Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

ねじまき鳥クロニクル Japanese Title : Nejimaki Dori Kuronikuru, which is pretty fun to say
村上春樹 (the authors name)

I just finished the book "The Wind Up Bird Chronicle," by Haruki Murakami. Clocking in at just over 600 pages, I've been working on this project since I boarded the plane for Taiwan. It can be meandering at times, seemingly endlessly, but reading through those parts of the book felt comfortable, like the subconscious numbness of a daydream. The most amazing thing about it was the prose, which, despite being translated from Japanese, kind of glowed and shimmered. Kind of like reading drugs. Not fuck you up type of drugs but like, I dunno, but some kind of fast acting, antidepressant stimulant combo. Easy to swallow and consume, but precise, and superbly detailed. I've never had a book where on page 600 I was able to recall events from the first few chapters. The words and images just stuck in my mind.

It's strange that I'm using such synesthetic language to write about this book, but I'll run with it. Dreams are an important theme throughout, and the way that was communicated to me through how the words "felt," so to speak. They felt good. The way a real good book ought to feel.

Well, anyway the book is about this guy, and his wife runs away, and some crazy shit happens, and he meets some crazy people, and most of the time you're not really sure what is the deal with these people, but for some reason, it doesn't matter in the slightest. There's some Japanese history involved, as well as a dose of politics and religion, but nothing too heady. But none of that is particularly important. The story is kind of like the thread that ties all the words and ideas together. But man, I wish I could express myself like that.

It's rare that I get the opportunity to really read a book, cover to cover. I guess part of me feels like it's a waste of time, unfortunately. And although I am WAY behind in Harry Potter, the book was definitely worth the time.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

When cultures attack

I thought I'd share this gem from the JET Handbook:

It is important to note that culture shock is not limited to those in their first year in Japan - the cycle can continue for years.

1) Initial Euphoria
This period of euphoria may last from a week or two to a month, but the
letdown is inevitable.

2) Irritation and Hostility
And these differences, which suddenly seem to be everywhere, are troubling. You blow up little, seemingly insignificant difficulties into major catastrophes. This is the stage generally identified as culture shock.”

3) Gradual Adjustment
Gradually, too, your sense of humour returns and you realise the situation is not hopeless after all.

4) Adaptation and Biculturalism
Full recovery will result in an ability to function in your own and in Japanese culture with confidence.

I wish I had aspirations to be a psychologist, simply to be able to write stuff like this.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Buddhism and Decision Making

This is something I wrote on the Buddhism boards. Mostly here for posterity, but please read and comment on it.

I know this isn't an advice column... but I'm looking for advice, sort of. Currently, I'm in a situation where I have to decide between two job opportunities. I've more or less made my decision, but my question is more about the decision making process. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this and during the whole process I was considering what sort of criteria ought I, as a Buddhist, use to make decisions?

"Do not judge by any standards" (from the Sandokai(Harmony of Relative and Absolute))
"The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences" (Sosan?, third Partriarch of Chan/Zen)

Maybe I'm taking these too pithy "Zen Sayings" out of context, but nevertheless I feel that there is a lot of rhetoric about decision making in Zen. A lot of it has to do with being "in the moment," being able to make decisions without attachment to the outcome or to the conditions that led to the decision. No past, no future, just act. Now.

This method of decision making favors intuition as the compass to guide our decisions. But if there's one thing I've observed about myself in the past week I've been mulling my decision over in my head, is that intuition changes. In the morning, choice A sounds good, in the evening, choice B. The decision happens only when I decide when to decide, and then my intuition at that moment shall take the day. But why is my feeling at that moment necessarily better than at any other moment?

I suppose another approach might be more "Utilitarian," in that we should consider which decision would be the most beneficial to the most people, or in Buddhist terms, be the most compassionate. This seems to be a good criteria, but in my particular case, it's not very obvious which choice would be most beneficial: One job will likely put a strain on the school I would teach at, (hosting an inexperienced foreigner) but because they wouldn't have anyone in my position otherwise, I could do a lot for the school. The other, my time is spread among many schools, and will likely be doing very little actual work, and if I turned it down, some other poor jobless college grad would be right there to take it. But which choice would benefit more people? Who knows?

Maybe my decision should appeal to basic reason. One pays more and would be less work, so I should take that one. Simple. Though maybe some reasons outweigh others... should the mere opportunity to help sentient beings nullify any monetary gains? Which reasons are worth considering?

Well, I've already gone on far too long, but my original question remains: What sort of criteria or method ought a Buddhist use to make decisions? I mean big decisions, of course, ones that will dramatically change one's life.

I hope I'm not beating a dead horse with this bu, thanks in advance for your input!


P.S. If you're interested in the specifics of my decision, please visit my blog: thedailytommy [dot] blogspot [dot] com , though I would rather that this discussion not be a case study in my life.

Monday, August 13, 2007

So I'm going to Japan!

Well, deciding is over and the doing begins. I am going to Japan. Leaving a week from yesterday, and I don't know when I'll be back. FREAKING YEAH!


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Decision Time

Brendan encouraged me to write down the various reasons why and why not I would go to Japan or Taiwan.

The main reason I want to go back to Taiwan is to stay involved with Fo Guang Shan (the temple I was at), and the Woodenfish program. I hope I will be able to return to the program again next year as a teacher/assistant and also help out throughout the year coordinating the program. With the school year as it is in Taiwan, it may also allow me to travel before and after the program next summer, to visit friends, and to possibly volunteer in the Beijing Olympics or in the Woodenfish teaching program in mainland china. If I am in Japan, I will not be able to do that very easily, because I am away from Taiwan, and because the school year does not end until the beginning of August, though I may be able to go to Beijing Olympics/Woodenfish Teaching Program. I could end my contract early, but that would result in me paying ~$1000 for the cost of the plane ticket to Japan. Staying involved with Buddhism is important to me personally, but I also think that having spent time near, in, and around Buddhism will also help me if I go into academic Buddhist studies as I plan to. While there is Buddhism in Japan, I don't think it will be nearly as accessible to me as it would be if I were in Taiwan.

Another advantage to Taiwan is that I would be able to learn Chinese. Again, this would be beneficial if I decide to go into academic Buddhist studies, and would probably help my reading ability for Japanese as well. Having some Chinese would also help out if I work on the Woodenfish program next year. However, in order to learn Chinese properly, I would have to make an effort to take formal classes from someone at the monastery, something that would consume a lot of free time.

One disadvantage is that I think i may be a burden to Pu-men High School (in Taiwan). I don't think they are prepared to take on a foreign English teacher who doesn't speak any Chinese, and has no previous teaching experience. Also, I'm not even sure about the details of my employment contract, namely how much I will be paid, and if my plane ticket will be paid for. I'll be going in cold, with almost no training; it's bound to be a really difficult year, but I think that I can help them a lot, by being the "guinea pig" for an English exchange program. But maybe it could wait until next year...

Another disadvantage is that I feel I'll be letting some important people in my life down by going to Taiwan instead of Japan. Of course, I'll make it to Japan eventually, hopefully through the Shansi program next year. But, if I do re-apply for Shansi next year, I'll be competing with a bunch of my very-qualified friends from Oberlin, but if I don't get it, I'll once again be jobless, searching for employment in Asia. I won't be able to re-apply to JET next year, because I would have turned down placement this year.

For a long time last year, part of me really wanted to go live in a monastery rather than teach English. This may be the best of both worlds...

Well, for one thing, it's been my plan all along, but unlike Taiwan, there isn't one primary thing that draws me to it, but rather a bunch of important things. One is that I'll be close to some friends, and in the city I'm in, I will probably have a lot of opportunities to make new friends. Of course, I'll be making friends in Taiwan also, but in a very different context-- the monastery rather than the bar. Then there's the issue of women... probably have a better shot in Japan than in Taiwan.

Also Aikido. I suppose it's a pretty unfounded assumption that Japan = Good Aikido, but at least there will probably be more Aikido in Japan than Taiwan, and part of me feels like Aikido is the reason I got interested in going to Japan, and everything else-Buddhism, Japanese, etc, in the first place.

I do eventually need to go to Japan to get good at Japanese-- a personal goal, and also important if I continue on to Buddhist studies in the future. Now is clearly the best time to do this, since I've just come out of formal study in college. I can take the JEES (Japanese Proficiency) test next winter, and on a similar note, get my TESOL (English Teaching) certificate.

Japan: I guess it's not everything I ever wanted. But maybe it's where I ought to go...

Decision making is very hard. This is something that is nice about living in the monastery. All decisions are made for you, and all the effort and energy that you put into making the mundane day-to-day decisions can be geared towards more important things like helping other people.

We often find it liberating to be able to make decisions. In fact, that ability may be exactly how we define "liberty" or "freedom." At almost all points along this road to getting a job have I thought that some decision that I made would relieve the stress of decision making, thus liberating me to do as I please, with that firm decision behind me. However, I have found this not to be the case. That neither the ability to make decisions, nor the actual decision itself to be liberating. There's still always the element of doubt, and the inability to let go of whatever option I have to leave behind. I think it has less to do with my own inability, though, and more to do with the idea of a decision. Mainly, that a decision only becomes a decision when it becomes put into action. For instance, in this case, I've realized that I won't have actually made my decision until I actually send my passport to San Francisco for processing at either the Taiwanese or Japanese consulate. The decision happens when I act on it, rather than when I make up my mind. So the reason this process is so difficult is because I've been waiting months and months now to act, to really decide. Up to that point has been tenuous speculation and mind-games about what decision I will make, and how I will act, with no real action. A decision is only moving my attachment from one thing to another thing. There may appear a moment of freedom in this moving, but it's still attachment, nevertheless.

Well whatever. JAPAN OR TAIWAN??


Monday, August 6, 2007

Life Goals

Over the past month, I've come up with a few new life goals:

1. Get a Shamban (the stick that the Zen master hits you with).
2. Travel to a new country every year, until death do us part, amen.
3. Never have to live at home again.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Plugged Back In

Well, I'm back in Utah, from a pretty crazy month in Taiwan. I'll be here for a couple more weeks until I figure out exactly where I'm going to go teach English. It's a little weird being back, a return to the mundane as it were. I suppose the biggest difference between living at home and living at a monastery in Taiwan is that in Taiwan, time was structured to the minute. The whole month, we had only a two or three days that were truly "free," and even then, the time was spent catching up with laundry, e-mail, calling home, or sleeping. Now, my days are totally free from any particular obligations, but I can't cherish this free time the same way I did in Taiwan.

Anway, the latest on the job front is this: I got off the wait list for JET, and am placed in Oita prefecture, in northern Kyushu. However, in Taiwan there may be a better opportunity for me to teach at the high school connected with the monastery. However, until I find out more information about that job, Japan HO!

So, that's it for now. I'm probably going to write about Taiwan a lot in the next few days, so keep looking in.

Oh, I also got a new name in Taiwan. I'm now officially a Buddhist, and my "Dharma Name" is BěnZhì, (HonChi in Japanese) which means "Original Wisdom." I was really shooting for "Original Gangster" but no dice... So you now must all refer to me as such. Just kidding.