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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 40 shoulder, and peppering him with questions that made Toshiro’s stomach chew itself—questions like, “What time do you get up? How often do you shave your head? Is your tongue on the roof of your mouth when you meditate? Do you eat meat, Roshi? Why are Zen priests in Japan allowed to get married, but not those in China?” Toshiro noticed his palms were getting wet, and wiped them on his shirt, but his arm still tingled with pleasure where she had touched him. He excused himself, saying he needed to work awhile on the stone garden he was creating. He repeated his apology, “I am the poorest of practitioners. You must ask someone else these questions. And not stay more than one night. People in the village will talk if a woman sleeps at the temple. And don’t call me roshi.” “I understand, I’ll leave,” Tucker said, pulling back her head in surprise, and he could feel her smile go fro- zen. “But, Ogama-san, since I’ve come all this way across the Pacific Ocean, please give me something to do for the temple. I insist. I want to serve. I could make a dona- tion, but assistant professors don’t earn very much. I’d prefer to work. I could help you in your garden.” Not wanting that, and because the words left his mouth before his brain could catch them, he told Tucker that cleaning out one of the small storage rooms at the hinder part of the main hall, which contained items left by the temple’s last abbot fifty years ago, was a chore he’d been putting off since he moved into Anraku-ji. He gave her a broom, a mop, and a pail, then Toshiro, his stom- ach tied in knots, hurried outside. For the rest of the afternoon, he pottered about in the stone garden, but he was in fact hiding from her, and won- dering what terrible karma had brought this always ques- tioning American to Anraku-ji. He was certain she would discover that, as a Zen priest, he was a living lie. He knew all the texts, all the traditional rituals, everything about ceremonial training and temple management, but to his knowledge he had never directly experienced enlighten- ment. He feared he would never grasp satori during his lifetime. It would take a thousand rebirths for the doors of dharma to crack open even a little for one as stalled on the path by sorrow as Toshiro Ogama. In Japanese, there was a word for people like him: Nise bōzu. It meant “imi- tation priest.” And that was surely what Cynthia Tucker would judge him to be if he let her get too close, or linger too long on the temple grounds. If he was to save face, the only solution, as far as he could see, was to demand that she leave immediately. At twilight, Toshiro tramped back to the main hall, intending to do just that. But what happened next, he had not expected. He found his visitor standing out- side the storeroom, her hair lightly powdered with gray dust, and heaped up around her in crates and cardboard boxes were treasures he never knew the temple contained. She had unearthed Buddhist prayers, gatha, written a hundred years before in delicate calligraphy on rice paper thin as theater scrim, and wall hangings elab- orately painted on silk (these were called kakemono) that whispered of people who had passed through the temple long before he was born—past lives that were all the more precious because they were ephemeral, a flicker-flash of beauty against the backdrop of eternity. There were also large tin canisters of film, a battered canvas screen, and a movie projector from the 1950s, which Tucker was cleaning with a moistened strip of cloth. When Toshiro stepped closer, she looked up, smiling, and said: “When I was a little girl, my parents had a creaky old projector kind of like this one. I think I can get it working, if you’d like to watch whatever is in those tin containers.” “Yes,” said Toshiro, “I do.” He picked up one of the canisters and read the yellowed label on top. “I can’t believe this. These are like—how do you say?—home movies made here by my predecessor half a century ago.” Toshiro stepped aside as Tucker carried the screen and projector into the ceremony room. He plopped down on a cushion, and watched her as she carefully threaded film through sprocket wheels, tested the shutter and lamp, and then placed the blank screen, discolored by age, next to the altar fifteen feet away. She clicked off the lights. She threw the switch, and the obsolete projector began to whir. There was no sound, only flickering images on the tabula rasa of the screen, slowly at first, each frame separated by spaces of white, as if the pictures were individual thoughts, complete in themselves, with no connection to the others—like his thoughts before he had his first cup of tea in the morning. Time felt suspended. But as the projector whirred on in the silent temple, the frames came faster, chasing each other, surging forward, creating a linear, continuous motion that brought a rich world to life before Toshiro’s eyes. He realized he was watching a funeral in this very ceremony room at Anraku-ji, probably filmed around the time of the Korean War. He felt displaced, not in space but in time. On the screen, an elderly woman lay in state, surrounded by four grieving relatives and long-stemmed white chrysanthemums. A thin blanket