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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 65


June 4, 1988   -   THE HEARTLESS SUTRA


In the late hot afternoon I sat baking in the study, collating guest gift packages.  Koji was nearby busily preparing food with the assistance of a dozen or so women from Ryumon and beyond.  From the hatto we could hear the muffled ceremony rehearsal punctuated by unexpected halts in the chanting and angry bursts from Dokujiki.

Shuko had tried to get me to go but I refused saying that Dokujiki would talk too fast for me to get anything out of it.

"Maybe you will learn where your place is," he said.

"I'm not going to a two and a half hour rehearsal so I can find out where to stand," I answered adamantly.

Koji sided with me saying that I could be a guest.

So instead, I had to put eighty gift packs together - the sort of task I can sink my fingers into.  The gift packs would be placed next to each guest's setting at the obento lunch and general meeting that would be held before the ceremony.  Among the items was a narrow book by Nishiki with a photo of Hogoji on the cover.  It was slipped into a custom made envelope.  Also included for each guest was one of his works of calligraphy, protected by a transparent sheet and encased in a thick folded paper which was then wrapped and tied with a red cord.  These and a few other items were placed in a white cardboard box which was wrapped in handmade paper then cloaked in a purple furoshiki, a square of cloth, with the seal of Suienji emblazoned on it.  I veiled and layered, putting tasteful thing in thing.  Doubtless, at the same time - in shops, temples, offices and homes, countless others were wrapping objects, slipping bags in boxes and boxes in bags with handles and bows - the presentation not separate from the present in this Pleasure Island of the container industry.

The rapid clicking of knives slicing through vegetables blended with the sound of crickets scraping legs outside.  The thump of the wooden fish stopped and again that voice like a dog barking in the distance.  During lunch Dokujiki had talked through his meal while he ate, oblivious that everyone else was silent and unreceptive.  At dinner last night when Nishiki and Katagiri were eating with us he was on his toes, mute and grinning like a scared kid.

 With the influx of all the older and shorter Japanese, Norman seemed to have grown a half foot.  He was busy working on altars and had no time to chat but once when he got near me he pulled me aside and said,  "I'm gonna write a book called 'I was a nigger for the Soto-shu.'"

"I hate that word," I said.

"Me too."

Shuko brought a couple of old guys from the village to help me.  They looked at me like I was an escaped convict but then adjusted, smiled, and after a cordial greeting we got to work and didn't say a word.  Fine with me - I was wiped out.  Shuko was right - if I'd had on samue they would have felt more at ease.

I'd met some of these people just the other night when Koji, Maku and I had run down the hill and gone from door to door reminding them of the ceremony to come.  Koji would open the doors and call out.  He'd even walk in.  No knocking, no bells.  Just slide the door open and announce our presence.  I told him he'd better not do that in the States if he ever goes there - unless he's feeling suicidal - we are much more territorial about our front doors.  He said that the entryway, the area where shoes are worn and taken off, is still like part of the outside.  The private part begins where you step up in socks and put on slippers.  He made me do it: open a door, go in and announce our presence.  A lady came to the entryway and, ignoring me, talked to Koji.  That was easy.  I told him he'd come a long way since he was afraid for me to do takuhatsu.  He looked embarrassed and then I remembered that Norman had told me not to tell him that.  "Nevermind," I said.


After dinner there was another ceremony rehearsal.  I had been napping in Maku's room in the corner of the hatto and cracked the shoji open to take a peek.  Dokujiki started it off by replacing Jakushin as the doan. In front of everyone, Dokujiki said that Jakushin made the bells scream.  He put one of his own boys in his place.  Jakushin didn't say anything, just got up and stood next to me behind everyone else where no one could see his face.  It was so painful I couldn't stand it.  Norman walked out and I went out on the deck and met him.

"God I hate their racism.  I used to get so mad about our's in the States and I couldn't do a thing about it.  I can't do anything about it here either.  I wanted to go pull Dokujiki's tongue out of his throat but I just stood there.  I know that guy that Dokujiki put on the bells in place of Jakushin.  He's only been at Suienji a year.  His father's got a big temple over in Takamatsu.  Dokujiki couldn't stand the thought of a Korean hitting the bells for the ceremony tomorrow.  Jakushin's the real nigger here, not me."

I went over to Koji's cabin and sat on the steps.  A few people who'd come to help were mulling about in the courtyard.  Some women were in the kitchen still working with Koji, Miki and Yoshiko.  I could see Katagiri across the way sitting on the tatami in the corner of the dining area by himself.  He was reading a magazine which he looked away from as much as he looked at.  He was just waiting for all this to get over with.  Laughter was coming from Nishiki's room where he was entertaining some wealthy businessmen patrons from Beppu.  I could hear chanting from the hatto where the rest of my buddies were.  In half an hour we'd all be sitting zazen together, the lay folks and the monks.  Zazen, the great equalizer - I hoped it worked.  I had mixed feelings about hearing the Heart Sutra at the time -  especially the bells.  Some of the heart had gone out of it for me.