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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 38 Well, he was painfully shy and, like the English scien- tist Henry Cavendish, could barely speak to one person, and never to two at once, since four eyes looking at him made Toshiro stammer. At eighteen, he entered Shogen-ji Monastery and devoted four years to rig- orous training, living on a prison diet of cheap rice and boiled potatoes in bland soup. He later passed his examinations at Komazawa University, where many Soto Zen monks have studied, but after this Toshiro decided he did not want to teach or try to work his way up through the politically treacherous Buddhist hierarchy. The rigid religious pecking order was bru- tally competitive, and had corrupted the sangha, the community of Buddhist practitioners, with the greed and hypocrisy of the world. Or at least this was what Toshiro told himself, since he was unable to speak to anyone about his real Zen fears, and why he sometimes felt like a failure, an outright fraud. Knowing he didn’t have the family connections or the constitution to rise very high in the religious power structure, Toshiro chose instead to take a freelance job translating bestselling American books for Hayakawa Shobo, a publishing company in Tokyo, and he looked around for an abandoned temple that he might repair, manage, and perhaps turn into his own private sanctu- ary from all the suffering and unpredictable messiness of the social world. Across Japan, there are thousands of these empty, wooden buildings falling into disrepair, full of termites and rats, with tubers growing through the floorboards, as if each was a vivid illustration of how everything on this planet was so provisional, with things arising and being unraveled in a fortnight, a fact that Toshiro had meditated on deeply, day and night, since the death of his parents. So when he was granted permission to move into Anraku-ji, the young priest felt, at least for his first year there, a contentment much like that described by Tho- reau at Walden Pond. He had no wealthy parishioners or temple supporters paying his salary. Whatever he did at the temple was voluntary, with no strings attached, paid for by his translation work and done for its own rewards. With great care, he spent a year remodeling Anraku-ji’s small main hall and adjoining house, quietly chanting to himself as he worked. He pruned branches, sawed tree limbs, and raked leaves. He trimmed bushes, did weeding and transplanting, and drifted off to sleep to the sound of crickets, bullfrogs, and an owl that each night soothed him like music. Sometimes he talked to himself as he worked, which was a great embarrassment when he caught himself doing it, so he kept a cat to have something to talk to and cover up his habit. He was alone at Anraku-ji, but not lonely, and he decided a man could do far worse than this. Thus things stood when one afternoon a pilgrim from America arrived unannounced on the steps of his temple. This did not please Toshiro at all because, tra- ditionally, the Japanese do not like surprises. She was a bubbly, effervescent black American about forty years old, with an uptilted nose, a smile that lit up her eyes behind her gold-framed, oval glasses, and long chestnut hair pinned behind her neck by a plastic comb. At first, Toshiro felt ambushed by her beauty. Then he had the uncanny feeling he should know her, but wasn’t sure why. He said, “Konnichiwa” (Japanese for “Good after- noon”), and when she didn’t answer, he said in English, “Are you lost?” That question made her lips lift in a smile. “Aren’t we all lost? Are you Toshiro Ogama-san?” “Yes.” “And are you accepting students? My name is Cyn- thia Tucker. You’re translating one of my books for Hay- akawa Shobo. I would have called first, but you don’t have a phone listed. I’m in Japan for a month and a half, lecturing for the State Department and—well, since I’m here, and have a little free time, I was hoping to meet you, and discuss any problems you might have with American words in my book, and maybe get your help with my practice of meditation.” Now she laughed, tak- ing off her glasses. “Roshi, I think I need a lot of help.” “I...” Toshiro said, hesitating, “I’m not a teacher.” “But you are the abbot of this beautiful temple, aren’t you?” “Yes.” “Well, if it’s all right, I’d love to stay a few days and—” “Stay?” His voice slipped a scale. “Yes, visit with you for awhile and ask a few ques- tions.” He was amused that Tucker said this stand- ing under the sign, posted at every Zen temple and monastery, that meant Look Under Your Feet (for the answers), but this pilgrim did not, of course, read Japa- nese. “I can make myself useful,” she said. “And I won’t be a bother. Maybe I can help you in some way, too.” As she spoke, and as he studied her more closely— her flower-patterned blouse, sandals, and white slacks, how early afternoon sunlight was like liquid copper in her hair—Toshiro slowly realized that among the five books he was leisurely translating for Hayakawa Shobo there was one by a Cynthia Tucker, a Sanskrit scholar in the Asian Languages and Literature Department at the University of Washington. Her author’s bio and Amer-