Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Buddha's Boot Camp

You know what I remember about camp as a kid? Let's see, having to hike to the drop toilet at midnight all by myself, a tent that on closer inspection housed thousands of daddy longlegs, and a kid heaving a paper towel full of fish eyes at me. Oh, sweet memories.

This morning I sent my son off to camp. Nothing like mine I imagine. It's a Zen Camp. I'm thinking how cool is that!? Zen Camp!! Fifteen kids get to go and hole up in a temple in the mountains and live with the monks, better yet like the monks. Which is just totally awesome until you really think about how monks live. Well, not me. I've always had a secret desire to pack up and run to the hills, sit zazen for hours on end, ring a bell, smack a drum and attain a most subtle and elusive enlightenment., the life. And then when you ponder how hot some of these monks are... okay, maybe I would never make it to that enlightenment part....

J and his friend decided if they both did it they could survive and hey, it just might be fun. The schedule reads something like this: Wake at five and sit zazen. Wash up. Eat. Do homework. Work around the temple. Eat. Play in a river. Take bath (they do that all together here...everyone in one big bath...oh, the joy!). Eat. Sit zazen. Lights out at eight. Woa. You should see where they're sleeping, it's like a thousand year old temple right next to ancient scrolls of Daruma and antique statues of the Buddha. Not a daddy longlegs in sight.

Here's a picture of them right after we arrived.

After we hand over copies of our insurance cards and the fee, a couple of monks (I can tell by their bald heads because they aren't wearing robes, they're wearing shorts and t-shirts...and one is really hot, btw) start ordering the kids around, put this here, put that over there, get out that and stick it there, place your shoes down there...Who!? left their shoes in the path of the Buddha (that would be J and his friend)!? Move them! But a kindly explanation afterwards.

I hear kids whispering to each other..."I hear you have to clean the toilets with your bare hands." I'm getting that uneasy feeling and thinking crap, that's worse that fish eyes!

And then the head monk comes out. Now, here's an abbot. He's all duded up in fancy robes and all old and everything. He has the kids line up (below) and sit down seiza style and starts telling them what's up, how they will learn to pay careful attention to their every day life, how important it is to think about others and act in order to help them, how they will be taught to eat, bathe and even pee and poop properly. Heavy stuff. I'm totally sold and just about to jump up and say let me in too! But then I remember the washing toilets with bare hands and I stand down.

This speech goes on for a bit and then the hot young monk with the awesome calf muscles enters and tells the kids to get changed into their bathing suits, they're going to the river. I don't know if Jean can read this where she is but she'll commiserate with me over the fact that I was the only mom who didn't pack all the 'river goods' in a special, separate and water proof bag. And let me note there was no mention of a special, separate and water proof bag in the instructions. But everyone else knew about it.

Now, I had a talk with J about the river. Japan being an island and all there really is a lot of water around this place, ocean, rivers, lakes, rainy seasons, tsunamis. And people drown left and right here. It is truly horrifying. This is even despite swimming being taught in school from grade one. So I gave J the big lecture...don't go in above your ankles, if you feel a current get out, if a giant wave sweeps down save yourself. Which totally goes against that Abbot's philosophy about self sacrifice and compassion. But you know, I am a mom.

I also gave him some secret money and a camera. The camera is to take pictures of cool stuff when he can. I am pretty sure it is a no-no (heck, they didn't want the kids bringing soap), but again, cool stuff is cool stuff. The money I told him was get-away money for if all the monks turned evil and began tearing off limbs and stuffing them into a cauldron. You should have seen J's face. What a lovely shade of white it turned. I quickly changed it to, if a mountain witch swooped down and he needed a taxi like fast. He gave me an evil eye and tucked it away in his pencil case.

His biggest fear though isn't fast currents or evil monks or even mountain witches. It's the kyosaku or keisaku, a large wooden stick that is used to 'encourage' the meditator to wake up (I imagine both figuratively and literally in the case of a five am meditation). He's like, How much do you think it will hurt? I told him not much, but still, it's a big stick. Here's a picture I found on the Internet.

I might be naive or an optimist but I expect him to come back something like this:


Or at the very least able to wipe pee off the toilet seat. That would be fine too.