“Zen teachers say they have received the teaching from Shakyamuni Buddha. I say that I practice together with Old Man Shakyamuni and the third son of Xie.”– Xuansha (Xie was Xuansha’s family name)
Recently we went down to the beach in Atami, a seaside city southwest of Tokyo. It has been a resort for centuries due to its numerous natural hot springs and it was where we were visiting my wife’s mother. When we arrived at the beach we saw 6 people competing in what at first glance appeared to be a triathlon of some kind. They were running in the sand out to a yellow cone 100 meters away, rounding it and running back. Then they jumped into the water and swam out and back to a yellow buoy that looked to be 200 meters away. Then ran the sand course again, after which they got on surf boards and paddled out to the yellow buoy and returned. Ran another lap in the sand and then got back in the water, this time with flippers and towing a buoy on a long cord out to the yellow buoy and back, after which the final lap in the sand. One person was clearly the fastest, followed 10 seconds later by the second fastest person. One person was clearly the slowest. They didn’t even start the flipper and buoy swim until everybody else had already finished the race. What struck me was how everybody was cheering them on. Not only cheering them on, but the fastest and second fastest competitors got back in the water and swam alongside the slowest person yelling encouragement while swimming along. They then ran the sand course together with the last place finisher, continuing to yell encouragements as they ran. As I watched I thought, “You wouldn’t see that in the States.” But I was wrong.
The picture accompanying this piece is of Blake Cerveny and Brandon Schutt, competitors in a 3.1 mile cross country race not long ago. Blake pushed himself too hard and his legs cramped up about 300 yards from the finish. He went down 3 times and got up 3 times getting to within 100 yards of the finish line when Brandon helped him up supporting Blake as they finished together. Though it does happen in the States, when it does, it makes national news. In Japan, it is the normal way of behaving and I find that to be a nice culture to experience. It reminds me of the culture we are nourishing at PZI.
The quote from Xuansha came to mind there on the beach. What I witnessed struck me as the embodiment of compassion and and the spirit of practicing together, with each other, as well as with the teachers of the past. So much more alive and inspiring than encasing them, or the practice itself, in a kind of reverence that is often accompanied by rigidity.