Chandan Sinha

Chandan Sinha

The Lady And The Monk by Pico Iyer

Disclaimer - The script in the spellings of some of the names is not correct.

Notable Lines

  • There were many features of Japan that might have reminded me of England: the small villages set amidst rich green hills, all scaled with a cozy modesty; the self-enclosure of an island apart from the world, not open to sea and light, as tropical islands are, but huddled in upon itself, an attic place of gray and cold; a sense of polite aloofness, a coolness enforced by courtesies and a language built on shadows; even the sense of immovable hierarchy that made both countries seem like giant Old Boys Clubs, where nobody worked in college because the name of the college alone was enough to decide every future. But none of that could explain the urgency of a Wordsworthian moment on a mild October morning, in a place I had never seen before. And the moment stayed inside me like the tolling of a bell.

  • At night, I went out alone into the streets and lost myself in the clangor of their amusement-arcade surfaces, the crash of white signs, bright lights, neon colors – a toyland gone berserk with an intensity that could not have been further from the lyrical land I imagined.

  • Residing six thousand miles away, I could only remain as distracted as when one tried and tries to recover the rest of some half-remembered melody.

  • The moon a torn fingernail in the sky

  • My second day, as I sat in the alcove looking out onto the other garden – a stream, a wooden bridge, a stone lantern, and, beyond, Yasaka Pagoda rising through the trees – the second, and only other, monk of the temple, an older man, with the breathless, frightened voice of a perennially bullied schoolboy issuing from a spherical wrestler’s body, padded over to me.

  • Few places in Japan were as self-consciously Japanese as Kyoto, the romantic, templed city that had been the capital for a thousand years and even now was faithfully preserved as a kind of shrine, an antique, the country’s Greatest Living National Treasure. Almost 100,000 tourists (mostly Japanese) came here every day to pay their respects to the “City of Peace and Harmonious Safety,” and the city, accustomed to their worship, handed itself over to them like a collection of gift-wrapped slides – even the place mats at the local McDonald’s (which had once set a world record for serving two million burgers in a single day) were maps of the city’s lyrical conceits, locating the temple whose floorboards sang like nightingales and the rock garden that traced the pattern of infinity. [12]

  • I bought an ice cream from a girl, and she wrapped it in a bag with a smart gold twizzle around the neck, put that bag in a larger, foam bag, complete with two blocks of ice to keep the whole from melting, and wrapped it all in the stylish black-and-gold bag of her company. [13]

  • I did what I had been told to do in every meeting with a Japanese male: handed him my business card. [15]

  • ...monks and women had always been close in Japanese literature - had, in fact, been the main purveyors of classical Japanese literature - and Gion itself, the name of the flower district here, was also the name of a famous temple. Professional women had long been known as Daruma (after Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen) because, like legless Daruma dolls, they tumbled as soon as they were touched, and then bounced back. And "dark willows, bright flowers" - a Zen metaphor for the Buddha nature - had long been euphemism for the pleasure quarters, or so I had learned from a scroll I had seen in Santa Barbara, by the eighteenth-century Zen monk Gakko, suggesting that Daruma could as easily be found in a brothel as in a temple. Even one of the most famous episodes in Basho had found the wandering monk and a disciple in an inn, spending the night next to two concubines and their elderly consort. The next morning, the girls, on a pilgrimage to Ise, had expressed their wish to travel with the monks, and Basho, regretfully, had demurred: [16]

    At the same inn Play women too were sleeping, Bush clover and the moon.

  • Japanese streets are notoriously as straight as their sentiments and as easy to follow as their sentences. [21]

  • ...spiritual and temporal powers had always clashed as often as they had conspired here. If the purity of religion had occasionally touched and elevated the daimyo, the chicanery of realpolitik had more often lowered and implicated the monks, who had famously become warriors and libertines and even moneylenders. Poems regularly punned on the closeness between sen(a kind of money) and Zen. [25]

  • Jizo, he explained, was the patron saint of children and of travelers (very apt, I thought, since every child is a born adventurer and every traveler a born-again child). [26]

  • To find such appurtenances in a quiet family neighborhood - row after row of dimpled teenagers posed in positions of compliant ease under (English-language) titles such as Dick, Deep Special, and Mad Sex - dramatized most graphically this society's difference from our own. Yet whether these shots of innocence in transit - cherry blossoms in the flesh, in a sense - were an incitement to perversity or a defusing of it, I could not begin to tell. Certainly, in a city where I never saw couples even holding hands, and where the streets felt cleansed of every sexual threat, I suspected that public impulses were as separated from social ones as the "floating world" was from the family home. so perhaps these magazines, with their secular cult of the virgin, served only to encourage sec in the head, catering to that famously sentimental Japanese Romanticism that prefers the idea of a thing, its memory or promise, to the thing itself. And if sometimes I felt I was living inside a gallery of antique canvases, sometimes I felt I was living in a world of vending machines, shining sentinels humming through all the quiet lanes in the dark. [35]

  • Yet still it seemed to me that much of Japanese writing, right down to such near contemporaries as Tanizaki and Kawabata, was devoted to the private world, a Jane Austen stage of domestic passions...Even gangster, at their deaths, wrote poems to the seasons. [53]

  • ...every modern scholar seemed to agree with Kenneth Rexroth in saying that the Heian period was "certainly the greatest period of women's writing in the history of any literature." Certainly, too, as I began reading The Pillow Book' of Sei Shonagon, one of the two great testaments of the Heian court, I felt that much of its charm, as with Lady Murasaki's Genji, lay in its girlishness, its womanly refinement, its sensitivity to nature, and to the lights and shades of relationships. Here was the poetry of the paper screen - of delicate walls and sliding panels, of shadows and suspicions, of secrecy and stealth. [54]

  • If the lady-in-waiting occasionally wrote with the exalted purity of a monk, the monk often wrote with the sharp-tongued worldliness of a lady-in-waiting. [56]

Japanese Words

  • Hokusai print of peasants [5]
  • Torii gates [6]
  • Litteru
  • Kiyomizu – the Temple of Pure Water
  • Depato – Department Store
  • Daitokuji - the Temple of Great Virtue
  • Shizukana
  • Sumi-e - Ink wash painting, Traditional Zen painting
  • Sesshin - Five days of almost uninterrupted meditation
  • Tetsugaku-no-michi - Philosopher's Path
  • zendo
  • roshi
  • furoshiki

Word Meaning

  • Itinerant – Traveling from place to place
  • Tableau Vivant – A silent and motionless group of people arranged to represent a scene or incident (French for ‘living picture’)
  • Eunuch - a man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women's living areas at an oriental court.
  • Damascene - relating to or denoting a process of inlaying a metal object with gold or silver decoration.
  • Encumbrance - a burden or impediment
  • Encomium - a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly
  • Inscrutable orient
  • dirges
  • piquant

Other foreign words

  • en passant
  • ad infinitum
  • de rigueur