Absent and Present [October 2016]

Fuden-An: Leaves from a Tea-Journal

Absent and Present [October 2016]

KOBORI Sojitsu (the 13th Grand Master of the Enshu Sado School )

We are on the brink of a new season and as such the atmosphere of the tea room must be different from the summer. The month of October is also referred to as ‘Kannazuki’ which means "the month in which the deities are absent" but in the area of Izumo, October is referred to as ‘Kamiarizuki’ which means "the month in which the deities are present." This name comes from a legend that all the gods of Japan gather in Izumo in October to discuss the affairs of the year. Indeed, an inscription of Kamiarizuki can be found on a bamboo spoon made by Fumai Matsudaira, a feudal lord and master tea practitioner, revealing that these different names have existed for a long time.

But there is a theory that refutes the above and instead claims that the meaning of Kannazuki is "the month of the gods" suggesting that the original Japanese character ‘na’, which in modern Japanese means ‘absent’, could have in the past been used to mean ‘belong to’, thereby possess the same meaning as ‘Kamiarizuki’. This is an example of the complex nature of the Japanese language, where the two contrasting concepts of present and absent can, in the context of Zen Buddhism, be one and the same as was once expressed in a scroll by the grand master of the 8th Enshu school. How can we go about understanding the significance of this?

For the longest time I would ask myself this question while looking at this scroll and recently I believe I have begun to understand its meaning. I cannot explain it well in detail but I have come to feel that it is important to sit calmly before this scroll and bow in silence and not concern myself too much with its interpretation. I feel that the scroll is telling us that neither thinking about anything nor nothing truly helps with attaining truth.

In Japan, there are concepts which possess contrasting meanings which cannot be the subject of yes or no questions. Thinking in terms of good and evil, right and wrong is the product of a European perspective and is an approach which forces one to choose a side while the traditional Japanese approach requires one to come and go between the two extremes. I have already expressed this idea in a paragraph in my last book "The five senses of Japan" and believe it is important for us to think about this to understand Japan’s past and its future.

In closing, I was impressed by the success of the Japanese athletes at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio (at the time of writing this the Paralympics have not started yet). There were even moments when I was moved to tears. I found myself admiring not only the athletes themselves but their coaches and the families that supported.