I have decided to begin a series of short stories of time spent with my teachers. In this series I hope to recall some of my profound lessons, funny moments, and embarrasing realizations as a student!
Memoirs of moments with Sensei 1: The most profound peace
It was a crisp October day in Vermont in 1998 and I was visiting Tanaka Sensei. When I met Sensei in 1997, he was living for the summer months on a 70 acre old farm house in rural Vermont that he had adapted to a temple. The house was complete with a kitchen table that had been sawed down so that guests could sit on the floor Japanese style. I recall only seeing one chair in the entire house which, not surprisingly, seemed to be more decorative than practical as it was never used.
One of the highlights of being in Vermont in the fall is the spectacular changing colors of the mountain foliage. One side of Sensei’s house faced the mountains and the other faced a huge open field.
It was mid to late afternoon (my memory has become a bit fuzzy) before dinner and Sensei, Mrs. Tanaka, and myself were sitting on the floor in the guest room having green tea looking out over the field. This room had sliding glass doors and gave us a spectacular view. Green tea is almost sacred in Japan and is a nectar of relaxation and peace so to this day when I sip on hot Sencha green tea, I am transported to a place of gratitude and peace.
In those days most of our interactions consisted of me asking silly intellectual questions about spirituality and much to my dismay, Sensei retorting with questions of his own about how school was, how my sister is doing, if my mom is healthy, and how we would all wear neckties if Bill Clinton san visited his temple.
At some point, Sensei and Mrs. Tanaka began to quietly sing a Japanese children’s song that began “Aki no yuu hi ni…” I did not know the meaning of this song however I listened as they sang while sipping tea and gazing out over the orange hues of the sun beginning to set captivated by the rainbow of colors that covered the trees in the field. At that moment, I was both gently nudged and fully shaken into nakaima the center of now..completely in the present moment. It was the most profound feeling of complete and magical peace I had ever experienced and remains so to this day.
After the singing was finished, I asked Sensei about the meaning of the song. Turns out it was about how the mountain wears a kimono in the fall as the leaves change. I remember thinking how our American nursery rhymes have children falling off trees in their cradles where this Japanese tune spoke of the mystery and beauty of nature. But that is a hallmark of Japanese culture – a perfect intermingling of the modern world and the wonder of nature.
I think often about that moment. And it’s likely Sensei doesn’t recall it at all which I think it so interesting – how what is just another moment in a teacher’s life can be such a powerful crystallized moment for a student. And it’s those moments that help us realize just how powerful, wonderful, and fully actualized an ascended master’s life truly is.