Zen as an art for family cohesion

Shinkansen - the Japanese Bullet Train

The passenger doors opened and the morning commuters stepped forward to board the train. Ticket in hand, Nanami entered the carriage and quickly found a comfortable seat. It was next to the window, her favorite place to sit when traveling by rail. She pulled open the window drapes, closed her eyes, and settled in for her morning Zazen meditation. The warm sun shined on her smooth and gentle face.

Today Nanami was taking a trip from Osaka to the city of Ashiya. That’s a distance of about 450 km (280 miles). It should only take about 1½ hours traveling on the bullet train (called Shinkansen). The sleek and aerodynamically designed transport could reach speeds near 300 km/hr.

Working for the Osaka National Museum of Art as a restoration specialist her talents were in high demand. After finishing her graduate degree in art restoration, she traveled to Italy for two years on a post doc, to study and work with the men and women renovating the Sistine Chapel.

Today Nanami was traveling to the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History with her bag of specialty tools, brushes, and uniquely crafted surgical implements. The City Museum already had the high powered microscope that she would need for the painting restoration. And if time permitted there was also a sculpture that needed desperate attention. For that Nanami had preordered calcium and magnesium hydroxide (brucite) and other plaster based restoration materials.

Although this would be another hectic day, Nanami planned her morning to make sure that she had time for meditation. Regularity of practice is very important. She made it part of her daily schedule. And although a quiet room is preferred, a little noise is not an impediment. One can meditate almost anywhere – even on the train.

After forty minutes of Zazen she felt relaxed and rested.

Nanami then reached back into her memory as the train glided forward on the tracks. She is now a different person. After twelve years of Zazen her attitude and appreciation of life has blossomed like the morning glory (Ipomoea flower) at sunrise.

How was it back then?

12 years ago:

Nanami learned Zazen at the local Buddhist temple.

Zen Temple

That same year Nanami was in turmoil as a family squabble with her sister’s marriage to an “outsider” caused a major rift. They all felt dishonored and their ideals betrayed. Her parents ostracized her sister Asuka from the family. Her pictures were all taken down and put away. No one spoke of her anymore. It’s as if she never existed.

Nanami felt forced to comply with her father’s demands (out of filial respect) to no longer have contact with her sister. It tore at her heart, but she reluctantly went along.

The final exams of her senior high school year were coming up. She felt tension and stress. Her family was counting on her to do well, as her exam grades would determine if/where she could enroll in college. She studied many hours but felt distracted as her mind constantly wondered about what the future would hold. Did she have a place in it? Where would she be? Married or single, happy or still sad?

With the economy in contraction her father Haruki worked longer and longer hours just to make the extra money needed for the family. His employer was also squeezing the work force as much as possible to get by with fewer people. So working a sixty hour week was normal. He looked the other way as people bribed the managers for favorable status.

8 years ago:

Nanami was dating Aki who was a fellow classmate at the Setsunan University at Osaka. She was attracted to his bright eyes, jet black hair, tender heart, and open mind.

The episode with her sister Asuka weighed heavily on her mind. She was cautious while her heart told her to go forward. Aki was an adherent of Shintoism. Although the beliefs of Shintoism were not in direct conflict with her family’s religious views, Nanami wanted to proceed carefully. And this was a case of young love, where the couple felt that any obstacle could be overcome. After all, love and life go together.

On February 11th as the country celebrated National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinenbi) Nanami snuck away and traveled to the city of Katsuragi to see her sister Asuka. There she lived with her husband Kiyo and their newborn baby boy Tatsu. Nanami was an Aunt.

They spent the day together taking tea and then an outing to the local zoo. They hugged, cried, and embraced each other. Nanami showered baby Tatsu with affection. They walked in the sun and reminisced about their childhood. Nanami promised to keep in touch with her sister. Nanami’s heart was melting as she continued to reach out in love. Mental barriers and rigid thinking were starting to fall away.

But her father Haruki maintained his stubbornness and refused to hear anything about his daughter Asuka’s family. Nanami kept the family silence.

Her mother Roko was now working three days a week at the corner florist. Nanami’s calm demeanor seemed to rub off on her mother. It had a soothing influence. One day Roko followed Nanami to the Buddhist Temple. After a few months she also learned the Zazen way.

That summer they went to Tenjin Beach on Lake Inawashiro for a family vacation. The first getaway the family had taken in ten years.

By chance Nanami ran into Yui while at the Dojima Rice Market. They had been together since grade school but separated a few years back because of jealousy and a misunderstanding. Both were now more grown up. They hugged each other. Yui couldn’t remember the incident that touched off their separation. The two friends spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on the twists and turns their lives had taken.

4 years ago:

That year Nanami’s college theater put on “The Moon Princess.” It’s the story of Princess Kaguyahime.

One day while walking through the forest a bamboo cutter named Taketori no Okina happened across a shining bamboo stalk. After examining it more closely he discovered a beautifully child inside of it. Taketori no Okina and his wife (played by Nanami) raised the child who quickly grew into an extraordinarily beauty women – Kaguyahime.

Among the multitude of adventures that Kaguyahime found herself in was pursuit by Mikado, the Emperor of Japan, to be his wife. Many escapades were experienced. At the end a heavenly entourage takes Kaguyahime back to the “Capital of the Moon” leaving her earthly foster parents in tears.

Nanami overcame years of shyness and lack of confidence in order to joyfully star in this play.

Roko defied her husband and went on a secret trip to Katsuragi to see her daughter Asuka.

Aki and Nanami were married in traditional fashion. The ceremony was held at a local Shinto shrine. Only immediate family members and close friends attended. Asuka, her husband Kiyo and son Tatsu were there. Haruki was not happy about that but did not make a scene, as he was determined to enjoy and celebrate the wedding of his youngest girl. At least they were in the same room together.

Nanami and her new husband were soon off to Italy. She accepted the appointment for work on the Sistine Chapel. Her husband Aki found a job with a local consulting company providing accounting and audit services. Nanami loved her work. She looked forward to every day. The time seemed to pass so quickly as she was caught up in the restoration project.

Although it often appeared that 24-hours were not enough to get accomplished what needed getting done, they both found time for morning and evening Zazen. They had made it a priority in their lives.


On today’s train ride Nanami smiled at the thought of her two year old daughter, Mizuki. She was a bit fussy this morning but would be OK.

The standing of her sister Asuka in the eyes of her father Haruki was improved. Although he still maintained that Asuka was banned from the family, his heart said otherwise. He secretly carried pictures of Asuka and her family in his wallet, and often looked upon them with pride and joy. But he had to keep up appearances otherwise his ego would be severely bruised. He just could not publically admit that he had made a mistake.


Zen garden

There are reasons why each of us has been born. Search out those reasons and fulfill your destiny.

Life changes minute by minute.
It’s best to be opened minded and prepared to challenge old habits and thinking.
Growth is the process of overcoming (destruction) the current way for loftier goals.

Expand your horizons and reach for the Absolute.

The Self is and forever will be; consciousness aware of itself.
The timeless gives birth to time, and the ego is born.
From the ego the principle of mind emanates
From mind the world of cause and effect, light and dark, life and death, happiness and suffering play.

The underlying consciousness always is.
During deep sleep the ego persists
During waking our awareness shifts to the body and the external environment.
During sleep we repose once again with the ego

All that is has ever been
The kernel of the ego is eventually burnt in the flame of Self Realization.
Then through your breath and activity, the absolute timeless value of life witnesses the joy of creation.

Nanami and her family discovered the benefit of meditation. Regular daily practice is a key toward success. Day after day, month after month, awareness becomes clearer. Our connection to other people and the universe becomes more tangible.

Wake up from this dream of samsara, and realize the infinite beauty of life.

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 7th, 2011 at 10:36 am and is filed under Right action. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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