Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Haruki Murakami 村上春樹

April 25, 2010
Reading and wonderment: Haruki Murakami  

One of my first teachers, an admitted fraud who preyed on gullible Berkeley seekers by claiming to stand in the line of Mr Gurdjeiff’s authorized teachers, once gave me some useful advice: if you have five bucks burning a hole in your pocket and you’re fascinated by a title in the remainder pile, don’t hold back. Splurge!

I would recommend the practice to anyone with no reservations.

When Cody’s was selling every last book, Linda Anderson and I wandered into their store on 4th St in Berkeley where I saw Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore” slashed to $6.99. That was 1.99 over the limit for the fascination practice and I had no idea who he was—I hadn’t read “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,” but I had to find out where, how a Japanese writer found Kafka anywhere, much less the shore.

It sat on a shelf for at least two years before I opened it. After 4 pages I could barely put it down. It is Japanese magical realism, but for some reason I really started to understand something about the origins of koans, or imagined that I did.

Then two days ago I found one of the republished “Paris Review Interviews” in a remainder pile in San Francisco. OK, So maybe it was 6 or 7 dollars, again over the limit, but the fake Gurdjeiff advice was almost 40 years old—there has to some adjustment for inflation—let’s get real. In it, an interview with Haruki Murakami. Yes, some of his narrative structures (he calls them) do come from the Buddhist tales of his childhood. His grandfather was a Buddhist priest. He hallowed them out and then let his imagination repopulate them. His words. He also loves jazz; he was not trained as a writer at all but had run a jazz club—you can hear the notes of his riffs even in translation. He began writing at night after work on the kitchen table. Sounds like a friend who would be right at home in our PZI/Zen crowd.

I don’t know if he ever passed a koan. I don’t know if he would even be interested. But his stories are marvelous.

The sunshine is so wonderful on this bight Saturday afternoon that I had to pass this along.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

“Very early I learned to value and respect words, and I also uncovered a passion for reaching my own conclusions.”

When I started to consider the origin of my values, a memory of my kindergarten teacher began to emerge. I struggle for real memories of early age, but this much is clear--she was a wiry woman with a tight bun who seemed a hundred years old, and, at least from the taste of decades-old feelings, someone who did not like children.

She ran her kindergarten in an upper room at the Methodist church that the stood at the base of the triangular New England town green in Nichols. Her fixed ideas were shaped by the way Yankee families held that children should behave from time immemorial, or at least as back as the 400 odd years since our religious fanatic forbearers fled Europe, and childrearing was fundamentally religion. My guess is that she had no love for Dr. Montessori who was, after all, a Catholic.

She was one of the elder “Misses” in town, who, along with the two spinsters who ran the library, always stood for us children as a clear demarcation between our families and single women who obviously preferred the company of their own sex. We were told that because spinsters were just not lucky enough to find husbands, they were forced into a world of loneliness and the company of other women. This we learned by listening to the distain in the pauses between sentences of our parents’ conversations.

My own experience has lightened any ill will that I might have carried through the years, and perhaps even added a touch of magic to the story that I am going to tell.

I did not want to nap when were told in a voice that did not beckon negotiation: “Put your heads down on the desk.” I would defiantly look up and examine her, and another woman, her enforcer, who were clearly happy to be relieved from having to entertain, occupy or educate their charges. Several times my mother chastised me for not following instructions—she had been warned that I was very “willful”. My response to my mother was probably a complaint, setting the tone for a long battle in our relationship. I would bet the farm that her response was “That is the way things are. Some things are unchangeable and, besides, you are in no position to think for yourself.” So of course, I began to think for myself even if it was entirely reactive.

But there is one memory that comes back to me. It has even appeared in my dreams. I call it the “blue redbird.” We had coloring books that had rudimentary, inelegant, drawings of things-to-be named in the world, mothers and fathers, doctors, siblings and pets, houses and gardens, flowers and birds. The white spaces inside the outlines were labeled with names and colors. On command, in unison, we all opened to a prescribed page, scrambled for the crayons heaped in a pile on a low table in the center of the room, and began filling in the spaces neatly and correctly. Sometimes I would read the labels and oftentimes, not. My coloring was meticulous and colorful. I never had colors bleed from a shirt or cat. I was also very aware of the colors, even at the expense of labels. One day I was carefully coloring a bluebird red. I think it was the woman enforcer who looked over my shoulder and motioned for Frau Dominatrix to come and examine a bird that had been designated blue—clearly.

“Ken that is not a redbird. Can’t you read?”

“Of course I can read, but there are almost no redbirds in Nichols.’

“That was to be a blue-bird. You never going to go anywhere or make something of yourself unless you read and then carefully follow instructions.”

“But I want a redbird!”

“Hush. You have made a very serious mistake. I am going to have a word with your mother.”

I began to cry. And now everyone had turned to look at the boy who wasn’t man enough to hold back his tears.

When my mother arrived in the white station wagon to pick us up, very likely unhappy at the prospect of her two hours in the car with three preschoolers, she was not pleased to hear that I could not read nor follow instructions. She certainly didn’t comfort me. The martinet reflected her own theories of child rearing almost exactly. The kindergarten “Miss” had humiliated me and that meant one less thing that she would have to correct—with any luck.

Why do I consider this an event to be appreciated? I learned that words themselves have consequences and that definitions cannot be assigned arbitrarily. Language was not a child’s game. Language was powerful. It could also become a tool for enforcement.

Rigid language stifled creativity. The blue bird that I had created was far more handsome than the red would have been. The person who had made the drawings of the alleged red bird was inept. The outline of its shape matched the blue birds that gathered on the big nut trees in our side yard. The sting forced me to notice their shapes and coloring with more attention and care.

But I am still left with a crying five-year-old boy with the unwanted attention of fifteen other five-year olds staring at him with fear in their eyes. The cruelty of adults is not entirely a learned behavior, but five-year old kids are perhaps more malleable than adults. Perhaps.

And finally, as a testimony to Creativity, a few words from a poem

by Robert Hass

If I said—remembering in summer,
The cardinal’s sudden smudge of red
In the bare gray winter woods—

[Our Nichols Methodist Church is not pictured, but looked very much the one that I found in Google images although the main door was set at an angle facing Longhill Road.]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tom Marshall, S.J. (October 9, 1922 - March 11, 2010)

Monday, March 22, 2010

This morning, after his funeral mass at the Jesuit Sacred Heart Center in Los Gatos, I chanted the Heart Sutra as well as the Kanon Gyo at the graveside of Tom Marshall, S.J., a lay brother of the Society of Jesus, an ordained Zen priest in both the Soto and Rinzai lineages, a wonderful teacher and friend. Here is the dedication I wrote for the occasion:

God that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more,
Listen: We humbly place our feet on the Path of liberation.

May your path continue, dear Tom.
We, the many people whose lives you touched,
Send you on your way with our gratitude.

We remember your many gifts to us,
The books you gave us to train our minds,
Your ready compassion and your sweet smile.

Denis Genpo, Les Keye and your meditation companions salute you.
Your Jesuit brothers honor and bless you.

May your teachers, Shakyamuni, Maha-Kasyapa, Hakuin Ekaku, and Taizan
Welcome you.

May the Jesuit blessed and saints, Alphonsus, Peter Faber, Xavier, and Father
Open their wide embrace.

We dedicate any merit from your meditation and chanting
To relieve suffering in all of life and to clear your way, dear Tom.

You are among the bodhisattvas and other great beings,
Wide-eyed in the Cosmos, totally alive, right now.
Earth hears no hurdle,

The door to deep meditation opens yet again.
The teaching goes on without end.

Yes. Just look at It All!

All Buddhas throughout space and time, all bodhisattvas, saints and great beings,
the Mahaprajnaparamita.

[Many thanks to GM Hopkins, S.J. for allowing me, by his silence, to use portions of his poem, “In Honour of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez.” The italicized lines are from Tom's private correspondence.]

We will miss you. We love you.