Line Rangers as a Metaphor for My Marriage

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My wife and I play a game on our smartphones called Line Rangers or rain renjā (lineレンジャー) in Japanese. This is a Japanese game made by Naver JP (a Japanese-division of the Korean company, Naver), but is pretty popular all over Asia. There’s quite a few players in Taiwan and Thailand, it seems. Anyhow, we started about 1-2 months ago, and the game is very addicting. Basically, you collect characters (rangers) and you can train them, and form a team with them. Then you play through levels of monsters. As you fight the monsters, you deploy your characters over and over to form a little army. If you trained them well, you can fight your way through and destroy the enemy tower. You might also win an chance to get more rangers.

Some rangers are very silly. For example, there is one cranky old-man named KSM:

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No one knows what “KSM” stands for. But, I did a little research and I think KSM means 恐妻マン (kyōsaiman) which might mean something like “hen-pecked man”. It’s a joke because the ranger is supposed to be a henpecked husband. Kyōsai means the same thing in Japanese, and “man” is based on the English “man” as in “Superman”, “Batman”, etc. But this is just a guess.

My wife and I have different playing styles. I started playing first, and spent a lot of time reading tips and strategy webpages. I pushed through pretty quickly, and got far into the game, but then I stalled for a long time. My wife’s strategy is slower, more cautious. She tends to wake up a night because of the baby, so she plays each night, slowly building up her characters. Her progress is slower, but unlike me, she doesn’t stall for a long time. She makes slow, steady progress. I tend to get lucky on the “random” rangers, but she is better at utilizing the basic rangers she gets. :)

We tend to act the same way in real life too. I am impulsive and nerdy, so I are a lot and make lots of strategies. My wife is more cautious and less impulsive, but also more diligent and hard-working. I guess opposites attract, or something.

Line Rangers, like many phone games, can be played for free, but if you spend money, you can get extra characters, abilities, etc. We both agreed that we wouldn’t spend any money. It makes progress a lot slower, but I feel the money spent would not be worth it. Another thing I like about Line Rangers is that friends can help each other out. You can call friends into battle once per 24 hours, and you can also do “friendly” battles with each other. If we had more friends, we could make a team, but for now it’s just the two of us.

Anyhow, Line Rangers is a fun game, but it is a huge time-sink (aren’t they all?), so unless you want to invest a lot of time on it, you might be better off avoiding it. But for my wife and I, it is a fun thing to share together. We sometimes talk about it during the morning over breakfast or at night after the kids are asleep.

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Ignorance

Something I found on Twitter recently. Enjoy!

The person who wrote this, Heinrich Khunrath, was a physician, philosopher and alchemist in the 16th century. The German phrase, was helffen falken, licht oder briln, so die levt nicht sehen wollen is translated as “what good are torches, lights or glasses if people do not want to see?”.

This is a good reminder that people can get so caught up in beliefs, that they refuse to see the truth, even if it is right in front of them.

It reminds me of a quote from the novel Dune, specifically from the holy book the “Orange Catholic Bible”:

Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. Then, what deafness may we not all possess? What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us? What is there around us that we cannot know?

Or from the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra (quoted here too):

For him [the Buddha] there is no birth or death, neither retreat from nor emergence into the world. Nor is there any existing in the world and entering extinction follow that. Nothing is simply real, nothing simply empty, nothing as it seems, nothing the opposite. The threefold world is not as we experience it.

Deep words to think about. :)

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Investing in the Future

Hello,

After giving up on Zen and before I got sick, I decided to go back and read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Finding Our True Home. As time goes on, I appreciate this book more and more. Today, I wanted to share this passage (I added [ ] for clarification):

At our last hour we are in a great deal of pain and we may not have the strength of remember to recollect the Buddha [念仏]. The important thing is to practice today. We should recollect the Buddha today, even if it is only once or twice. Though people say it’s all superstition, we continue to recollect the Buddha, because we know that by recollecting in this way we are sowing wholesome seeds in our consciousness. If everyday we recollect the Buddha once or ten times, then when the hour of our death comes it is certain that we shall not be afraid; the address and telephone number are stored in our memory and whenever we need them we can call them to mind.

Sister Thuan Nghiem, a nun here at Plum Village, has told us how, when she was growing up in Germany, her sisters made her learn to recite her address from memory. That way, if she lost her way, she would be able to tell someone her address and they could bring her home. That is the advantage of knowing your address. If we have a home but we do not know the address, how can we ever find our way there? We should memorize the name of our home and its address so that when we have nowhere to turn to and we feel we’re being swept away by the winds and the waves, we remember the name and address of our home and we can find our way back. (pg. 102-103)

Good advice, I think.

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Learning the Shoshinge

So, my training (or re-training) as a minister’s assistant (the first step to ordination in Jodo Shinshu) is progressing nicely. I’ve started to relearn the liturgy and chanting I did before. It feels really great to do it again, like seeing an old college buddy you used to live with. The main liturgy you see in Jodo Shinshu Buddhist services are:

  • the Juseige, which is a small excerpt of the Immeasurable Life Sutra (無量寿経). You can learn more about it here. It’s short, easy to learn and often used in Jodo Shinshu and Jodo Shu services.
  • the Sanbutsuge, another excerpt of the same sutra, chanted less often. Sometimes called the Tanbutsuge.
  • the Shoshinge

The Manitoba Buddhist Church has a great page explaining these chants, with MP3 files you can listen to.

The Shōshinge (正信偈), or “Hymn of the True Faith”, is the hardest one to learn, by far. It is a long hymn composed by Shinran the founder, later propagated by Rennyo the Restorer, which explains the lineage of Jodo Shinshu starting with Indian Buddhist master, then Chinese and finally Honen who was Shinran’s teacher and mentor. The hymn takes on average 20-25 minutes to recite, and if you want ordination, you have to memorize it. I need to memorize it within the next 2-3 years. It’s not difficult to sing, which is good because I’m tone-deaf, but it is long. It’s also uniquely Jodo Shinshu-Buddhist, so you’ll never see it any other Buddhist service. At the Honganji Temples in Japan, they used to recite this every morning at 6am, but it is now only recited on special holidays due to length.

You can watch/listen to the full hymn below, or click here:

It starts out low and droning, but halfway through it starts to pick up and sound more intense. There’s actually two parts to the Shoshinge: the actual hymn, and then the Shoshinge Wasan (正信偈和讃). These “wasan” are smaller hymns that Shinran wrote in regular Japanese (not classical Chinese like the Shoshinge), and actually sound very nice. Very melodic.

Further, there are two styles to the Shoshinge:

  • Gyōfu (行譜)
  • Sōfu (草譜)

The main difference is just intonation. They have similar rhythm, but intonation varies I think. The video above shows the Sofu-style, which is the one I usually see in Buddhist services. Below is the Gyofu-style:

The Gyofu style seems more “flat” at first, but after about 11:00 or so, it becomes more melodic than the Sofu-style. This one seems a bit harder to recite though without sufficient practice.

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with the Shoshinge. Since it’s not a true Buddhist sutra (not taught by the Buddha, or even part of the regular Mahayana “canon”), I have always felt uneasy about chanting it instead of something like Amitabha Sutra. Chanting sutras in Mahayana Buddhism is a very common and virtuous practice. That’s why so many people throughout Asia and the West do it. But usually this doesn’t include hymns (as far as I know).

Further the length of the hymn is kind of intimidating. Even with a book to help, it can be somewhat tiring. When we do chant it at the local temple, you can feel people get exhausted toward the end, so we don’t recite it very often. The Juseige is more suitable, usually.1

On the other hand, the Shoshinge actually sounds kind of nice. It’s a great hymn to recite as a group,2 especially during the last part when each person recites a single Wasan themselves. It’s intended to provide a summary of Shinran’s thought and teachings. Jodo Shu does something similar with the One-Sheet Document, or Nichiren Buddhists with the Gosho (letters of Nichiren). I vaguely recall that Zen Buddhists will also recite small writings of their teachers on special occasions, but I might be wrong. It’s natural for Buddhists to recite their founder’s writings in a liturgical context.

So, really, the only issue with the Shoshinge is the length. :p

In the past, I tried to memorize it by brute-force: just keep memorizing section after section. This worked in the short-term but I would soon forget. Plus it was very time-consuming.

I had the same problem when I first learned Japanese, especially Kanji. I would try to memorize things, and I would soon forget them. However, when I started reading Japanese comics and books, I learned kanji more naturally, and could remember them more easily.

So, I started thinking that if I am going to learn the Shoshinge, instead of memorizing it, I should just keep practicing it until I just remember it. It’s hard to do it every day though, but I think if I get into a routine of doing some kind of morning chant or something, I can eventually do this.

Further, I’m borrowing my wife’s Jodo Shinshu service book, which is in Japanese:

Shoshinge Buddhist hymn in Japanese

The chants are the same as the American-version, plus, I can read the Japanese just fine. The challenge is the intonation marks. See the lines on the left-side of each Chinese character? Those give you clues to intonation, but they are different than the American service books. So, it will help if I listen to videos like the one above. Then I can follow along and understand.

Anyhow, it’s a fun challenge. Chanting has always been one of my favorite aspects of Buddhism,3 and I am eager to start practice. :)

1 Years ago, I thought it strange to recite the Juseige week after week, until I realized it was very common in Buddhist sects to only recite “essential” sections of an important sutra. I see it in Nichiren Buddhism, Jodo Shu Buddhism, and Zen will recite only the Heart Sutra which is just an “essential” form of the larger Perfection of Wisdom sutras. Once I started to get more exposure to other Buddhist groups, I started to see the similarities and it didn’t feel so strange anymore.

2 We used to have Shoshinge “classes” as the local temple. They were actually pretty fun. It’s a nice way to bring Buddhists and friends together in a wholesome environment: chant something nice as a group.

3 You can do it as a group or alone. It’s a good way to learn Buddhist teachings by heart. It cultivates good merit. It honors the Buddha, etc.

Posted in Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Religion | 5 Comments

Autumn in Korea

Hi Everyone,

We have friends who recently Korea right now to celebrate the 1st birthday of their son, who was born 8 days after our son. :) The first birthday in Korea, or doljanchi (돌잔치) is a huge event with family all gathering, elaborate feasts, etc. There are good write-ups here and here about birthday traditions in Korea.

Anyhow, the father, who is Indonesian not Korean, is a great photographer and has been taking good photos of Korea in the fall. I wanted to share some of his best photos from his Twitter feed.

This is a photo of persimmons in Seoul:

These photos were taken at a famous mountain called Seorak-san (설악산, 雪嶽山):

And these photos were taken at a famous Buddhist temple in Korean named Sinheungsa (신흥사, 新興寺) which is one of the head temples (大本山) in Korean Buddhism.

Great photos, Budi!

P.S. Congrats on your son’s first birthday! :)

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Sick

Hi Everyone,

I haven’t written in a few days. I got sick with a cold this weekend (my birthday weekend) and have been resting and recovering since. I feel a lot like this old Strong Bad Email cartoon:

Anyhow, I’ll be back soon. I’m starting to feel better, but need to get some more sleep.

Talk to you soon!

P.S. Apparently I’ve been sick before. ;-p

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Tales of Failed Zen Student

Well, my brief experimentation with Soto Zen is officially over. I started attending an online Soto Zen community about 4-5 weeks ago and took part in the yearly Ango (安居) vows.1 As I said before, it is a good community. I followed the Ango vows under a senior student, and learned a lot about Zazen meditation.

However, I came to realize after a while that it was difficult to sustain as a working-parent. I kept missing the weekly online services because the time conflicted with work. On the weekends, I was busy with children all day and by evening, I was too tired to do anything. After a couple weeks, my Ango vows started to slip more and more until I stopped altogether.

Now, someone might say that if I was really devoted to it, I would find the time. I would make time somehow. I realized that this was true. I was genuinely busy, but also I was making excuses. I really could’ve found a way to keep up Zen practice. But I didn’t.

Later, I thought about why I wasn’t motivated. I was curious about Zen before I started, but after doing it for 4 weeks I realized I wasn’t interested in Zen “culture”: the so-called “teaching outside the tradition”, the mystical, cryptic teachings, and the narrow focus on meditation. A lot of people are attracted to Zen culture but I just didn’t like it.

I got annoyed toward the end and decided that rather than forcing myself to continue, and hope it gets better, it would be better to stop right there. So after a short goodbye message (in which I expressed my frustrations), I left the community and gave up on Soto Zen. I probably shouldn’t have said anything and quietly left but I felt it was important to say some things.

To be honest, I think if I stayed with a Rinzai community long enough, I probably would get annoyed too. The temple in Seattle annoyed me in some ways too. I guess Zen really is not for me.

But as I said, it is a good community and if you like Zen and want to learn more, I definitely recommend it. I learned a lot. I also realized that I would be happier following a different path, but at least I gave it a sincere try and I met some cool people.

As for me, I guess I like being a Pure Land Buddhist who dabbles in meditation more than a Zen Buddhist who dabbles in Pure Land stuff.

But as I look back, I’m starting to think I don’t want to be ordained in any tradition. Sure, I like teaching things a lot, but ordination requires me to follow a certain doctrinal line and I am not comfortable with that. I’m not comfortable doing it in the Zen tradition, and I’m not comfortable doing it in the Jodo Shinshu tradition either. I’m happy to help at the local temple because my family goes there but I am not sure I want to be ordained after all. I like being who I am, making the best effort I can as a layperson. Time will tell. I still have lots of time to decide.

Anyhow, just some thoughts for today.

1 Ango is the Japanese-Buddhist equivalent to the yearly “rains retreat” still observed in Theravada Buddhist countries.

Posted in Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Jodo Shu, Zen | 9 Comments