“The strong manly ones in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. Patience means restraining one’s inclinations. I am not as strong as I might be, but I have long known and practiced patience. And if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience.” – Toshogu
The Dalai Lama says that an advanced stage of Buddhist practice can allow one to visualize oneself with their body, activities, resources, and surroundings to develop a sense of pure self that is fashioned from compassionately motivated wisdom. It is called ‘taking imagination as the spiritual path’. This path can not only lead to fulfillment of one’s own welfare but also to the fulfillment of other’s welfare. As I enter my 40s, I can only hope to enhance my imagination of my life’s journey!
This past year I felt like a Henro–a traveling monk (metaphorically speaking of course!). ‘Henro’ is the Japanese word for pilgrim. The Shikoku Henro is a pilgrimage of 88 temples on the island of Shikoku, Japan. It was started by the famous Buddhist monk Kūkai, who was born in Zentsūji, Shikoku in 774. These walking pilgrimages are practiced for a spiritual reason such as to “find oneself” or “to soothe one’s soul” or for personal training.
Although my journey was not entirely around visiting 88 temples, at the tail end of this year I was very fortunate to end up in dozens of temples between Beijing, Tokyo, Nikko, Shiobara, and Kyoto. Thanks to my friend Hideo-san. I was awed by the patient perfectionism of each of these temples that have been standing there for hundreds of years (in some cases thousands of years)! They each gave a unique perspective into Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Tao, and Shinto. But more importantly, each of them declares an unparalleled harmony between nature and mankind, with heightened natural beauty. It was hard to deny the presence of a higher power standing in the middle of Jingo-Ji temple early in the morning or staring at the rock garden of the Ryo-An-Ji.
It was a year that also took me to Nice, Monte Carlo, Amman, Paris, London, and many US cities. I was, in some cases, truly inspired to see the level of progress we have made as global citizens to move our world forward-– some geopolitical shifts for good, more awareness of the environment, a collective interest in improving the conditions of the less fortunate, global healthcare and education, and a rising interest in social entrepreneurship to name a few. On the other hand, I was equally discouraged to observe with millions of others the melting global economic climate driven by greed, mismanagement, short-term outlook, and criminal acts. And I don’t have enough words to express my feelings about the continued deteriorating human conditions inflicted by our own wrong doings.
But more than anything, this year I wanted to reflect upon my inner self. It was important for me to evaluate the past, the present, and the future. I wanted to look at my life’s journey from a distance while I define my next set of trips.
In our journey its often easy to forget what’s truly important, what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s just, what’s fair, what’s equal, how we define success, how to uphold integrity…what to teach our children, how to treat each other. And our collective regard or disregard as a society has either taken us far or taken us down for centuries. Current times are no exception. It is our individual responsibility to do our part by the doing the best we can do. The choices we make on our journey certainly have an impact on fellow travelers.
Sometimes in life the best rewards come from unplanned trips. This year, completely unanticipated, we had to renovate the exterior of our home and yard due to major water damage. As part of this renovation, inspired by my years of fascination with eastern philosophies, we just completed our long waited Japanese garden. For a couple of months I worked on our rock garden, Ryoanji water basin, yin-yang stone borders, gates, pathways, steps, bamboo, maples, and many other details. Beyond the invigoration of the physical work, it allowed me to use my imagination to reflect upon my past, present, and the future. It served to remind me yet again of how I consistently I fall short with my true understanding of patience!
I have impatiently pursued perfection all my life. Intellectually, I fully know that it is the patience and imperfections that sometimes hold the greatest potential, but emotionally it is harder to accept. I have just now begun to appreciate that the true joy of a journey is the ‘patient perfection’ that comes from many unplanned trips. This realization of ‘patient perfection’ was most obvious to me during my visit at the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko. There I was, standing in front a famous Japanese calligraphy. It was a quote by Toshogu himself. Tokugawa Ieyasu (January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. The quote says:
“Life is like unto a long journey with a heavy burden.
Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not.
Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair.
When ambitious desires arise in thy heart, recall the days of extremity thou has passed through.
Forbearance is the root of quietness and assurance forever.
If thou knowest only what it is to conquer, and knowest not what it is like to be defeated, woe unto thee; it will fare ill with thee.
Find fault with thyself rather than with others.”
And I unequivocally agree!
As we say goodbye to yet another year and look forward to a new one, I wish for patience for all. Perhaps patience will allow us to take imagination as our path, where our journey may often lead to compassionately motivated wisdom. And this wisdom may benefit the welfare of others and not just ourselves!
[Image: Flickr User Alex Saurel]