Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


The Wisdom of a Soggy Monk 
three story pagoda
Amy Dewitt

Sipping on oolong chai and mango lassi in a city with a 1300 year history.  Nara.  Five story pagodas and incomparable architecture.  Lanky and limber bamboo stretching toward the misty skies on rooted tiptoes.  Smells of fish, pickled melon, and incense emanating from every corner.  Dancing koi chase frogs lounging on damp moss.  Who am I crouching in the rain amongst the beauty and serenity of such history?  As I kneel on the last dry patch of earth, gongs ring to awaken the gods proclaiming: Hear my prayers of thanks.  I am here.  The resonance fades into the rhythmic and rich melody of thankful prayers, filling my ears and soul.  Umbrellas are used as walking sticks for fear of the slightest sprinkle.  Even within the temple grounds, umbrella-toting monks pass from pagoda to shrine prepared for the first drop.  The drizzle turned to rain and then into downpour, and on cue all umbrellas opened wide masking faces and torsos.

He refused to let me sit in the rain – a Buddhist monk, scuffling down the path to bring me an umbrella.  A crazy American girl with a dazed, glassy gaze hunched in a downpour filling
up her journal.  What absurdity!  But it was exactly where I needed to be.  Ted Bestor mentions in his “Doing Field Work in Japan” that the object of study – of observation – must choose you, and then you must learn how to expand from that point.  In a matter of minutes, I turned from the observer to the observed – my experience chose me.  The giggle of a monk is pure heaven – a slice that always manages to fit snuggly in your heart.  Was it just an umbrella, or was it a mode of transactional wisdom?

Isukushima ShrineTo non-English ears I explained that I welcomed the rain.  Transaction: incomplete.  To a beating heart and pulsing soul I explained it loud and clear.  I put my journal down, bowed, and then began dancing with Earth’s best dancer – water…and the second best – a soaked giggling monk.

Return to course home  Send me your comments: