Thursday, May 28, 2009 by Dave Blum
Following my solemn guide deeper and deeper into Tofukuji’s sanctum sanctorum, I remember thinking to myself: “This is incredible! I made it! And in a few minutes, I’m going to meet an actual enlightened person!”
Would my life be changed, as Tim suggested? Was I about to experience a peak experience? I was both nervous and excited to find out.
Eventually I was led into a traditional Japanese room, with large windows and tatami flooring. At one end of the office was a large desk — at the other, a plush leather couch. On the walls were pictures of the Roshi with what I assumed were photos of his friends and admirers, including Prince Charles of England, of all people. Thirty minutes of quiet waiting later, the Roshi, himself, came in at last . Readying myself for a deep, traditional bow, I jumped to my feet and quickly tried to compose myself for a formal greeting. The Roshi–a small, round man with bald head and twinkling eyes, beat me to the punch, quickly thrusting out his arm and grabbing my hand in a vigorous shake. “Nice to meet you. Thank you for visiting my temple!” he declared, in perfect English.
Rather than coming across as frighteningly deep and serene, Fukushima Roshi struck me as congenial…jolly even. When he spoke, his whole being seemed suffused with humor. Merry to the extreme, without forcing it, the Roshi positively giggled when he spoke. As we talked, I learned more about his life — his tour of the U.S., his long-standing friendship with Prince Charles and other world leaders, his relationship with my college. (As it turns out, from 1973 to 1974, he taught Zen Meditation to American stuedents at Claremont College.) We spoke about my friend, Tim, and his professor, Margaret Dornish. In the end, the Roshi asked where I was staying in Kyoto and inquired how I was getting back to my hotel. Before I knew it, a yellow cab had arrived in the temple compound, waiting to take me back.
“It was nice to meet you, David-san. Here are some postcards of Tofukuji. I’ve paid for your taxi. Have a safe trip back, and please come again.” The audience was over; I was off.
So much suffering in life (and work) is about our expectations. You go into a situation expecting something: happiness, perhaps, or safety, security, excitement, a peak experience. So often, instead, what you get is a simple interaction with a plain-speaking man…and if you’re lucky, a nice pack of postcards to take home with you. The trick, it seems — whatever the situation — is to put aside your disappointment, your expectations — and to look for whatever nuggets there might be to harvest from the experience. Did the Abbot of Tofukuji temple change my life? Not particularly. I enjoyed speaking with him, but didn’t feel especially “touched by divinity” afterwards. I will always remember his dancing eyes, however.