I have written more than a few Wisdom Blogs under the tag Oshosama Says. Oshosama is a way to address an abbot of a temple, as some of you may be familiar with the term “Osho”. And “sama” is an honorific suffix.
In the Zen temple in the north of Kyoto, I spent three months living, helping (or trying to) with daily chores and learning whatever I could.
There were only three people living in the temple then; Oshosama, another boy, and me. But there were always people visiting the temple during the day: they came to help clean the space, maintain the garden, or water greens.
But if you picture men and women, young and old, working harmoniously together with a gentle smile on their faces … ah, that’s not us. It may contradict the universal image of calming “ZEN”, but honestly, every single person I’ve met at the temple has a unique, strong, and distinctive character: therefore their opinions tend to defer from one another.
Imagine the dynamism of such personalities coming together to organise something. Everyone is good-willed and focused on the same goal, mind you, but each one has a unique vision of achieving that goal.
In theory, Oshosama’s instruction was the highest priority. But since I was new to the place, with many opinions and questions thrown from all directions, the priority was altered frequently. The tricky thing was that no one handed “the right answer” to me, since they all had different opinions. Still, in the midst of all this, my intention was to win Oshosama’s approval by outdoing others.
I would try hard in my own way. I didn’t want to fail but didn’t know how to do right. I would finish the task, hoping it was right, and I would be imagining all sorts of criticisms for what I’d done even before anybody said anything about it.
I find myself deeply trapped in the continuous loop of self-criticism, doubt, and questioning, which were all coming from my own ego; wanting to outdo others, wanting recognition and validation from others. I wanted to always do “right” as if I was trying to feed my internal abyss.
One day, Oshosama took everyone who was at work in the temple that day to a merry-go-round sushi restaurant. It was one of these lucky occasions for us living in the temple.
Oshosama sat on my left. On my right, the boy from the temple was bending over the menu while keeping a close eye on the plates going around in front of him. Watching cucumber rolls and egg omelette pass by, I turned left and let out what I’d been holding in.
”Oshosama, I’m fighting with my ego every day.”
It didn’t even feel like a second.
“Me too,” was his immediate answer.
Oshosama, who has seen through a zen koan question, and has now become an abbot of the temple in Kyoto, still fights with his own ego daily.
I used to think passing the koan test was like the ultimate check on our bucket list, allowing us to check out the board game of life. But apparently, it’s not. Reaching a certain goal or status doesn’t guarantee our peace of mind for the rest of our life.
As Oshosama’s favourite Confucious analects goes, “Great mind evolves, small mind devolves.” It’s either we go up or down, like a treadmill we have to keep running on. Once we get lazy, we’ll be behind. No staying the same.
It’s a life-long, life journey we all are in.
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