Category Archives: Pilgrimage 2005

Goodmorning China!

First published May 11, 2005. Reading this now I am amazed all over again at where (the late) Iain Robinson and I found ourselves while in China. Being in the abbots quarters at Tiantong Temple where Zen Master Dogen met with his master and then next morning being the first female, ever, to enter the dining room at Tiantong were moments never to be forgotten. Under categories in the left hand side bar you will find Pilgramage 2005 where you can find all the posts and photographs from that East Asia trip.

Five days after arriving in Shanghai I am just about getting the hang of it all. It would take more time than I have at the moment to communicate what has happened these past days…and perhaps it is not possible to adequately convey to you. There will be photos so you will get a sense of what things look like.

From what I have seen and picked up from talking to monks and others along the way Buddhism is alive and well and growing. We were very fortunate to stay one night at Tiantong Temple near Ningbo, Zhejiang where Zen Master Dogen came to practice in the 12th Century. We joined in the daily practice with the 100 plus male monks, met the Abbot and even joined a formal breakfast. Doing that was a first for a female western monk, and probably a first for a male western lay person too. You should have heard the silent gasp as we walked in!

We were very fortunate to be traveling along with a novice monk from the Tiantong Temple for three days while we have been here. He escorted us to Puto Shan which is an island one hour ferry ride from the mainland and a major pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists. Ru Xian Shi, the monk, was both an inspiration and a doorway into a China we would not otherwise have known.

There is much to say about these days however I see the clock ticking away. Today we travel by bus, the train line having been closed, to our next destination. Thankfully Ru Xian has written our hotel name in Chinese script as well as instructions to taxi drivers to get us to the bus station here in Ningbo. It cannot be over stated how difficult it can be to travel in China when you don’t speak or write the language.

The pavement where ‘anything goes’ and most things do!

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Pilgrimage Revisited

Wind, water, sky – together.

Back in 2005 when I was about to fly to East Asia on Pilgrimage I wrote a poem on a scrap of paper while out walking in Vancouver, Canada. The underlying message behind what I wrote was let go and trust – continuously. When in mental, physical, emotional extremity, as I was then, basic teachings take on a renewed meaning, and urgency. During the trip my advice to myself proved in practical every-day ways to be both a life saver and a very good thing! Circumstances and conditions repeatedly came together in near miraculous ways and we, my traveling companion Iain and me, were ushered into places and meeting people it would not have been possible to plan for in advance. Travel stress was a constant and I guess trust/faith must have been there.

Over the next few days I’ll be revisiting and reflecting upon my poem with the spotlight shining on what it means in practical terms to let go. I speak of rising up in the poem implying a ‘place’ from which one moves. Sitting down perhaps? The keystone and well-spring of pilgrimage, daily living, is sitting still in the midst of it all. Meditation is present in the midst of living out our day, even within the seeming chaos most of us experience. One doesn’t need to travel or otherwise enter stressful circumstances to prove this true. Opportunities arise quite naturally!

Formal meditation is practiced in subdued lighting with the emphasis of turning ones attention inwards. Into the darken hall of ones mind/body. Sitting still, allowing the senses to still, we enter into a metaphorical darkness of unknowing by allowing the known to fade. This is however an illuminated darkness, bright aliveness of body and mind rises naturally – given half a chance. So, within compassion/acceptance for all that comes and goes, letting go and trusting is…about how it is.

The habit is to follow the arising and the passing. To entertain, wine and dine, thoughts, sensations, emotions, bright ideas, memories etc. It is enough to notice the arising and passing, simply noticing is the letting go. Noticing over and over again, the known fades in importance.

BTW. Iain didn’t get due credit for a number of the early posts from Japan which he wrote. Thank you Iain and thank you for making the trip possible.

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Passing on the Teaching

As good fortune would have it I just received, via email, a link to an article on receiving the Buddhist Precepts. There is a lot of good teaching in it for those who have received lay ordination and those who have not, and may never do so. I should mention that we do not follow the practice of new aspirants sewing a rakusu (small kesa) and to not give a Buddhist name at the time of Jukai, (Ten Precepts Meeting). The teaching given in the article about the making a giving of the small kesa still stands very true though. Lay Ministers of our Order wear a blue/green small kesa which is made for them and given by a senior monk when they become lay ministers. Here is a photo so you can see what a small kesa looks like and to take you into the spring heat of China in May…

I’m wearing a small kesa. Iain Robinson who is a lay minister was not wearing his at the time. Taken this May during a visit to Tiantong Temple near Ningbo, Zhejiang where Zen Master Dogen came to practice in the 12th Century. That’s the Abbot and his mother in the middle with other relatives and attendants.

Looking back on early postings I realize that there is hardly a mention of the visit to this temple. Making postings while in China at all was quite a struggle though. Got anything to say Iain?

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Dharma Relatives Explained

John, you ask me what Dharma Relatives are and I realize there may be others who do not know completely what that term means. In the context of this journey to Asia my ‘relatives’ are monks and nuns who share the same religious ancestors. For example, Seck Lee Seng, of Cheng Hoon Teng, where I am at the moment, is my Dharma Aunt by virtue of being the monastic disciple of Seck Kim Seng who also ordained Rev. Jiyu-Kennett into the priesthood back in 1962. They both have the same Master, Seck Kim Seng, who is referred to as my Grand Master and his Master as my Great Grand Master.

After ordination within the Chinese Tradition here in Melaka Rev. Master Jiyu then went on to Japan to be received into the Soto Zen Church to study with and eventually receive Dharma Transmission by Koho Zenji at Sojiji. I thus have two sets of Dharma relatives making my family a very very large one. An interesting part of having this duel Chinese/Japanese background are the different robes used within each tradition.

A note on robes: At present I am wearing the robes used in the Chinese tradition, they are cooler and also I pose fewer questions when I encounter people in temples or on the street. The small kesa for example is worn by Japanese monks but not here in Malaysia, or Taiwan. Explaining the kesa in English takes time and care so explaining it for translation takes even more care, and time. So I decided to wear what everybody else wears here to make life simple and make it easier for people to approach me, I may be a westerner but at least I look like a nun. (I was given Japanese monastic clothing not currently used by us in the Order while in Japan). Each time I receive a new item it is carefully explained to me how to wear it, fold it, put it on take it off etc. etc. and everybody wants me to get it right! What is more there is etiquette about what can be worn ‘outside’ and what is OK within the temple, under certain conditions. Lots to learn. There is even more to say on what I see lay devotees wearing here within the Chinese Tradition however that will have to come in a latter Blogger posting.

We talk about the teachings of Buddhism being ‘transmitted’ from Master to disciple, and the unbroken line of master/disciple connections as the ‘Ancestral Line’. In our tradition particularly, Soto Zen, we emphasis the importance of this line of ancestors. We regard it of paramount importance that what is passed on through the centuries is kept true to the source i.e. we point directly to what Shakyamuni pointed to and encourage others to know what Shakyamuni knew/knows. Well, that may have confused a few of you, hopefully not too much, and maybe also given you a glimpse into how the monastic Sangha is organized. I guess it is obvious that the seniority of monks is based on ordination date and that the basis of keeping harmony in the Sangha is mutual respect, mutual bowing.

So, coming full circle, this journey has been an opportunity to pay my respects to those who have gone before me and to those who travel the path of Buddhism in this Dharma Family now. It has included sites in Japan, Malaysia and China, and living relatives in a number of the countries I have been to. During temple visits as my poor brain staggers to catch up with me I realize, once again, that I am in the presence of yet more Dharma Relative.

Writing all of this makes what I was shown this afternoon in the Seck Kim Seng Memorial Library and Archive all the more interesting. After six hours out in the heat on tour in Melaka with Shih Fu I stumbled into the library on my way to take a short break. To cut a long afternoon of adventure short I believe I have just been shown certificates passed on from Master to Disciple at the time of ordination and transmission dating back to the time my Great Grand Master was authorized to teach by his Master way back in China at a temple called Fu Ching on Kui Shang (Turtle Mountain) in Hokkien Province. I know Iain will be noting down this information and diving for a map! I have come to appreciate maps too Iain!

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On the road with Shih Fu – Malaysia

On the road with Shih Fu. This wonderful monk traveled with us for over 24 hours. At 85 years he was an inspiration. Any English he knows was taught him by Rev. Master Jiyu…more on that when I get a chance to talk about that three day journey to Penang…

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