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A visit with Jun Yasuda, my friend and peace mentor

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Copyright  Jon Katz.

In January 1991, I had a fateful meeting with Jun Yasuda that would help me reach quantum leaps towards more peace, optimism, t’ai chi, engaged living, non-attachment/non-duality, ho’oponopono, abundance, tailoring an immensely fulfilling personal and professional path, and self-actualization. I am not at all exaggerating.

Jun-san became my teacher not to mirror nor attach to, but to help me better discover, redirect and develop my life’s path.

In the end, looking inward is essential for reaching satisfaction in life. Conditioning our happiness on exterior occurrences guarantees deep suffering along the way. A teacher like Jun-san helps underline the foregoing approach.

If I had not met Jun-san, some other teacher or writings would have helped set me on the above-described path, because I was finally ready for that path, after feeling profoundly frustrated and often angry over too much of the world’s ills, and feeling too powerless to reverse the world’s human rights abuses (but accumulated feathers sink that boat). That teacher might have been Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Lama Surya Das, Claude AnShin Thomas, or a number of others. The first two, though, are only accessible to a point, with their superstar status (which Jun-san likely would approach if she had a publicity agent, but the nature of her Buddhist order Nipponzan Myohoji seems antithetical to publicity agents). Claude AnShin Thomas still feels the demons of war inside him so intensely that he cannot get a full night of sound sleep, which helps reassure me that this path is a long one indeed. Lama Surya Das, like I, became dissatisfied merely with opposing wrong (for instance with his anti-Vietnam protest activity, during which his best friend’s girlfriend was killed at Kent State by National Guard shooter(s)) and ultimately decided to seek and find inner peace, including many years in India.

A truly non-attached life enables one to live a fulfilling life without needing to personally meet nor re-visit one’s teacher. By the same token, visiting with Jun-san from time to time is the icing on the cake, and lets me reconfirm to Jun-san how much I appreciate her.

The day after celebrating Thanksgiving 2011 at my brother’s home in northwest Connecticut, my wife, son and I took a beautiful ride on secondary roads and then for a short stretch on a dirt road, to visit Jun-san at her temple. True to her essence of always being on the go — including praying with a drum before sunrise and before dinnertime, walking for peace, and taking care of the temple — we found Jun-san behind the temple, assessing whether the exhaust pipe (for a heat stove or cooking stove, perhaps) was sticking straight up through the roof versus at an angle.

Many people pay large sums and travel many miles to find peaceful retreats. This visit with Jun-san was one of the most peaceful mini-retreats I have ever been on. As we wandered the multi-acre grounds of the temple, we were the only visitors, before two of Jun-san’s friends later visited. It was quiet with just the nature and us, with pure air to breathe, and very positive vibes.

We walked around the peace pagoda and its grounds, which has such positive vibrations that on my local friend’s first visit to the pagoda grounds, his ordinarily rambunctious dog became peacefully quiet. Jun-san told me that some of the Buddha’s ashes are inside the top of the pagoda. Whether or not they are really Buddha Shakyamuni’s ashes, they apparently were received as a gift by divine coincidence before part of them were provided for the pagoda.

On our return to the temple, Jun-san had waiting for us barley tea, fresh-made carrot/apple juice, and delicious vegan grain pancakes. Jun-san mentioned that she usually is not usually at her temple during Thanksgiving time, but instead usually is at Alcatraz with American Indians. Jun-san is away from her temple so often on multi-week and multi-month peace walks that it was also a divine coincidence that she was there when I called her on the same morning that I first visited in 1996, and that I even found her phone number in the first place indirectly though an Internet search, before the Internet was comprehensive enough to easily find it.

As we talked in the kitchen of this tremendously peaceful temple that is at once beautiful and simple, Jun-san mentioned that children enjoy playing in the loft above. My son and I climbed the ladder up the loft, which is like a secret, peaceful tatami-mat paradise, hidden away by the small hatch used to get up there. It is a place to have fun with flashlights, its being so dark throughout the day. I could have relaxed there in silence for hours; of course, my boy wanted to play.

When it was close to our time to leave, Jun-san went to the small room next to the main temple hall to pray for an hour for the daily 4:00 p.m. prayers. The praying mainly involves chanting and drumming to the Odaimoku, Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo, which is the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and chanting parts of the Lotus Sutra. Jun-san prefers not to define the Odaimoku, lest it limit the meaning of the Odaimoku to people. Soka Gakkai’s website provides a “brief and unavoidably limited explanation of some of the key concepts expressed by” the Odaimoku.

Chanting with Jun-san is a rivetingly peaceful and transforming experience. Each time she repeats the Odaimoku is a variation in notes, which variation apparently comes straight from her heart. Although a vegan, I had trouble resisting beating on a drum, even though it is made with animal skin, although I am not sure I want to beat again on animal skin and will look for something vegan to beat on. Jun-san pours her entire being into the moment when chanting, and apparently when doing anything else for that matter. She chants briefly here at minute five, and part of the Lotus Sutra here.

We departed before the hour of praying was completed, and Jun-san took a break to say goodbye and to give us a bag. She and I prayed Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo to everyone.

As we left, I saw that in the bag, Jun-san had given us the two beautiful ornamental lotus flowers from the altar of the temple kitchen, and a mini-replica of the purple banner with the odaimoku that is carried on peacewalks organized by Nipponzan Myohoji. The white lotus flower graces my son’s bedroom, and the pink one my office bookcase, along with the purple banner.

Thank you deeply, Jun-san. Bowing three times.