Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Looks Like A Buddha"

In 2002 with Rin-san and her friend Fuji-san, we stopped by to see the Buddhist sculptor Tachibana. During conversation, Rin-san told him she had set up a 5PM appointment with a nearby Buddhist master, and did Tachibana want to go with us. No, he didn't, he said, "And watch out for him. He is evil." "Why do you say that? He has an old established temple and appears to be a good priest." "Yes, he LOOKS LIKE A BUDDHA, but . . . "

According to Tachibana, professors from the University would recommend that students interested in Buddhism go to this temple as it was the closest. Tachibana was living at the temple at the time, and some of the students would subsequently become monks and live there also. But within one or two years, every single one of them had fled after getting to know the priest better. Presently, the only disciple was a woman who would cook and wash clothes. But the temple still had enough lay believers to support it financially.

We got there at 5 o'clock. Rin-san knew the master, but Fuji-san and myself had yet to meet him. He took us up into the dimly lit temple and he and Rin-san engaged in conversation. While they talked, Fuji-san and I, with the tales of Tachibana fresh in mind, heard the door creaking behind us, wind would occasionally whistle through the cracks, we watched his eyes narrow down and glance sideways, and he would furrow or raise his brow. While Rin-san blithely carried on, we were as if frozen, expecting that at any moment he would reach around for an axe, lunge at us, and bury the bodies under the floorboards with the skeletons.

After leaving the temple, it turned out Fuji-san and I had seen and heard and thought all the same things. But of course, these were just projections after listening to Tachibana's dramatic warnings of horror. The truth in the story was that there ARE people who look like Buddhas, who have round bodies and shaved heads, wear immaculate robes, sit perfectly straight, and serve tea in old temples, but when students live there awhile and get to know the master, they run away screaming. In common, less extreme cases, the Japanese have a phrase:
which means "form only," as in "That priest doesn't have the religious mind, but has the form only." I heard this phrase quite often in different places in Japan, but it always seemed that the group I was with were "real Buddhists" while the group over there was katachi dake. You'd think it would be more beneficial not to be so concerned with the group over there, and to devote more time to examining our own actions and studying the Dharma so that our own Buddhist life doesn't become katachi dake.


Anonymous said...

>the group I was with were "real Buddhists" while the group over there was katachi dake.

Seems it is human nature to think we have it right, while "they" have it wrong & enjoy being divisive.

Thank you for posting these teachings and stories, Keisho. I really enjoy them.

I had to laugh at the Lotus Sutra post the other day. I had just blogged the song from HAIR, AGE OF AQUARIUS!


Unknown said...

I love your story "Easter 1979" and also the bear photo!