February 17th – February 23rd
10 hours – in shop
8 hours – in class
6 hours – reading the Dhammapada, In Praise of Shadows, What Is Japanese Architecture?, Tea in Japan, Reading in the Brain, Japan: Culture of Wood
3 hours – hot yoga
This week found a busy assortment of assignments for the Chanoyu program. A mid-quarter response paper to the book In Praise of Shadows by Jun-ichiro Tanizaki was due on Wednesday with a whole class seminar on the text. Discussions centered around what purpose the use of shadows in traditional Japanese dwellings served, and tied in with our discussions on Ma. In Buddhism, the idea of emptiness encircles one of the founding principles guiding Buddhist meditation. Though this idea is not elaborated upon in the Dhammapada, it can be found in the Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism, and is integral to many of the thought experiments within the Dhammapada. In Praise of Shadows highlights (no irony intended) the role and development involving the use of low lighting, subtle shading, and deep shadows up until the introduction of electrical lighting systems at the turn of the 20th century in Japan. The essoteric effect created by shadows invites mystery and creation of interpretation by the viewer through the imagination. That is to say, shadows allow someone to draw their own lines around boundaries as well as dissolve them, allowing creation through imagination of what actually exists around them. Lights and objects serve to highlight the shadows, and the shadows in turn serve to highlight the objects. This, in some ways, is the essence of Ma. Ma is essentially what the Buddhists would call Dhamma. So the use of shadows can be said to induce an awareness of Dhamma.
“Perceive the world as a bubble. Perceive the world as a mirage.” Dhammapada, 47
This week began my sessions of Hot Yoga at the Hog Yoga studio on 4th Ave, Eastside. It consists of an hour and a half workout containing various yoga poses of the Bikram persuasion in a room heated to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Parallels between woodworking became apparent immediately. Upon entering, the students are briefed on the foundations of proper practice. Anitol (the owner and instructor) professed to us earnestly that “it is about the practice, not the product.” Daryl Morgan (the woodshop teacher) expressed the same sentiment in his introduction to traditional Japanese hand working techniques. In each, you spend time honing the technique to the best of your ability, striving to do better than you did the day before. One difference I could infer is that with woodworking, the product often supports their economic livelihood, and so relies on the quality of the product much more. But the sentiment remains that one can never fully master the techniques because you can always do better than you did before and therein lies the joy of practicing. In my first yoga sessions, I was unbalanced and fatigued. It reminded me of first using a Japanese saw as it wobbled and shook as i tried to saw a straight line. My arms also became tired after hammering and sawing for a time. I anticipate reaching comfort within the yoga sessions as my technique and confidence with the Japanese tools improved. Even by my second yoga session, I had more comfort with the routine. As I became more confident with Japanese tools, my mind became less focused on immediately what was in front of me. It became intuitive and my mind would wonder to other thoughts or feelings almost unconsciously as I still engaged the woodwork. Anitol preaches this as one of the values of yogic meditation; that your mind will clear and unconscious awareness pervades you. Thoughts streams carry themselves to completion without any effort on your part. It’s a very therapeutic process.
This week we also finished the shoji screen my group had been working on and it is now ready for use in our mock tea house that we set up in the Sem buildings. In class we continued to practice napkin folding and tea preparation. These somatic exercises also remind me of yoga. There is a very particular and precise way of moving, and it is through concentrating hard on carrying out these movements that the moment of meditation comes. In Bhuddism, it is not somatic but internal, yet still with an emphasis on focus. It is through the focus that calmness and clarity comes. The emotional and spiritual effect of the tea meditation, yoga, or tea ceremony come through.