Reflections on the Occasion
of the Urasenke
San Francisco Joint Anniversary, April
by Sen Soshitsu XVI, Zabosai Oiemoto
has been 35 years since I last visited San Francisco. At
the time, I came as a university student with my friends.
After arriving at the airport, we went to the hotel to check
in but were told at the front desk that for some reason
our reservation had been cancelled. Naturally, my friends
and I were confused and could not believe that this was
happening at the beginning of our first trip to the U.S.
Completely at a loss as to what to do, we began blaming
each other. But then I remembered a longtime family friend,
Mr. Ritchie, and thought perhaps he could help us.
Finally we figured out Mr. Ritchie's phone
number, then I nervously made my first call on an American
payphone and was warmly welcomed by Mr. Ritchie's family.
After that, we enjoyed several wonderful days with the Ritchies.
I feel so grateful to the Ritchie family that I again extend
my heartfelt gratitude to them.
Now, when I was young, I had the opportunity
to practice Zen at Daishu-in, a subtemple of Ryoanji monastery.
I received the guidance of Morinaga Soko Roshi, who was
living in retirement there. This was a life experience I
continue to treasure to this day. Training monks from Japan
and around the world came to meet this Zen master. Amongst
these monks, two especially lived up to the Roshi's expectations—Daijo-san
and Ursula-san who built Daishu-in West Temple in Garberville,
CA. When the Roshi passed away, some of his ashes went to
Daishu-in West. If I had a little more time on this trip,
I would like to go there to offer my prayers, however, as
my schedule is quite tight, I will have to postpone it for
another time. For these reasons, although I have visited
San Francisco only once before, I have fond feelings for
this place where I received the hospitality of the Ritchie
family and where my Zen master rests. And perhaps it is
inevitable that I feel especially sentimental here.
Another thing that strongly influenced me in my
youth was literature. I was fixated on the German novelist Thomas
Mann and loved modern and contemporary American literature. Compared
to the subtle literary style of Thomas Mann, the sharpness of
John Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell, and William Faulkner's works
was like a heavy, wide-blade knife. Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath
and Caldwell's Tobacco Road especially left me with a powerful
impression. That is, these novels became the impetus for me to
realize that everyone must become conscious of correcting social
Because I am the Grand Tea Master, I feel
all the more that I must always keep in mind how to devise
ways to change the world of tea in order for those who study
tea, especially those who are Urasenke members, to continue
to enjoy and deepen their practice. Hereon, taking this
to heart, I hope to visit various areas [in which tea is
practiced]. I have also been visiting even the smallest
branches and groups in Japan that no one from Konnichian
has gone to until now. I call this my "Iemoto Express
Delivery Project" or perhaps in the U.S., "Iemoto
Chado or the Way of Tea is a composite
of Japanese culture. That is not to say that this cultural
tradition is superior or inferior in any way. If we liken
it to a desk, one could say that, "it is a tradition
with many drawers or compartments." In addition to
preparing and enjoying tea, it involves flower arrangement,
burning incense, sitting in meditation, partaking in a multi-course
meal, and reading poetry. It involves calligraphy, applied
arts such as ceramics, lacquer, and metal ware. There is
architecture, landscape gardens, and etiquette. Even with
a general list, chanoyu contains a multitude of components.
In a sense, chado is perhaps the total package. For
this reason, through the study of chanoyu, there
are those who also study flowers for tea, while others become
Zen priests or chefs. That is why I say that chado
is like an internet portal for Japanese culture.
Makiko sama presenting tea at the anniversary event
Here, I would like to discuss the term "culture."
There are several explanations for the etymology of the
word "culture." I heard that one pertains to agriculture,
which involves digging up hard soil, removing rocks and
tree roots in the ground, and bathing the cold earth in
sunlight to make the soil easy to work with and fertile.
This is what it takes to cultivate new land.
Let us now apply this to culture. Please think
about the work involved in culture. By coming in contact
with culture, one's hard heart and mind are dug up. The
stones and roots in one's heart and mind—in other
words, the human tendency towards small-heartedness and
malice—are removed. Nourishment can then spread through
the heart and it becomes a bountiful place, where kindness
and affection can be easily fostered. Perhaps the phrase,
"to cultivate the heart," comes from here. I imagine
that those gathered here today would agree that your heart
is all the more rich since you have come in contact with
passing of time, people make new discoveries. Taking my own life
as an example, there was the time I got married, the time I was
blessed with children, and the time I came to a position of responsibility.
I have repeatedly thought deeply about each moment in which I
have lived. As I was doing this, I came to think that the future
is an indefinite, anxious place. Last year, Eastern Japan was
struck with an unprecedented calamity. My grandmother came from
Sendai. Her ancestral temple is also in the city of Sendai. Many
historic buildings met with destruction. So this was very personal
for me. As you know, there was also the crisis of the nuclear
power plant, and although we are told that it is nearly resolved,
there is still great unease in regard to our lives hereon.
In college, I studied psychology and specialized
in anxiety. The scholar Schlesinger stated, "Anxiety
is the official emotion of the modern world." In today's
world, the concept of anxiety, which is extremely obscure,
is in fact made up of many extremely small, interconnected
parts. The word "stress" is often used to describe
this anxiety. There are situations in which we give or are
given stress. In experiments, one can be loaded with stress.
This word, "stress," originally
came from the realm of physics and was borrowed in psychology
and medicine. In physics, "stress" refers to the
force which works upon a structure or system. It can be
withstood to an extent, however, once it surpasses a certain
amount of force, it increases and causes deformation in
receive emotional or psychological damage from stress, we are
under considerable strain and can no longer endure the burden
of it. For this reason, I understand anxiety and stress in the
following way. Anxiety is like a large building. Stress is like
a small room within this building. I thought of anxiety as something
that always came with life.
The conclusion that I reached with this idea
was that anxiety was a "shadow" to me. Whether
one is a human being or a thing, solid matter will cast
a shadow, which is something that cannot be severed no matter
how hard we try. I thought of anxiety as a shadow. On a
sunny day, it can be seen clearly. On a rainy day or at
night, we may not be able to see it. Even if they cannot
be seen, shadows can always come back. If they are always
there, we should not try to make shadows disappear, instead
we should not concern ourselves with shadows but rather
accept them as part of our lives. Just by being alive, we
are bound to get hurt. Even if the wound heals, the memory
of it remains. This results in new anxieties. However, if
I put too much effort in making my shadow disappear, ultimately
I have to make myself disappear. This is not what I want.
Since realizing that my shadow
is a part of me, whether I like it or not, I feel that I have
become a little stronger. Every day, we come upon a new day. At
the very least, if we wake up in the morning tomorrow and are
still alive, we will encounter a new day. That is, we will meet
with the unknown. Encountering the unknown means that our sense
of anxiety increases. New seeds of anxiety, seeds of worry appear.
However, if we resist these fears, we would have no choice but
to make ourselves disappear as mentioned earlier. I came to realize
that encountering a new day did not mean that I will meet with
anxiety, rather I am being given a chance to learn something new.
The sense of security and the sense of insecurity are meant to
arise alternately. Those who have understood this to be so are
the ones who have produced Japanese culture. There is heaven in
contrast to earth, the sun in contrast to the moon. We have black
and white, outside and inside, and material and spiritual. Similarly,
we have the relationship between parent and child, male and female,
teacher and student. The idea that the human world is made up
of such opposites or relatives relates to the concept of yin and
In Japanese, this is what is called mono
no aware, the pathos of things, empathy towards the
other, or sensitivity towards the ephemeral, which is what
gave birth to the concept of wabi—understated
refinement, rustic beauty. Hegel said that the truth of
the universe is contradiction. Giordano Bruno stated, "everything
in the universe is absolutely coincidentia oppositrum,
the coincidence of opposites or the unity of opposites."
Wise people around the world were aware of this.
Nowadays, it seems that those who feel dissatisfied
or discontent with the world have increased. With the advances
we have made, we can obtain anything we wish. Things we thought
were mere pipe dreams until recently are now available to us.
For instance, today we have cellular phones, which we take for
granted. However, the first mobile phone I ever held of was the
size of a brick. Carrying one of those around in a bag was like
weight training. Before I knew what happened, they became increasingly
compact. We can now send messages and watch television on them.
I saw a comic strip in the newspaper, which
went like this: "Ma'am, could you please look at this?
It's a new cell phone. See, you can send messages, watch
TV, and on top of all that, you even can make phone calls
too!" Now we are in the age of smartphones. News stories
on the latest models decorate the papers. But just as soon
as these models are launched, they become classics because
the next models are already being developed.
other day, someone asked me, "What do you think is
the opposite of 'thank you'?" Then the person answered,
"atarimae," meaning "taking things
for granted or as a matter of course." Taking things
for granted is what makes us suffer. We are completely immersed
in a lifestyle in which we take things as a matter of course
and fall into decadence. For example, when questions or
doubts spring forth, we must naturally try to find the answer
ourselves. This is our responsibility. If we try our best
and find that it is too difficult, then we should ask for
help. But some of us immediately rely upon others. We may
look on the internet. Without thinking, we borrow someone
If we expect an answer from the beginning, we will
feel dissatisfied and displeased with everything. If we remain
feeling that way, then we will unenthusiastically, halfheartedly,
and cynically face that day we finally encounter. And we will
feel regret towards that one day, which passes by right before
our eyes, and even if we try to focus and reach out, we will not
be able to seize it. Our arms cannot reach it. This is what I
always tell myself. Life cannot be reset nor can life be rehearsed.
Every single day is the real thing. We should live with this attitude
that every day is the real deal.
Whether a day is good or bad, favorable or
loathsome, it is not that only one side of this pair will
last forever. Though there may be waves, life moves forward
through a repetition of yin and yang. The
word wabiru does not mean "to be ruined or forlorn"
or "to perish or decay." Please take a look at
the moon. After the full moon, the moon gradually begins
to get chipped away, until it eventually disappears from
the night sky. Is that the end of the moon? No. It is reborn
as the new moon like a thin thread of light in the dark
sky. It does not perish but always returns.
The winter appears to be a time when everything
disappears but it is actually a time in preparation for
spring, a time to celebrate life. Even if we cannot see
anything, therein lies the breath of joy. Like the moon,
the seasons come and go like a relay of life. Wabiru
is an idea filled with honor and respect towards the changes
of nature, which governs life and death. This is why I would
like you to look firmly and carefully at each day you encounter.
The view that every day is the real thing or moment is directly
connected to the spirit of ichigo ichie ("one
time, one meeting" or "once in a lifetime chance"),
which is the foundation of the tradition of chado.
The idea that life is not a rehearsal itself is ichigo
ichie. Upholding this attitude will become the light
that shines upon your anxieties, which is the darkness in
After finishing university, I was given the
opportunity to train and practice in a Zen temple. "Enlightenment"
in Zen shows us that answers should not be sought outside
ourselves but within our own hearts and minds. It depends
on how genuinely we can look at our own hearts and minds
without rose-colored glasses. How willing we are to look
honestly at ourselves. I believe that this is the path to
enlightenment. As discussed, mass consumption society today
is full of things that make people lose self-restraint in
desire and appetite. Even if we close our ears and eyes,
our desires and appetites will find an opportunity to steal
in. If we aimlessly let ourselves be swept away, an unlimited
amount of desire will spring forth more and more towards
everything. In spite of having everything we need, our greed
in thinking that we do not have enough creates anxiety.
Perhaps this is retribution for not cultivating our hearts.
The Chinese Zen master Linji, or Rinzai
in Japanese, explained, "[He who has] nothing to do
is the noble one. Simply don't strive—just be ordinary."*
Here, buji means to "not do anything,"
being ordinary is a good thing, meaning you should be as
you are. Today, we go around with bloodshot eyes saying,
"I want this, I want that." It is shameful, isn't
it? As I say this, I look back on my own heart and mind
and often feel ashamed. Desire is like a gas tank with a
hole in it. No matter how much fuel you add, it never becomes
full. A car with such a tank, no matter how good it looks
on the surface, is a lemon. Many today forge their way on
a lemon of a path and do not even realize this. But this
"car" that you call yourself cannot be replaced
by buying a new one. I do not believe that people can be
reborn. That is why you cannot be replaced. So what can
you do to improve yourself?
If we could rid ourselves
of that which is unnecessary, then we would feel lighter both
physically and emotionally. But like hungry ghosts, we are spurred
on by insatiable greed. As a result, we can see the unsightly
emotional excess that modern people have put on themselves. Only
by removing this excess can we return to our original, natural
selves. This natural self itself is a precious existence, which
cannot be replaced, in other words, this true self is the kinin,
the noble person.
If we understood our own abilities, there would
be a certain benefit to compare ourselves to others in improving
humanity. However, if we remain unknowing of our capabilities
and merely swing from joy to sorrow in our comparison of others,
this would be counterproductive. This is because there is the
danger of automatically assuming that we must have extraneous
Let us think again about the moon. How beautiful is the
moon, which floats across the night sky? The moon does not swagger
around as if it is the only thing in the night sky, does it? It
does not compete with the stars. It floats in mid-air, seemingly
unconcerned with the manmade lights below, rather it welcomes
the various silhouettes that appear from its faint light. Isn't
it as though it knows that its ephemeral beauty becomes all the
more so because it shares the sky? That is why its elegance and
There is a way of thinking about beauty,
based in spirituality, which has been passed down in Japan from
ancient times that defines beauty as knowing what is enough. It
is the heart and mind that thinks about what is truly necessary
for oneself. If we understand this, we can suppress unnecessary
feelings of discontent and will be able to admonish our hearts,
which seek flaws in things. Naturally there will be differences
between yourself and others. Those who cannot control themselves
become aggressive and will do everything they can to attack those
differences. Such people have been increasing; hence, there is
strain and tension around the world. And people work at finding
faults in others. There is nothing more deplorable than this.
What is Japanese aesthetics or sense of beauty?
If I am asked this, I answer, "It is to live together
while mutually recognizing our differences." This does
not mean simply living with compromises. If one reflects
firmly on oneself and goes out into society, then I think
the chances of getting more confused than necessary decreases.
Whether or not one can do the training represents the crossroad
in which one becomes an adult or remains a child in the
body of an adult.
Culture is like taking vitamins. However, just because
we take vitamins or supplements does not mean there is an immediate
effect. But if you continue taking them, they will improve your
health and wellbeing. Please believe this to be so for the future
that will be delivered as a result is sure to be rich. I would
like to conclude my talk by saying I have great hopes for a future
created by all of you, who cultivate your hearts and minds through
chado and various other cultural forms.
Translated by Maya Hara.
*The Record of Linji, translation by Ruth
Fuller Sasaki, edited by Thomas Kirchner, Honolulu: University
of Hawaii Press, 2009, p. 178.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.