When I was a kid, my friends and I would sometimes sneak into the local golf course at night. The challenge was to penetrate the course as far as we could, with the ultimate goal being to put our hands on the clubhouse wall without being caught by the guards or the gardeners!

We travelers are all kids at heart. We strive to visit places where we’re not really allowed, seeking out impossible quests for the stories we can tell afterwards.

I arrive at Tofukuji temple in south-eastern Kyoto around 11am, intent on meeting the revered Fukushima Roshi. I first learned about the Roshi (head abbot) from my college friend Tim, who knew about him from his Asian Studies professor, Margaret Dornish. Having himself studied with the Roshi at Tofukuji, Tim held the abbot in the highest esteem, declaring, “Rumor has it that Fukushima Roshi is enlightened. He may not change your life, but then again, he just might.”
After touring the Tofukuji grounds, spectacular with its Zen rock garden, its soaring wooden buildings, and its age-old bridge spanning a small, tree-lined gorge, I come to the door of the monastery. Knock, knock, knock. After a few minutes, I’m greeted by a wizened, 60-year-old Japanese monk with minimal English.

“Can I help you?”
“Uh, yes, well, I’d like to meet the Roshi.”
“He is busy.”
“I won’t take much of his time. I’d just like to meet him.”
“He is busy.”

I’m starting to feel like Dorothy at the gates of the Emerald City, trying to gain access to the Wizard. This is not going well; I need to try a different tactic.
“I’m from Pomona College. I’m friends with Margaret Dornish and Tim A.”

Nodding gravely, the monk bows and says, “Just a moment.”

I’ve done all that I can. I’ve played my ace in the hole. I know that Fukushima Roshi has been to my college and befriended Professor Dornish. I’m hoping that, like all things in life, it’s not what you know but who you know.

A few minutes later, the monk returns, bows again, and ushers me into the monastery.

“Wait here,” he says, ushering me into a small, western-style office with a wooden desk and plush chairs.

And so I wait.

Some time later, the monk returns with a Western woman in her 30s.

“Joan is studying here. You have lunch together.”

Joan and I enjoy a nice plate of rice and vegetables together, not talking a lot. The Roshi’s office has a hush about it, discouraging conversation. I’m starting to get nervous. What if this is it? I just eat lunch here and then they ask me to leave! Or even worse, I do meet the Roshi and he’s not “all that”.

About an hour later, the door reopens and at last in walks 50-year-old Fukushima Roshi himself: the roundest person I’ve ever met: round face, round shaved head, round belly.

“Hello, hello, nice to meet you,” he says, shaking my hand enthusiastically, bestowing on me the broadest of smiles.

“So you went to Pomona College?!”

The Roshi may well be the happiest person I’ve ever met. It’s like his entire being radiates joy and laughter. Taking me over to a wall, he begins showing me pictures of his visit to my college. He tells me stories of all the international
places he’s visited. He relates his friendship with Prince Charles. This is one urbane, well-traveled Japanese monk!

Finally, our 15-minute audience nearing an end, Fukushima Roshi hands me a packet of postcards from the temple and asks where I’m staying, which I tell him.

“I will call you a taxi now.”

And that’s it.

Looking out the back window of my cab as it roll downs the gravel temple exit, I’m stupefied with all that has just happened. The kindest, happiest monk, most-enlightened monk this side of the Dalai Lama has just shared his precious time with me, all the while making me feel like I’m the most important person in the world. Has Fukushima Roshi changed my life? You know, I think maybe he has.

When was the last time you summoned up the courage to go someplace scary, difficult and awesome? What if you made a commitment to do something brave, adventurous, and naughty every day?!! What would that life look like?