Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Eben Brooks: Hey There Chthulhu

Thanks to Étienne Demons for this link, which will put a maniacal grin on the face of any fellow fans of Lovecraft's eldritch musings.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Kyoto Day 2

Monday's rather relaxed pace eased me into a frenetic Tuesday of resource gathering and very technical Japanese conversation. It's quite a relief to discover that my language study is paying off, and I can just about, if rather painfully, maintain a decent academic conversation about Buddhism, thanks to Professor Bowring's Classical Japanese lectures and my three months last year at Nihon University.

Today, I went to Ōtani University (大谷大学), affiliated to the Higashi Honganji (東本願寺) school of True Pure Land Buddhism (浄土真宗), to meet Dr Kaku and the Rev'd Professor Michael Pye. Dr Kaku very kindly allowed me to use the excellent university library and Eastern Buddhist Society office to obtain copies of some much needed articles. Kisa, a young American graduate working as a volunteer, spent hours turning these into .pdfs for me, for which I am most grateful.
Michael Pye is retired professor of Buddhism at Marburg University, but I use the term 'retired' advisedly, given that he is now active as an Anglican priest in Kyoto Diocese and as a researcher at Ōtani. Over and after some very good soba noodles, for which Kyoto is rightly famed, we chatted about things Anglican, Buddhist and Japanese. One of my research questions is the extent to which one can make ontological statements about Shin Buddhism, and if I understood correctly, he was very much of the opinion that ontology is really not a matter of much concern in Buddhist teaching. Dr Kaku, on the other hand, influenced to some extent by the philosophers of the Kyoto School, maintained in our later conversation that one could usefully derive ontological conclusions from Shinran's work. Perhaps I should feel some relief that there is as much diversity of opinion among Buddhist scholars as there is among Christian ones.

After a light and very reasonably priced meal of Galician octopus and white rice with a glass of wine, I plunged into a nearby onsen for a couple of hours and headed home, to write and then to sleep.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Kyoto day 1


What a privilege is it to spend a week in perhaps the finest of Japan's four ancient capitals, Kyoto; and a greater privilege still to spend it in the Zen guest temple of Shinkoin, home to ancient Christian treasures (about which, more on Wednesday after I've been on the tour) and frequent haunt of the great Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki. Its priest, Taka, is the fifth generation of his family to serve there. He has studied extensively in the US and is married to an American, and so greeted me warmly in English. The rooms are far cosier than the austerity I had imagined, and with the air-con turned up, as warm as the welcome. The reasonable price of Y4000 per night includes zazen meditation practice and free us of bicycles, a must for getting around the fen-like flatness of this city.

I woke to the deep resonance of the temple bell feeling remarkably fresh, given jetlag and a well spent evening before chatting to locals in an excellent little bar-restaurant around the corner called Raku-raku Kitchen. There, the chef and owner Akira cooks fresh ingredients, including seasonal vegetables, right in front of you however you like. He is also the author of some fascinating documentaries about his skateboarding pink flamingo, Tomomi.