Day 1 – Interviewing Yukei Isobe (Kei-san)

The main event for the course today was arriving at Tofuku-ji, where we received a brief lecture on Zen and sat zazen with Kei-san.  The temple was cold, perhaps even colder than the weather outside.  The room where we meditated had a space heater in each corner, so I made sure to sit next to one.  I’m not someone who enjoys the cold very much, but I think the cold helped me to stay vigilant during zazen.

I liked listening to Kei-san’s lecture, and I liked his answers to our questions.  Though I had read about some of what he taught us before his lecture, I found it refreshing to hear the words said.  I have an easier time connecting to words coming from someone’s mouth than I do to words on a page in a textbook.  I liked when he said that Zen is in everything we do, not just sitting, and that the purpose of Zen practice is not maintaining the proper form while sitting.  It was also interesting to hear his responses to our questions about his priest work and his engagement with the community.  Though he said that people who run into him treat him as though he’s a regular person, it was clear to me that when he is working –  giving dharma talks, leading zazen, or even doing these things in the Zen Cafe – he is always focused on the dharma and on the practice.  Perhaps “focus” is the wrong word to use in this instance, but what I mean is that he doesn’t seem like the kind of person to be talking about Zen one minute and drinking and discussing politics with his friends the next.  Kei-san strikes me as someone entirely devoted to the dharma.

The koan he gave us to answer was “If you are in Jinko’s (2nd Zen Patriarch’s) position and told to bring your mind, what would you bring?”  In this case, “mind” does not mean mind in the common sense, but kokoro, which is “heart-mind”.  You can’t just think of the answer; you have to feel it, to experience it.  I’ll let it sit for a while and see if I experience anything before we go back to Tofuku-ji.

I know for some of us, sitting zazen made today feel longer.  However, our time at the temple only took up about two and a half hours.  I spent the rest of my day exploring with others.  This morning, Joanne, CJ, Leah, and I went around some of the shopping areas close to the hostel and got some food along the way.  We also visited a small temple but I don’t remember what it’s called.  I ate my first onigiri from a FamilyMart; it was interesting eating salmon and rice at 6 something in the morning, before the sun had even risen.  I liked it though.

Then Kagaya-sensei took our whole group through Nishiki Market, then Gion, where I ate ramen and it was delicious.  After we ate, we went to Tofuku-ji.  Once we were done with our visit at Tofuku-ji, Kagaya-sensei split off from us, and we all got dinner at a Tofu restaurant (except CJ because he got lost while shopping on the way back).

Today was my first day of starting to get acquainted with the city.  I’m hoping that by the end of the trip I’ll be competent enough to explore on my own.  Of course, before then I’ll have to finish my portion of the work for the Zen group’s presentation.  But I’m currently struggling to keep my eyes open.  So for tonight, I commend myself to dreams.

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