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Harada Roshi

AiSeiEn - Loving Life Garden

The Roshi spent the last two days on the Hansen´s disease island Aiseien. It lies just off the coast near Bizen in Okayama prefecture, and has been a place for people who suffered from leprosy since 1930. Until a cure was found in 1948, people had to live on this island, were taken there by government decree. Some brave nurses and doctors were devoting their lives to these patients even though in the early days the possibility of infection was still extremely high. Nowadays there are still around 300 patients living on the island, the average age is 80 years. Because the effects of leprosy can be noticed so easily, those patients decided to rather stay on the island than to return to society, even though they have been cured from the bacteria. Below you can find the talk that the Roshi gave to the staff of 500 nurses, doctors and caretakers and 300 patients in the newly build hall “Sunrise”.

"There was a heavy thunderstorm this morning, amazing, that now the bright blue sky returned. But that moment after the rain, then the fresh green leaves seem even greener. It is about the time also for the song of the nightingale to be heard. The song of the nightingale can be heard in many different ways. It is such a deeply penetrating sounds, that it is even liked to a lost child crying for its mother, or of a mother whose child has died. But can we actually take in the bright green of the leaves? Can we hear the song of the bird so that it touches our mind deeply? Are we able to taste the joy of being alive this very day?

In the Tang Dynasty there lived a priest called Gensha Shibi Zenji. He was the child of hunter, and one day his father died right in front of his eyes while being out on a hunt. This was the reason why Gensha became a monk, and eventually he became a monk with an opened eye. One day when he already was a teacher, he asked his students: “How about a person who can´t see or hear or speak. If you cannot find a way to teach this person, then Buddhism will become extinct with you.” One student did not understand the question. So left the monastery and went to Gensha´s brother disciple Unmon. When the monk asks Gensha´s question to Unmon, Unmon replied: “If you want to know, bow.” The monk bowed and when coming up again, Unmon had put his staff right in front of him. Since it was a bit dangerous, the monk stepped back a little. Unmon said: “Oh, so your eyes work fine, there is no problem with them. Come here.” The monk steps forward. “So you can hear as well. Did you understand?” – “No, I don`t understand.” – “Oh, so you can speak as well.” And then even this monk got it, that it was not only about the physical eyes, but we need to ask ourselves whether we see and hear and speak in the correct way. The question here is: Are we putting ourselves aside when perceiving? We are seeing the fresh green leaves, that is natural that we can perceive them. But are we being touched, do we feel deeply thankful when seeing them? Or is it like something that is of no real concern to us, that we are just reflecting. That is not the proof of us really being alive. But we need to be able to feel our own life energy in this very experience. We might be hearing a sound, but are not hearing ourselves resounding in the sound. This is what Gensha was pointing at. There is the need for doctors and medicine, so that we can stay healthy, yet even if our body is healthy yet our mind is small and tight, that is not true happiness. Easily we might think, that it is good enough if we are healthy. We easily criticize and judge others, but even then we place ourselves elsewhere.

There is a hospice close to the monastery Tahoma on Whidbey Island called Enzo House. There are also my students who take care of the patients there. 24 hours a day they take care. Yet what is almost more important is taking care of the relatives of the patient. And that moment when the person has died, the body is still present yet cannot express itself, but it is as if there is still some kind of presence. And the people around can become aware of this person becoming part of some great space. We might think that we are just alive as the body, but it is also the space around that is living with us. If we stay close to a patient, then we can become aware of this. And all the present relatives can experience it in the same way. So while we are alive we are a much greater part of the whole than what we often believe we are. If we see someone bedridden and only see them as their body, then this doesn´t catch the reality of things. The caretaker has to become completely one with the person lying in bed. If we cannot feel it like that, then we see the other person only in their outer form. It is our life energy that is also in the other person. And if we are able to feel it like that, then we are giving life to the true meaning of care taking and medical work. When we see the green leaves in the fresh mountains, then this is the experience of it in our mind. It is not about a nightingale singing outside. It is an expression of my mind. It is my experience of joy in this very moment – that is how we need to experience it.

This is like Gensha said: “If you cannot liberate a person who can´t see, hear or speak, then you are not giving life to the Buddhist teaching.” This is what he was pointing at, to not only see the outer form. If we see and get stuck to the form, then our eyes are not working correctly. If we hear and we get stuck on what we heard, then our ears are not working correctly. And if we do not speak from the truth of our mind, then our mouth is also not used correctly. We can talk for hours on the phone, but is it our true mind speaking there? Or are we just repeating the gossip of the day? That is not true speaking. It is also not just about listening to the sorrows and pain of another person, but to actually feel them in our mind as well, or else we are not truly interacting with this person. If we are not careful, we easily put ourselves elsewhere.


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