It’s grade 5, I am at my friend’s birthday party. Weeks before, I had begged my mom to buy her the best Birthday present EVER. I wanted her Birthday to be perfect… full of everything she could have ever had wished for.
I had carefully looked through the catalogues… (because, that was one hundred years ago before the internet…) and I had ripped out the page and circled her gift in red marker. It was a yellow waterproof sony walkman. I even taped AAA batteries to the side so she could use it right away. Cool, functional, high-tech… AMAZING!
Here is my confession: I was jealous. I arrived at her party and saw all of her gifts and I felt a sudden pang of resentment. That gift, that awesome gift that I spent weeks picking out, was tossed on top of all of her other perfectly wrapped presents. I wanted it back. I didn’t think that she would appreciate it next to all of her other more important gifts from her more important friends.
I sat quietly in the other room as she opened her gifts. Not because I felt that she would be disappointed in me… but, because I didn’t want to be disappointed in her lack of gratitude.
Maybe it’s taken me a decade or two to learn that we can not control people’s opinions. Nor, that should we take those opinions to heart. All we can do is try our best to communicate only our most honest thoughts.
Recently, I spent time living in a Buddhist Monastery in Koyasan, Japan. Mostly, if anything, you hear the quick quiet footsteps of the monks tip-toeing around the temple. They begin at 5am and cease at 6pm. Tap, a, tap, a, tap, tap.
Next, you hear individual bells ringing. Each person carries on them a “lucky bell” when they travel outside of the Monastery. The practicality of it is that the bell rings and scares the bears off. It sounds like Santa’s Workshop as tour groups pass-by. Japan could single handedly be the highest angel-wing producing country per-capita.
Then, there is the chanting.
And, the off-the-hook-parties…
But, I look forward to the knock on the sliding screen door at 5:30pm. They bring dinner. I think I say “arigatou” a million times. But, no matter how many times you say it… the monk always gets the last word, the last bow.
And, then I begin to formulate an opinion. What if words aren’t enough? There is a language barrier that prevents me from the usual flattery. But, more than that, nobody cares to hear my flattery.
This is my next lesson: Those who do not seek flattery, recognition or glory for their acts, are closer to enlightenment.
The Village of Koyasan was founded twelve centuries ago by Priest Kukai. This site, set within sacred mountain passes is a very spiritual place. It is the site of many Monasteries that still practice Esoteric Buddhism. Buddhism was brought to Japan along the Silk Road that linked trade from India to China to Japan. It is one of Japan’s earliest organized religions.
I am taking it all in. I am going through all of the rituals. And then late one night I have an epiphany. Well, rather, I was on my way from the onsen, and stopped to look at the koi swimming in the pond. A bright yellow one swam up to me in the moonlight. He had his mouth opened like he was talking to me. (He was most likely looking for fish pellets.) Though, I was reminded of a childhood story about a fisherman and a goldfish.
One day a fisherman caught a small goldfish in his net. The fish, tangled and helpless, told the fisherman that he would grant him any wish if he allowed him to go free. The fisherman said, “It is not for myself, but my wife would like a new pot in her kitchen.” The fish granted his wish and when the fisherman returned home his wife had a new pot.
The problem was that her new pot was so nice that it didn’t suit her shabby kitchen. She then sent her husband out to find the fish and wish for a new kitchen. The next day the fisherman snared the goldfish and asked for a new kitchen.
Each day when the old man returned home he was asked to go back, catch the fish and wish for something better. A fortress, a palace, a castle. Until finally, exhausted, the fish told the fisherman never to ask for another favour.
When the fisherman returned that evening he arrived at his old modest home as it was before any of the wishes. However, this time his wife greeted him at the door smiling with her arms opened. She was happy. Though she hadn’t said a word, he knew she was grateful. The fish had given him the best gift of all.
The fisherman didn’t have to give his wife a palace, a garden, or glory. He just wanted someone to love him and show him that love.
Everyone needs something to worship. Just be sure that what it is that you worship will make you better off, and most of all happy.