Thursday, June 16, 2011


I have recently returned from 10 days in Japan. I had a wonderful time with some dear friends, making some new friends in the process.

For me, the trip to Japan had about it a deep sense of life fulfilling itself. My late father fought in the Australian Army in the Second World War. He lost several mates at the hands of the Japanese. Even though he later had respectful relations with many Japanese business leaders during the 1960s and '70s he never really forgave the Japanese for what he, and many other hundreds of Australians of his era, saw as their inexplicably unnecessary gross cruelty in wartime, particularly to women and those who were otherwise sick or injured.  I can only imagine what my father would have thought, but whilst in Tokyo I paid my respects to the Japanese war dead at the famous (or infamous) Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to those who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan. It is a different world now.

Now, the people I met and otherwise travelled with in Japan were, without exception, kind and compassionate to me, and I felt enriched to be in their company. Special thanks are due to Yasushi and Akiko (who now live in Australia), Sonomi and her wonderful parents Isao and Takeko, Masaka, Akio and Arisa. Showered with gifts of all kinds, and taken to the most beautiful of places, I could not have been treated better by any other human beings. Arigatō gozaimasu. ありがとうございます

In a stream of consciousness style I recall azaleas and hydrangeas in full bloom, with a splendour that I had never encountered before in my life … giant bonsais of all kinds … crows with huge heads … hot springs and traditional Japanese baths … Japanese food of all kinds … beautiful rice paper ... Shinto shrines … Buddhist temples (in particular, those of Shinnyo-en, a Buddhist denomination of which I am a member) … Japanese women in colourful kimonos … crowded but ever-so-clean trains which run on time … mist over Mt Fuji … one thousand year old Samurai castles … and much, much more. I even found one of my recent books on the law in the foreign language section of a major Japanese book shop!

To understand the Japanese it seems to me that you have to know about kata (型 or 形literally 'form'). There is, for Japanese, a right way to do almost anything, and that includes eating, bathing, dressing, laying out a garden, folding paper, doing martial arts, and so forth. At times it seems that for the Japanese doing things the right way is just as important as, if not more important than, doing the right things. Form has always had a reality in itself for Japanese – something which is slightly reminiscent of Plato’s theory of Forms.

I got to thinking about mindfulness. Form is important (see this blog as to one suggested 'form' with respect to the practice of mindfulness), but there must never be any triumph of form over substance. Form requires effort, and mindfulness only requires just that much effort as is necessary to remain present from moment to moment with bare attention, choiceless awareness and a certain amount of curiosity. 'Effortless effort', if you like.

The day after I returned to Sydney from my trip to Japan I travelled to Canberra to hear the Dalai Lama (pictured below) – one of the most inspiring and beloved persons in the world. He said nothing I hadn’t heard before, but it was still wonderful to see and listen to the great man.

His Holiness spoke of the importance of compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. He said that it was not all that important to be religious. What was important was being a 'good human being', and ethical conduct – with ‘ethical’ meaning what doesn’t harm others' experience or expectation of happiness. He also said that all religions were not the same - which was a good thing because we are not all the same - but all religions nevertheless emphasised love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, harmony, responsibility, and so forth ... even if their respective adherents didn't always possess or display those inherent, objective spiritual values.

The Dalai Lama was asked whether, in his opinion, there was more compassion in the world today than in previous times. In his opinion, there was. His Holiness mentioned a meeting he had with the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (pictured below) when she was 96. The latter was apparently asked by the Dalai Lama whether she thought the world had gotten ‘better’ over her long lifetime. Without any hesitation the Queen Mother apparently said, 'Yes,' pointing to the modern day concern with the importance of human rights, the refusal to no longer accept totalitarian regimes, and various other matters. The Dalai Lama said as much, as well, in Canberra the other day, also making reference to the fact that people are no longer prepared to uncritically and unconditionally wage war for their respective countries.

I think that His Holiness and the Queen Mother are both right ... despite terrorism, the rise of religious fundamentalism, increasing consumerism, global warming and other evils.

The Dalai Lama said nothing that was directly related to the practice of mindfulness but he did speak of the importance of the ‘gift’ of life itself … and of the need to accept those things which we simply cannot change.

One such thing occurred to my wife and I yesterday when, driving back to Sydney from Canberra, the engine of my motor vehicle ‘died’ on me whilst driving along a motorway. It seems the car is beyond repair. Such is life. The car, after all, is only a material thing. Ugh.






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