At SFO, prior to boarding the plane for Japan, I heard a strange voice. “Don’t believe anything you see or hear. Look and listen for connection. That is all.”
The voice sounded wise, profound. I’ve learned by now not to question its authenticity or figure out where it came from. In time, I would understand.
In Japan, I experienced an explosion of sense pleasures. The rainbow colors and taste offerings at breakfast: wakame seaweed salad with lotus root and sesame dressing, alternating miso, corn, or pumpkin soup, scrambled eggs, choice of croissant, pecan, or cinnamon danish, veggies, and a several tea options. Lunch and dinner would involve savory ramen or udon noodles, crisp, tasty tempura, or a choice of yummy Italian, Mexican, Thai, or Indian cuisines. A few nights I simply had to turn the family down for dinner because my pants grew too tight and my stomach felt like a bowling ball!
After reading the first chapter in Ajahn Sucitto's "Paramis, Ways To Cross Life's Floods" on the four types of floods, I reflected and reframed my experience in Japan. What part of the trip was I not swept away in the flood of sensual pleasures, the flood of becoming (personal identity and time), the flood of views (I’m right, you’re wrong), or the flood of ignorance (not seeing things as they are)?
A few memorable experiences stood out. Standing at a train station in Tokyo waiting for a train bound for Kyoto, I noticed a man with a towel over his head crouching on the ground near his briefcase, eyelids closed with the weight of possible illness or job stress. This heart-mind began to practice on the spot Tonglen for him.
At Entokuin temple in Kyoto, I experienced the division of self and other melting into the green tea, the tea room structure, and the gardens around us. I didn’t even know the woman performing the tea ceremony, but in that moment, she was mother, daughter, sister, partner, friend, the soil underneath us, the breath between us.
Perhaps the most profound experience on this whole trip began at the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima. After seeing the building, it was as if another bomb of compassion blasted this heart-mind wide open. I could hear the cries of voices from the past, feel bodies burning. The experience was so intense, that I had to separate from the family and release some tears. After some time, it felt symbolic to ring the crane bell of peace at the Children’s Memorial. Closing the eyes and allowing the sound to reverberate through the body, I hoped the sound of suffering and possibility for peace could be felt around the world.
“Don’t believe anything you see or hear. Look and listen for connection. That is all.”
Their is nothing wrong with enjoying sense pleasures, wanting to be someone, or having a certain view. Suffering arises when these floods lead to unwholesome disconnection instead of wholesome connection.
I may forget the smell and taste of certain foods, how certain sights looked or felt, but the man at the station, the woman performing the tea ceremony, the victims of the A-bomb at Hiroshima, will stay in this heart-mind long after the body is gone.