Dharma in 21st century Japan

Step away from status, wealth and fame to find your true nature and the secrets of the universe!

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Angel’s Wood by Mariko Kinoshita, Japan, Dec 1986

Karma considerations
Of course, as committed Buddhists, we need to be always watchful of karma, both past, present and future. Karma arising and subsiding, karma cut through purification and mindfulness, and karma attaching itself as a result of wrong views, of arrogance and ignorance. I find it useful to see this as a great ocean of karma, with estuaries and tributaries taking water inland, and tides pulling water back into the massive body of water. Thus all sentient beings are submerged in this living ocean, and the aspects of behaviour from the begingless beginning to the endless end appear and disappear continuously, salt water and fresh water mixing. When we are sufficiently evolved we can see all species of oceanic elements, and one day, when everything has been balanced through practice, the ocean is completely calm and clear and we are completely integrated.
When I first tiptoed into the Buddhist teachings in this human life, the brilliance of karma was the single most impressive element for me. I was at pains to grasp it and live it as quickly as I could. It became one of the driving forces behind my mindfulness practice when I realized the enormity of the notion that every single thing we do, say and think affects everyone and everything in the universe, as well as determining the future for each of us. I still remember vividly what a genius holistic system it seemed to me compared with the limited Christian measures of sin and grace, of god-fearing and displacement of responsibility which I had been brought up into. It seemed so much more hopeful to become balanced, happy and full of light the Buddhist way. Of course, no criticism of Christianity is intended or implied in this comparison.
So, long before I found myself in the enchanted land of the Rising Sun, I was immersed in karmic considerations and doing my best to live in the great ocean, very much aware of the potential effect each moment lived in my unique way would have on my future life. Of course the Nirvana teachings are full of references to karma, and monastic Buddhist orders here have many practices which moderate karma, but this notion is not uppermost in the minds of lay practitioners in the way I was used to when practising in the west. My present Nirvana sangha members find my ideas rather strange. They cannot believe that I do not kill any creature intentionally, emulating the Buddha Shakyamuni himself, and that I breathe in the Dharma all around me and don’t ever want to be separated from it.
They see me as an idealist, saying that such ways are not practical in everyday life, tending to leave all such responsibility to our root gurus. They can hardly bear me to allow myself to be stung by mosquito rather than kill them, or see me go hungry rather than eat live seafood or a lot of meat (vegetarianism here is virtually unknown and completely misunderstood). They cannot seem to comprehend my urgency and determination on these points, but I am 100% certain that I must continue to abide by the laws of karma if I truly wish to become enlightened in this life. This is perhaps viewed as culture differences, but it is not connected to our differences of east and west.
The Dharma as it is for lay people in Japan
Sumi and Koichi come, the owners of our seaside holiday villa. They are determined to get rid of the beautiful spiders we have given house room to during our short stay, the spiritual visitors that Mariko is starting to be relaxed with. Sumi irrationally and indignantly says she will not permit them to stay in her house.
Our visitors are hot, so we have to put the aircon on and close out the sea air and sound of the waves! I feel locked away from anything natural, away from the Dharma. This is real suffering to me, and I realise that life in Japan consists of long periods of being sealed away from the Dharma, from the natural air, and that these last few days by the sea, of open air, will soon be over for me. It is difficult to be outside in the searing heat of summer in Japan, but by the ocean there is some cool spray.
I feel so sad that this power and materialism blinds them to the Dharma, to the natural way. Sad that their secularism pulls them so far away from the sacred. I try to reach them with my mantras, and I thank them for allowing me to know the Dharma even more deeply. I vow, pushing back the tears, to take them to Enlightenment with me.
Earlier, we went to the fish market situated right on the coast. These dark dirty places are full of the suffering of sentient beings, their substances and dying flesh mixed with the smell of cheap cigarettes. All kept in close confinement: eels wedged together in plastic pipes, huge shell creatures like elephants swelling out of their modest shells, shooting out water from their pale trunks at spectators and potential buyers; massive crabs their legs tied together and labelled with a price; many species of tiny identical fish mounted in line on their crafted plastic pallets like badges.
Standing there, almost paralyzed by horror and helplessness, my eyes catch the wriggling of an eel in the giant fishmonger’s hands who is getting it ready for the kill. I want to turn away, but know I have to witness this, have to experience it. It wriggles and jumps, wriggles and jumps, many times, until the knife clamps its neck to the stained plastic board, still furiously wriggling, and then the pronged instrument is bashed into its brain with several hammer blows, but still it wriggles. It’s head pinned to the board, the giant swiftly slides the knife in under the spine and strips it away in a flash, and still it wriggles! This is the relentless energy of life refusing to be extinguished.
I want to bring the great light of Shinnyo, the brightness of Nirvana to shine into these places. I must be a beacon which shines out even in the greatest storm, even when the electricity is cut, even when there is such terrible karma! And I have to say ‘yes’ without frills, without conditions, without provisos – especially to Mari-chan, my Dharma partner!!
I have been led to a teaching which is not about retreating from the world, but instead about every moment of mundane existence, and that’s why we can board the shinkansen, and are going forward extending friendship and really striding across high barriers like the wind!

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