A foreign monk’s quest for enlightenment takes a macabre turn

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Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash

How long is this shit supposed to take?, the monk thought, waiting for his evening interview with Roshi, the head priest and Zen master. A fellow acolyte’s reply was “Ishi no ue ni mo sannen.” Even a rock will warm up if you sit on it for three years. Translation: Fools give up too easily.

But here he was — three years meditating at Nankanji, the notoriously strict Zen temple — and nothing to show for it. Nankanji, 難関寺 in Japanese, meant the temple of difficult obstacles. Just getting there was difficult. …


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My brain always retreated to its reptilian roots for the swamp-like summer, when the only happy creatures in Kyoto were lazy frogs and darting skinks. Now, seduced by the cool fall evenings, my frontal lobes emerged from the mists. The sludge of summer fell away and the air — crisp with energy — braced me like a mountain goat on a cliff face.

In November the chill arrived, trampling the perk-me-up briskness with all the finesse of zombies in wet T-shirts escaping a meat refrigerator.

I shivered along an oh-so-picturesque backstreet north of Nanzenji Temple when my stomach signaled dinner…


KFC bucket of fried chicken
KFC bucket of fried chicken

According to FBI records, in January 1973 Harland (Colonel) David Sanders received a handwritten note claiming to be from "U.S. Armed Forces," saying, "This is to inform you that you are in grave danger of being murdered. For details go to any recruiting station and call the Los Angeles Nike Missile Base," signed, "The General." The FBI report states that since "it did not appear that a violation of the Federal Extortion Statute existed ... Victim advised the FBI could not afford him protection." This date corresponds to the period when I lived at the scheduled-for-demolition- as-soon-as-vacated- by-all-these- hippie-college-students three-story…


Old American outhouse door with crescent moon cutout
Old American outhouse door with crescent moon cutout
Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

I am hesitant to share some incidents out of concern for surviving family and friends who might find them distressing. But Truth wants to be free. I’m sure Ralph would agree, if he were still with us.

The truth is that we felt a responsibility to set the world aright. We knew it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. And some days that somebody was us.

Once, by way of example, we went out in Ralph’s car, just him and me, bought a bottle of high-proof disinfectant-grade Wild Turkey, and finished it off between us, doing dumb stuff like hanging out the car door while weaving on back-country roads. This was before noon.

Ralph was going on about his part-time job at the auto air conditioner plant near Richmond, Indiana — which is…


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The policeman sitting across from me took down my name, address, and place of employment. He looked old enough to be retired.

“You are missing a brown business case, in Akasaka or Shibuya, or in between, sir?”

His English was stilted but precise, and he addressed me, a gaijin, as “sir.” I wanted to ask if he’d been an interpreter for the U.S. military during the Occupation. But that would be impolite.

“Yes, that’s right.” I did my best not to look sheepish.

“And there was something of value in your bag?”

“Value?” My breath probably still reeked of sake.


Old Color postcard of Richmond Indiana Main Street showing State Theater
Old Color postcard of Richmond Indiana Main Street showing State Theater
Main Street, Richmond Indiana, from memory

“You one a them hoopers what smoke LRD ’n’ stuff?”
- Pickup driver somewhere in Wayne County, Indiana

“How, hi are you?”
- Ralph Siskind

The Good Duck sent Ralph to Richmond on a mission of mercy to rescue the lost souls of its dog-food-eating populace.

It’s not that I harbor a grudge against Richmond. It’s more like PTSD. I grew up there.

It started with culture shock. I had spent my earliest years in the East where they spoke English. At age five, we moved to Richmond where the kids pronounced roof to rhyme with woof. And apropos of…


Understanding the real world

The Incredible Hulk action figure
The Incredible Hulk action figure
photo by Limor Zellermayer@limorganon on Unsplash

The risk and the rush of pseudo-heroism …

… can be as addictive as the substances peddled on street corners and stolen by Omar in “The Wire”. You feel like a hero living that life. The effect is more than just pharmaceutical.

Heroism is the most addictive feeling possible, particularly for men — especially for young men.

Heroin was named for that feeling because it makes you feel like a hero without doing anything. True story.

From a marketing/advertising campaign perspective this is essentially why Trump won with his slogan Make America Great Again, a heroic message. A call to heroic action. Compare that to Stronger Together. No…


Remember when GPS was a big thing? Such a big thing that nobody quite understood how it worked but everybody was just amazed at how it magically knew your location and how to get where you wanted to go? Of course you don’t.

At first GPS was an option when you bought a new car. Then Garmin came along and made it a pocketable device that buried that inevitably out-of-date map data supplied on ancient media called DVD. Today GPS is just another app, free with your phone, giving you directions for walking, driving and public transportation.

Well, guess what…


The current U.S. economic/political system is designed by and for people suffering from greed.

People who do not realize that happiness does not increase after a certain level of wealth has been achieved.

People who don’t realize that no matter how much they have they will never be free of the fear of losing it all.

People who want so much money that they will not have to work, yet don’t know that if they lived in another country their needs would be satisfied even if they did not work.

People who do not realize that when you exploit, manipulate…

Steve Benfey

How, hi are you? I’m a writer living in rural Japan. My writing expresses the spirit of living the way I do or did — in consensual reality and otherwise.

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