From the book
Finding The Way Home
Ilm House-LLC, 2007

For several years I had been reading everything I could find on Zen. Sparkling, eccentric, and wonderful, the ancient texts pulled me in. Then I found Philip Kapleau's book, "The Three Pillars of Zen," and it became my constant companion. In it, he described the necessity of submission to a spiritual master. The year was 1966. I left Europe where I had lived for the past three years, and bought an airline ticket for Japan.

From Tokyo, I called Philip Kapleau who invited me to visit him at his home in Kamakura. He said he was just about to leave for Rochester, New York, to open a Zen temple there, but he would speak with the Zen Master, Nakagawa Soen Roshi, who was the Abbot of Ryutakuji, a small temple in Mishima City, two hours away by train.

Several days later, Kapleau informed me that the Roshi had given him permission to send me to the temple for one week so that he could determine whether I was serious. He also wanted to make sure I would fit in. Apparently some Westerners had not fared well at the monastery; so he would not commit himself in advance.

Ryutakuji (Dragon's Tooth Pond Monastery) was a cluster of wooden buildings on the side of a hill. Nestled in a bamboo forest, the main building – the zendo – rose above the others, marking sharp, clean lines against the skyline. It was an ancient structure with traditional Japanese wooden rafters. Much of the original wood and ornamentation was intact, dating back three or four centuries. From the top of the hill above the monastery, I looked across a wooded valley to see Mt. Fuji rising majestically into the clouds, just ten miles away. The valley below the monastery was dotted with small farmhouses and neat fields of rice and soybeans. It was a lovely setting.

Ryutakuji was considered a traditional temple, although the roshi, Nakagawa Soen, was an innovative master who was often unconventional in his teaching. There were sixteen monks at Ryutakuji while I was there. Half of them had been there for years. Most of the rest were there for a two-year training that would qualify them to take over their family temples.

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