Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A View of Cobb Mountain from Mt St Helena

The California Tendai Monastery is located on the southwest slope about half way up the mountain in the center of this photo. Mt St Helena was named by the first Westerners to climb  the peak,  residents of the Russian possession (1812-1842) called Fort Ross on the Pacific Coast 30 miles directly west of here. Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine, considered a patriarch in Russian Orthodox Christianity. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Icon of Saicho & Chi-i

An icon of Shakyamuni Buddha with Dengyo Daishi on the left and Tendai Daishi on the right. Note the ball of mochi which he placed on his head during meditation to wake him up if he nodded off.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

How to become a Mantra Reciter


After hearing a mantra from somebody who has the transmission, one learns and memorizes it. Short mantras like OM MANI PADME HUM or NAMO AMIDA BUTSU are easy but to become skilled at mantras, take something longer, at least 20 syllables, for instance the mantra of FUDO MYO-O or the 100-syllable mantra of VAJRASATTVA or the DAI HI SHIN DARANI (the Great Compassionate Heart Dharani).

Once it is memorized, begin repetitions on a daily basis. Every syllable needs to be clearly pronounced. However, sometimes you may experience getting tongue-tied & mush-mouthed, thus garbling the mantra. In such cases, employ a well-known technique used by radio announcers-in-training:

First, take a moutful of 10 marbles and practice reciting the mantra this way  until it becomes smooth and clear. For the next session, remove one marble and practice with a mouthful of nine.  Then eight, and so on until the last marble is removed.  When you have lost all your marbles, then you are certified as a Mantra Yogin!



Wednesday, November 13, 2013


A bear visits the temple, leaving behind footprints of volcanic ash. This is the third visit by bears in a week. There was no damage to the temple, and everyone knows not to leave food out, but a word of advice to those who live in bear country: using teeth and claws, bears explore other items searching for food. They munch on prayer flags, rubber rain boots and UPS packages, bat around empty ice chests, and the worst was puncturing and turning over a 5-gallon plastic gas container, spilling its contents into the ground. But the bears themselves don't seem dangerous. Seeing one on the second visit, I shined a flashlight on him and said, "Go away, go away," at which he lurched 180deg and trundled off.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mid-autumn Scenes

On Cobb Mountain

Do you see an animal face in this boulder?

This black oak is thriving 70 years after having its core burned out in what is known locally as 'the great fire of 1944'

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean 30 miles away

A dogwood tree

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

When Some Great Priests Visited

These are the Tendai priests from Japan and the U.S. who did the dedication of the HOSHU-IN goma-do at the monastery. Front row, left-to-right are: Tendai Assembly Chairman Ven. Kayaki Kansho-sama; Keisho; Ven. Uehara Gyosho-sama, the 'Marathon Monk' veteran who performed the initial fire offering; and former Tendai Chancellor Ven.Nishioka-sama. In the 2nd row from the left: Ven. Sono-sama, representing the connection between Mt Hiei's Enryaku-ji head temple and all Tendai units outside of Japan; Ven. Shibayama Hokai, the great artist and calligrapher; Ven. Prof. Ichishima Shoshin-sama, one of the top scholars in Tendai; and two other Tendai scholars. In the back row: standing tallest near the center is Ven. Monshin Paul Naamon, leader of the Tendai Buddhist Institute, as well as being administrative chief of the Tendai Sect in North America and Europe; and on the right is Ven. Douken Unkai, the president of this monastery.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Simple message in Rorschach-like Calligraphy

Produced for our monastery and donated by Ven. Gyokan Hayashida, the head of the Tendai Calligraphy Association, to the untrained eye, such as mine, the characters are unreadable, at least the left and right ones, and it appears more to be a Rorschach test.  One time there were four senior Tendai priests from Japan viewing this calligraphy together and trying to decipher it. After about 3 minutes the first to understand let out a laugh, pointing out to the others that it was the very familiar motto of the sect: BRIGHTEN ONE CORNER. The calligrapher had achieved his purpose of getting the viewers to apply their minds and then surprising them. (The single horizontal stroke at bottom center is 'ichi', meaning 'one'. Starting there and reading clockwise, the four characters are ICHI GU O TERASU.      

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Some Monastery Animals and Flowers

The beautiful and harmless California King Snake

Yearling siblings, buck on the left and doe on the right
Non-threatening rattlesnake

Succulents on the hillside

Dogwood 'Flowers'

Hens-and-Chickens closeup

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


This is the Junior High School right on the beach in Saipan.  Working inside the cafeteria, 38 Japanese exchange students assembled 300 paper lanterns in about 2 hours.  Adults back in Japan had written on the paper either "NAMO AMIDA BUTSU" or "NAMO MYOHO RENGE KYO."

The assembled lanterns were lined up on the lawn next to the beach and the candle inside each one was lit.

A line of people -- both Japanese and Chamoros (Americans) -- then passed the lanterns out into the ocean where they were released to the vagaries of the currents,  floating out to sea as the sun set and the candles shone through.

A light moment earlier in the day when we compete to see who can bow lower to the other person.  Zensho and I are Dharma brothers, but he is also the younger brother and disciple of our teacher Kayaki kansho-sama.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Goma in English

This sample page is from the new goma manual.  The instructions, verses, and meditations are all translated into English.  The majority of the recitation, however, consists of mantras, unchanged from the form passed down through the lineage, that is, in Sanskrit as pronounced by the Tendai school for 1200 years.
But the manual also includes the romanized Sanskrit of the mantras as well as English translations in order that the officiating priest is cognizant of the literal meaning of the mantras.
The book itself is hand-made in the Japanese 'accordion' folding style, a style which is essential to allow the officiant to concentrate on the inner and outer offerings and not be distracted by clumsily turning pages. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The First Japanese Immigrants

Before the Meiji Restoration, even before Commodore Perry forced Japan to open up trade with the outside world, a colony of farmers in 1851 moved to the Sierra foothills near the towns of Gold Hill and Placerville.   In this photo the Tendai priest Dr Ryoei Tyler officiates (along with a Jodo Shinshu priest) for an April 3013 memorial at a festival on the grounds where the farm originally stood.  He is from the Tendai Mission of Hawaii, and the photo was published in "California's Oldest Newspaper -- The Mountain Democrat --Est.1851."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Event in San Francisco

This will be an informal telling of the story of Shakyamuni's search for enlightenment, from the time he left home at age 29 to becoming the Buddha at age 35.  All are welcome, no charges.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


This post relates the somewhat complex story of the INZAI PILGRIMAGE, illustrating the interweaving and cooperation of the Tendai and Shingon sects, commonly thought of as implacable rivals.

Although today throughout Japan there are a number of replicas imitative of the famous 'Shikoku 88' pilgrimage, the very first was the Inzai pilrimage, inaugurated for altruistic purposes nearly 300 years ago in a farming region near Tokyo.  It began in 1721 during a time of great poverty and starvation as the crops failed amidst swarms of insects.  The Tendai priest Rinsho desiring to find a way to relieve the suffering, had a dream of Kobo Daishi the great Shingon saint. Following the dream revelation, he set out to undertake Kobo Daishi's pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku.  He collected sand from the grounds of each of the 88 temples and returned to Inzai. Next he asked Enjun the abbot of Senzoji, the chief Tendai temple in the region, for permission to establish a pilgrimage connecting 88 various temples and shrines.

(side note: Senzoji, whose current abbot is Ichishima Shoshin, was originally a Shingon temple in Tokyo, having been founded in 807AD by a disciple of Kobo Daishi. When it became Tendai-affiliated is uncertain, but during the Warring States period of the 16th century a warlord burned it to the ground, whereupon the 47 priests rebuilt it in its present location.)

Next, Rinsho interested two Shingon priests in the project and together they established the route.  His vision was to interweave the two sects in their altruistic venture by putting a Tendai spin on a Shingon tradition.  This he did by incorporating a key Tendai teaching, that of the Middle Way, or the Madhyamika way to enlightenment, summarized in Tendai as KU-KEI-CHU. 'KU' is emptiness, shunyata, the absolute truth, or the true world; 'KEI' is the relative truth of samsara, the temporary and illusory world as perceived by the senses; and 'CHU' is the middle way, seeing the two truths as non-dual.

To tie the pilgrimage to the Middle Way, Rinsho crunched the numbers, a method popular throughout all cultures and ages! His temple on Shikoku was #44, midway between 1&88.  The second priest's temple was #66, midway between 44&88.  The third priest's temple was #33, midway between 1&66. Voila!

Though Rinsho put a Tendai stamp on the pilgrimage, the underlying philosophy is no different from that on Shikoku: the common teaching of the four stages to Enlightenment. The first stage is when a person awakens the Bodhi Mind, the thought of becoming the Buddha. The second is when one practices the Path. The third is when one realizes Nirvana and enters the Pure Land.  The fourth is when one attains Buddhahood in the Pure Land.

During a certain type of meditation, one may bring to mind these four stages, and after contemplating for awhile, overlay it with (that is, make a correspondence with) other Dharmas comprised of four elements: for example, Kamalasila's four stages of meditation; the four Buddhas and four wisdoms of the mandala surrounding Mahavairocana; the four verses of the Gobai ('Later Song'); the four immeasurables of the Brahmavihara; and the four cardinal directions.

At Tamon-in, where the above photo was taken, there is a square post erected nearby the monument, and it has a Sanskrit verse written vertically on each of the four sides, meant to be read in the following order: East; South; West; North.  The verses are
        (East)    Because of confusion, people dwell in the Triple World
        (South)  However in all ten directions there is the satori of emptiness
        (West)   But originally there is neither East nor West
        (North)  So how can there be North or South

The Inzai Pilgrimage takes place April 1-9 each year, thus encompassing Japan's traditional Birth-of-the-Buddha Day of April 8.  As in Shikoku where the first temple (Ryozan-ji) enshrines Shakyamuni Buddha, in Inzai the first temple is Ichishima-sensei's Senzo-ji where the honzon is also Shakyamuni Buddha. Of Sensei's two other temples, the Hikari-Do is #5 and Tamon-in (where I stayed briefly and where the Tendai Priests Joshin Jon Driscoll and Monshin Paul Naamon, among others, did their shugyo) is temple #50 in Inzai. The photo at the top shows the new stone monument at Tamon-in, and the central inscription reads, NAMO DAISHI HENJO KONGO, which is Kobo Daishi's main mantra.  The 18th century founder of this pilgrimage, Rinsho, is now known by his posthumous name of Inzai Daishi.

From this story we can see nearly 300 years of interweaving and cooperation between Tendai and Shingon.  Finally, it should be noted also that the original purpose of relieving the peoples' suffering was successful, thus validating Rinsho's dream revelation.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sensei's 'National Treasure' Temple

Called the HIKARI-DO and located about a block away from Ichishima Shoshin's main temple of Senzo-ji, this grass-roofed hermitage was among the first buildings nominated for 'National Treasure' status in Japan.  The abbot is now Sensei's son Genshin and the honzon is Kannon-sama. Coincidentally, the temple's actual name (rather than the nickname above) is HOJU-IN which has exactly the same kanji and meaning as our goma-do, HOSHU-IN, the name granted by Gozen-sama, a translation of the Sanskrit 'cintamani' meaning 'jewel of the mind' or 'wish-fulfilling gem' in English.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Verse called "The World's Highest Peak"

The analogy is sometimes made between the "world's highest peak" and the Buddha, as in the following 792AD rock inscription at the entrance to Java's Abhayagiri monastery, then a thriving center of Mahayana practice.  To paraphrase the translation by the scholar Lokesh Chandra:

"I pay homage to the Perfectly Enlightened One, of vigorous qualities and endowed with the awe-inspiring power of knowledge, ANALOGOUS TO THE WORLD'S HIGHEST PEAK whose deep caves are profound wisdom, whose rocks are lofty tradition, whose realm of shiny metal brilliance is the Good Dharma, whose cascades are Love, whose forests are meditation, whose glens are few desires, and who is not shaken by the violent tempest of the eight ways of the world."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

With Ichishima Shoshin

On the left is Ichishima Shoshin, the great Tendai Scholar/priest, emeritus professor at Taisho University, reader and speaker (along with English) of Tibetan and the Gupta-era Sanskrit script known as Shiddam.  I stayed at his sub-temple Tamon-in alone for two weeks, while he would drive a half-hour from his main temple of Senzo-ji and spend 2-3 hours each day on my proposed English version of the manual  for the fire-offering ceremony called 'goma'.  Behind us in the photo is a very beautiful Amitabha statue which was restored after being severely damaged in the earthquake of 2011.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Proto-type Shugendo in America

Known as 'Kailas Shugendo' or 'The Shugen Church of America', this form of the group was in existence circa 1968-1977.  The leader Dr Ajari (link to a wikipedia article) was a Russian/American guiding the communal-living Buddhists from a San Francisco base.  Here shown they are practicing kaihogyo on Mt Tamalpais, individually reciting mantras while walking. Periodic stops included sutra recitation and Dharma talks.

During Japan's Meiji Era, Shugendo was prohibited from continuing as an amalgam of Shinto and Buddhism.  Each mountain headquarters temple was forced to choose one side, either Shinto or Buddhism, and if Shinto were chosen (as at Mt Haguro) then the Buddhist statues and temples were destroyed.  Due to this history, many of the modern Shugendo groups in Japan do not recite mantras and have no connection to Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo). However, the groups now affiliated with Tendai or Shingon still practice the Mikkyo.  CTM's Shugendo lineage is the 'Horyu Shugendo' of Mt Hiei's Enryaku-ji temple.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Our Form of Walking Meditation

The monastery land, with a difference in elevation of nearly 1000ft, is a consecrated site for walking meditation.  The huts are off-the-grid and uninsulated while providing protection from rain and insects.
If one has memorized the 27-syllable mantra of Fudo Myo-O, which is transmitted during an initial 3-day visit to the monastery, then he may participate in walking meditation during subsequent visits.  He may practice either as a householder bodhisattva in Shugendo or as a monk bodhisattva in Tendai.  The type of walking meditation known as kaihogyo starts with repeated 5-hour circumambulations of Cobb Mtn under the guidance of one of the resident monks. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Advantages of Walking Meditation

These words of Shakyamuni Buddha are found in the Numerical Discourses:
"Monks, there are five benefits of walking meditation.  What five? One becomes capable of journeys; one becomes capable of striving; one becomes healthy; what one has eaten, drunk, consumed, and tasted is properly digested; the concentration attained through walking meditation is long lasting.  These are the five benefits of walking meditation."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Buddha on Loan

Not a Buddha, rather a statue of a Buddha, symbolic of a Buddha.

2500 years ago, when a monk wished to draw a likeness of Shakyamuni so that the monk could keep the Buddha in mind at times when he was meditating at a distant place, Shakyamuni said "No, but you may draw an image of the Bodhi Tree to keep me in mind."  Thus started the tradition of symbolic rather than lifelike images of Buddhas.  Here he is shown with the vitarka mudra, representing discussion of the Dharma.

Icons which were made for meditative purposes in temples were subject to theft, plunder, and profitable trade at a later date.  The 31st of the minor bodhisattva precepts urges the bodhisattva to redeem such treasures.  However 1500 years after the formulation of those precepts, the cultural context is no longer relevant.  Images are produced commercially for decorating homes, gardens, and businesses.  Such is the case here, this statue being accurately and artistically produced, later purchased by our local dentist, and stored in his garage.  So he then lent it to us indefinitely rather than have it languish in storage, and we are happy to give this Buddha a temporary home.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Cobb Mountain, being an extinct but fairly recent volcano (active ~ 10,000-17,000 years ago), with ash flows that solidified then eroded, is the abode of many 'spirit rocks', boulders which with a little imagination can be seen as animals and people.
Here a monk doing kaihogyo walks between two such boulders, the Alpha and Omega, or in Japanese terms the AH and the UN, the first and last letters of the Buddhist Sanskrit alphabet.  The AH boulder in the foreground has its mouth wide open while the UN (or HUM) in the background has its mouth tightly closed.  And in between the beginning and end walk us human meditators, using this body and this life to serve all beings in their efforts to realize happiness and put an end to suffering.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Wish