts and oddly, fear.
Kobyashi’s mind had but one thought:
With the passing of the father, the son becomes a man.
“Wait!” Kobyashi implored although he did not make the request to save his own life or to remain attached to his belongings.
The notion of “self-defense” in Western philosophy is very different from that of the Eastern philosophy.
In the West, it is believed that one studies martial arts and practices of self-defense in order to protect one’s own person from harm.
In the East, it is believed that it is karmically detrimental for a person to willfully cause harm to another sentient being. It is further believed that a person must use whatever force necessary in order to stop an attacker from harming his or her own karma by attacking another sentient being. The means of last resort is in the use of the martial arts.
“My son, all that I own is now, yours.”
Kobyashi picked the scrolls up from the floor and proceeded to walk them out to the panel van.
The robber stood in stunned amazement.
Kobyashi returned. He gathered ancient religious tomes and artifacts left to him by his previous masters.
Being no fool, the robber took the woodcuts and idols and statues down from the shelves. He took the artwork and calligraphy hanging on the walls. He took Kobyashi’s sacrificial altar and his jade Buddha.
Kobyashi packed his plates and dishes and straw sleeping mat.
Soon, the room was empty and the van was full.
The two of them stood and looked at each other a moment before Kobyashi stripped off all of his clothes folded them in a neat pile and handed them to the robber.
When Kobyashi was finished, he grabbed the robber by the arm and pressed his open palm on his forehead.
He recited the Kito blessing.
The moon was at its apex as Kobyashi walked the man down the path to his van. The man’s shoulders heaved as he sobbed heavily. The man slithered out of the gate, into the van and drove away.
Kobyashi climbed to the top of the rock in the Karesansui garden and sat in the full lotus position.
He breathed deeply.
His naked body was bathed in moonlight as he thought,
” Poor, lost soul. I only wish that I could give him this beautiful moon.”
Gregory D. Goyens
Graduating Class: 2013
Major: MFA Directing