Saturday, 24 May 2008
carefully stowed out of harm's way
Yet, with email, when everything is so easily deleted, or conversely, stored, does it still hold true that we keep those types of letters that show a part of our diamond soul as reflected in the eyes of another? Email can have a plethora of sentiment, or a dearth of the same. How easy it is to send love. How easy it is to send hate. And how easy it is to delete the words of love, while caught up in the emotion of hate. Even though we know it will hurt us and the relationship later. Even though we know that the failure to preserve and respect the love will destroy it, and only strengthen the hate. And then there is nothing left to confirm the knowledge you have that something was once there, or to reveal to you, when you are in a more rational space, that nothing ever was.
This is from Carol Ann Duffy, published in 1990 - a time when letters were still a physical thing. Paper can always be burned, though, not that it seems to be an option for this narrator. I particularly like the eighth and ninth lines, or shall I say, they ring true.
Now, it is impossible for me to get blogger to align the poem the way it should be, so the sixth line, Don't ever change, should be to the far right.
The 'Darling' Letters (1990)
Some keep them in shoeboxes away from the light,
sore memories blinking out as the lid lifts,
their own recklessness written all over them. My own...
Private jokes, no longer comprehended, pull their punchlines,
fall flat in the gaps between the endearments. What
are you wearing?
Don't ever change.
They start with Darling; end in recriminations,
absence, sense of loss. Even now, the fist's bud flowers
into trembling, the fingers trace each line and see
the future then. Always... Nobody burns them,
the Darling letters, stiff in their cardboard coffins.
Babykins... We all had strange names
which make us blush, as though we'd murdered
someone under an alias, long ago. I'll die
without you. Die. Once in a while, alone,
we take them out to read again, the heart thudding
like a spade on buried bones.
CAROL ANN DUFFY
Friday, 23 May 2008
Sunday, 18 May 2008
Sunday, 11 May 2008
A friend of mine recently went on a retreat in Thailand, and found the women were required to do all the cleaning, preparing of food, were expected to prostrate themselves whenever the priest passed. She said the tasks and expectations did not seem evenly distributed between gender. As the work itself, of course, needs to be done, and humility is often expected in religions, it is the imbalance that is frustrating, not the actual tasks and expectations themselves. Her story is not an unusual one, and of course this imbalance is not only applicable to spiritual life.
So, I have a fondness for Zenkouji temple, in that it has never barred women. It was founded in 644 AD, so this is quite surprising. It is run by a high priestess and priest from different Buddhist sects in alternating years. Maybe this is why there are so many guardians around the grounds protecting children and women, and maybe this non-discriminatory attitude goes a long way towards explaining its popularity. Of course it also houses a hidden image that is said to have been made by Buddha himself in the 6th century B.C, which was gifted to Japan in 552 A.D, and this adds to the temple's popularity as people journey to the place where it is held in the hope of finding salvation as detailed here , which does not make it so different from a Mecca or a Lourdes. However, the fact remains that apart from being open to both sexes, it is also a non-sectarian temple and (from the same site as detailed above) It is not affiliated with any one particular sect of Buddhism so all are welcome, regardless of gender, creed or religious belief .
I think one of the readings that can be applied to the many jizo that surround the place is 'womb of the earth' - so I sense a warmness and welcome-ness to the place, even if this might only be in my own mind's eye and heart.
The main hall at Zenkouji
Saturday, 10 May 2008
Anyway, I told my fabulous friend Fantasy (and anyone else who wants to read) that I had a few posts up my sleeves. They were related to the extended holidays we had here last week and the touring about that I did. Enthusiasm has waned somewhat as remembrance of experience fades, but it may mean that clarity is sharpened as a result. No guarantee, though.
Along the roadsides, near temples, in graveyards (haka) and other innocuous places, you will often see these fellows.
They are known as jizo, or bodhisattva's, or bosatsu; Buddhist saints who have decided not to enter Nirvana after death, but to remain on earth to help humans through their suffering. This can also relate to the suffering of souls passing through various stages of reincarnation. My information is dodgy, so it is best that you visit this site if you want more accurate information.
Anyway, jizo are Master of Six States of Reincarnation, which are: Six States of Existence,Six Roads of Reincarnation, Six Paths of Transmigration, Six Realms of Samsara, Six Directions of Reincarnation, Six Destinies, and the Wheel of Life according to the site above, and again, I am only skimming the surface. I don't have that much knowledge about it. However, they are also the protectors of Children, Expectant Mothers, Firemen, Travellers, and Pilgrims, Protector of Aborted / Miscarried Babies, and Guardian of Children in Limbo.
It is the last two points that interest me the most.
The contraceptive pill is difficult to get in Japan. This article in the New York Times, details how the government had banned access to it for many years, the most recent reasons given (before it was made legal) were due to fears of the possible spread of AIDS (non-use of condoms), possible promiscuity, and the wish to encourage the growth of the Japanese birthrate. Low dose oral contraceptive pills (and IUDs) have been available since 1999, but they are very expensive, not covered by the national health scheme, and can only be accessed by an ongoing prescription from a doctor which is apparently closely monitored . Abortion, for many years, has been popular as a form of contraception. It has been said that the doctors often oppose the contraceptive pill due to the money that they make from abortions (which are also not covered by the national heath scheme), though the technology used for this leaves much to be desired, so the money is not going on being up to date.
Japan is also a fairly inward looking nation and people can often hold views that certain medicines can be harmful to them specifically, even if they are not harmful for other nationalities. For many years, Japanese women have been told that taking the pill is a danger to their health. Now, I am not necessarily a great fan of the pill, either. There are many negative side effects, but abortion is also not the greatest for a woman's well-being as a general matter of course. Don't peg me as a pro-lifer here. The above is just a broad statement of fact. Condoms, of course, are used, but I guess many Japanese men are as (ir)responsible as other men when it comes to wearing them, and they can break, and there is the heat of the moment, and all that. After condoms, withdrawal is the second most popular form of contraception in Japan. Diaphragms, too, are not necessarily easy to get , and women are often told to wait and see if they go in for the morning after pill, which means that a pregnancy has often progressed a fair way along its course before it is confirmed, at which stage the doctor is likely to recommend an abortion.
So, in regards to the above multi-linked paragraph, the mizuko jizo is particularly popular in Japan. This jizo is associated with protecting the journey of aborted / miscarried babies, and children in limbo, so at the base of these jizo, or very near them, you will often see toys left by those wishing to remember or respect the souls that need help along their way, if such things are believed in, or by those who wish to recognise their own experience. However, jizo are also protectors of children, alive and dead, so the toys left may not necessarily be for the above reasons. However, if the jizo is a mizuko jizo, it is likely that the above reasons are the ones for the offering. That is a very confusing paragraph, but it is sometimes very difficult to differentiate one jizo from another.
The jizo (there are six of them traditionally at many temples) are very popular with the people. I like the fact that they are outside, for one, so it is very easy to leave a little prayer or offering (often a pebble), or to just wave hello as you walk past. They are often dressed in clothes that people have knitted or sewn (or bought) for them.
Though I think most societies seem to need some form of image to refer to throughout life, (even those religions that ban images seem to be able to infuse beauty into carvings, buildings, other types of monuments), I cannot imagine my local priest in Perth condoning the idea of placing a knitted beanie on the head of the crucified Christ (it wouldn't match the loin cloth, for one).
Therefore, this common touch appeals to me, as does the outside aspect mentioned above. If one feels like offering a little prayer, or experiencing a bit of peace, or just enjoying the surrounds of a temple, it is easy to do. Everything is wide open. I can have a picnic in the temple grounds, or enjoy a quiet sandwich. My memories of church are sitting for an excruciating hour in a fairly dark building, getting lectured, the only hint of a sandwich being the discreetly released sulphur farts of fellow parishioners , though I guess the Stations of the Cross kept me entertained as I waited for the whole drear process to end.
As much as any other major religion, a lot of Buddhism is about money. And as much as any other major religion, it has had its wars and its suppression of people who do not hold the same views as it, and it acknowledges the rights of women no more than the other religions do. The fact that it is polytheistic, or possibly, nothing-theistic in true belief, maybe means that it is open to more viewpoints than the monotheistic religions, and may therefore be more accepting of other religions and points of view. I am not really sure, as I am, as always, skating the surface. However, sometimes I think worship, or recognising with ritual the beauty, compassion and sorrow that can be in the world, should be outside in the open and in the fresh air, and be easily accessible. It should not necessarily be tied to a weekly schedule, though naturally enough, the devout have their schedule, and times for prayers can be just as rigorous and uncomfortable. Funnily enough, Islam is also very practical in terms of when one can offer prayers and express belief. I say funnily enough only because it is one of the most ferociously monotheistic religions, and its followers therefore may not find a connection with Buddhism, but I digress.
So, last Friday I visited Zenkouji, which is a temple in Nagano. And though the huge halls, and the gilt and wooden temples are a feast for the eyes, it is the bosatsu, with their red caps and bibs, and the offerings of toys and clothes gathered at their feet that people pray will be delivered to their children, that I like to seek out. They sit patiently, obliviously, in moss covered courtyards, by the side of the roads, under the ever changing sun, clouds and rain.
Friday, 9 May 2008
Thursday, 1 May 2008
Well, here is a picture, taken at 6am this morning (2nd May) - and you can see that someone has already planted their rice out, but not all, I swear, not all are planted and green and sprouting in rows just yet, though they soon will be.
The pictures below were taken on the 3rd of May. I went for a 12.3 km ride x 2 (not including getting to the ride), and rode past the rice fields that hadn't been planted (see below).
Past the rice fields that may have been planted. Note the scenic telephone lines, but also the blue, blue sky, and the mountains and trees.
And then past the ones that seemed to be well and truly planted and sprouting hearty heads of rice seedling hair.
All the families were out planting. The women wear hats that seem similar to bonnets, but with a peaked front like a baseball cap, and the men do wear baseball caps. They all wear gum boots as the fields are full of slush, and in some cases, snakes. The seedlings have been growing in pseudo glasshouses (that is, they are not made of glass) and they (the seedlings) are laid out on the back of the tractor. The driver then goes down and up rows, the seedlings being planted as he progresses. Excuse the lack of jargon and expertise here.
This picture was not taken by me.
It is a hard job, and I don't think it is completely finished yet. Judging from the number of families out today, planting, enjoying lunches, before returning to the hard slog, I might have been a bit harsh in giving out homework. However, judging from the number of families in the park, enjoying barbeques and other activities, sports, fishing and so on, not all students are from farming families. We'll see, come Wednesday.