The French Clément Sans recently became a Zen monk, ordered under the name of Tozan (“the mountain of the peach”). Each month, he sends us a letter that shares his reflections and his singular daily life, almost out of time. After two years spent at the Antai-ji temple, in the mountains of Honshu Island, he now continues his practice in Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan.
February letter. We are in front of the modest Daitsu-in Porte, a small discreet pavilion located in the huge enclosure of the Shokoku-Ji. This is one of the Kyoto Buddhist complexes allowing lay people to meditate and study the classic texts of the Zen tradition.
Accompanying a French visitor curious to understand the history of Japanese Buddhism, here I am to explain the different ascetic techniques supposed to guide the practitioner towards awakening, how to cross the legs and bow down to the different statues or how to wander in the temple and carry out the rituals. Facing me, my interlocutor, quadriplegic, seated in an imposing electric chair, listens to me wisely before interrupting: “Yes, but I, so, how do I do?”
use his body
Buddhism is often presented as an empathetic, inclusive religion. His universalist message even goes beyond the strictly human framework to embrace all sensitive beings, whose deep nature does not fundamentally differ from the Buddha. The practice allows the novice to awaken to itself, to realize its own limits in the quest for a life without suffering and the illusions enclosing human existence in the endless wheel of “transmigrations”. /p>
But beyond the metaphors on the “abandonment of the body and the mind”, what to respond to those who cannot literally cross their legs on a cushion because of a handicap? What to say blind in the face of texts inviting him to “see” reality? By a systematic recourse to physical asceticism, does Buddhism not reserve its treasures in the limited part of healthy beings?
Before starting my novitiate, when I entered the temple, I was only asked for two things: to speak Japanese and have good physical skills. Anyone who wants to practice Zen as a monk in a temple in Japan will have to use his body. Traditionally, Buddhism even establishes a typology of evils blocking access to awakening, the heaviest of handicaps being perhaps deafness, preventing to hear the law preached, followed by blindness, making it impossible to read the scriptures and veneration practices.
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