An encounter with Shinzan Roshi by Chris Owen

Picture the scene. A week’s trip to the central mountains of Honshu, Japan to our home temple in Gyokuryuji including a five day sesshin. Up early with each day filled with silence and meditation. Day 3. My alarm rings at 4.25am. Time for a quick shower before early morning taiso (Zen exercise). I stumble in the darkness out of bed into my samue. Towel in hand. The sliding doors open on to the outside balcony. I go across the balcony, open the door into the kitchen, down the stairs to the shower. Watch your head on the low ceiling – lost in the early morning blackness. I’m in the kitchen now, shoes off anticipating the early morning wake up bell.

Now the shower is just down the stairs. I reach towards the railing. A startled cry. My cry. There in the shadows a silhouette, robed darkness. I leap back eyes desperately trying to get accustomed to the dark. And there before me Shinzan Roshi in his finest robes ready for the early morning. He stands there looking straight at me. I murmur some sort of apology. “A Zen priest does not make such noise” he says. And with that he is gone. Leaving me in the shocked darkness.

An explosive moment, ripping aside all that noise and energy – into the stillness, the emptiness of that moment in the pre-dawn kitchen. For a moment everything had gone – the steps downstairs, the shower, the anticipated bell, the rigours of the day ahead. Just the infiniteness of that moment. And an overwhelming sense of the rawness of the present.

I’m back in London now. Back to the day job. Bouncing along in the noise and busyness of the day. But somewhere amongst all that doing, the sense of a robed figure deeply grounded in the present moment bringing me abruptly back into the here and now.

Chris Owen, chanting in Gyokuruji

Chris leading the chanting on sesshin at Gyokuryuji July 2014