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ISBN-10: 1-89484-167-0
Genre: Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 488 Pages
Published: July 2002

From inside the flap

A novel of modern Buddhism.

Materialism engulfs the U.S. and Japan, but?.

...a small Buddhist Camelot blooms from the corruption of the martial arts in America, the powerful secret doctrines of an obscure Japanese Buddhist sect weave five young Americans into an epic of love, treachery and mysticism, this unblinking trans-Pacific novel charts an intricate game of strategy, romance and betrayal as two dynamic women, and three alpha males, vie on a spirit quest into the jaws of Hollywood’s lust and wealth.

WAZA? The Work is just begun.

Reviews and Awards

?Written in an unconventional style, with an insider’s feel for the nuances . . . Sullivan’s extraordinary depth of knowledge of Japan, Buddhism and the martial arts is on display in this first novel . . . .?

The St. Petersburg Times

Waza (Excerpt)

Keisen-gohosama Makes a Living Buddha
in the Tosa Mountains of Shikoku

Excerpt from WAZA

In the morning they followed him through the gray light turning to gold. The walk was long, almost two hours. Clouds were building in the west. A wind rose gradually, a gusty, twisting wind that was whipping branches by the time they reached the place. It was a tiny clearing under a huge cedar, surrounded by low underbrush which made it invisible from what little there was of a path. Sakamoto led them through an opening barely big enough for rabbits. He went to the great tree, rubbed its bark with his palm. "I will sit here for the first few days," he said. Then he led them around the great tree to a ragged cliff behind. There he pointed out a crevasse that formed, behind some shrubs, an A-shaped cave. It had been swept out and stripped of any vegetation intruding on the inside. "The floor has only about an inch of soil above the rock," he told them. "That's why I asked you to bring a shovel."

Shinsen went to work scraping the floor of the little cave. In half an hour he had it cleared. Then he swept it clean with the branch Sakamoto had used before. When he was finished he joined Sakamoto and Kyodo-sensei under the great cedar, where they were sitting silently, watching the rain clouds coming over the distant peaks and ridges. He sat with them, not speaking. Sheets of sunlight found them, left them. The wind seemed to chase the sunlit patches, always striking only shadow. Tiny sparrows flew back and forth from the lower limbs of the great cedar to a bush laden with small red berries. They didn't sing, but seemed to be keeping an eye on the building clouds.

"The origin of this process begins in Tibet," Sakamoto said, at a moment when all the birds were in the tree, out of sight. "It was called the `Great Perfection,' and was still done there when the Chinese army went in, a few years ago. But the intent was not exactly the same. The old ones created the `Rainbow Body,' actually making themselves disappear entirely, or leaving behind only some hair and fingernails for their disciples. Some of the greatest ones left only a small pile of jewels." He fell silent again when two sparrows got up the courage for another flight. When they were gone he resumed.

"For them, making a living Buddha was a minor thing, a lesser thing to do. I am sure that for the students witnessing the `Cutting Through' to the `Rainbow Body' of a master, it was a very great thing indeed. But no one else could ever know of it. So, since one who makes a living Buddha helps more sentient beings, perhaps it is not really such a minor thing.

"The old Chinese Taoists also sometimes did this, too. Actually, it was from them that Kukai learned how it was done, when he went to China. He learned the correct plants to eat, the right herbs and roots. Our Kyosen, who was a great doctor, learned that from the thirteenth disciple of a disciple of Kukai, named Honmyo-kai, who himself became a living Buddha at Senninzawa."

"In those days, under the Tokugawa, it was difficult to be a good Buddhist, because the shoguns used the temples as part of the government, keeping a census, controlling the people. So, many monks tried to make living Buddhas, perhaps to escape, perhaps to try to find enlightenment alone, perhaps only to earn the title `kai,' which is given to all who successfully self-mummify. Most failed, because their motives were not pure, were not for the salvation of all sentient beings. It is not a thing that can be willed, though it requires much will to do it. It must be the very root of one's karma.

"But there is another factor. They did not understand that we in Japan cannot make living Buddhas without help."

The old man's voice was fading, almost to a whisper. He stopped when a gust rattled the bush and set up a moaning in the great cedar. They waited and sat, until a lull allowed him to go on.

"This is because, as you can see, even on our highest mountains the air is filled with moisture, with rain and snow all year long. It is never dry, as in the high mountains of Tibet. So after I have done my part, there is another part you must do. You will have to build a wooden pallet in the cave, and a wooden door for it, which can be sealed. You must use dry wood; Kyosen-soincho had some we selected when I was here in the autumn and has saved for you. Then you must burn charcoal in a brazier in the cave, and herbs and incense which Zenkyo-kyoshi and I have prepared, and then seal the door. You must tend the fire and the incense until the living Buddha is completely dry, then seal the cave perfectly against all air." He turned his head and eyes at that point, looking deeply into Shinsen's. They registered no sadness, only a calm intensity, a pure teacher's gaze. "Then in three years you must return to open the cave, and help the others build the shrine and dress the Buddha. Understand?"

"Hai. Wakarimashita."


From his bag he withdrew a few nuts, some pine bark and needles. He handed them to Kyodo-sensei. "These are samples of what I will eat. Do you know where to find them?"

"Yes, Gohosama," Kyodo-sensei told him, "I know exactly where, and will show Shinsen."

"Yoishi. Now, Shinsen, you must understand that I am no longer Sakamoto Yukei. From this moment, I am only Keisen, and will be only Keisen to the end of my life. Do not grieve. Do not even remember."

"Yes, Gohosama."

"Leave me now. I will want the first three days entirely alone. Then come to see me. I have enough until then."

"Yes, Gohosama."

"That is all," he said, closing his eyes and faintly adjusting his posture.

"Yes, Gohosama."

The two of them bowed, then rose and bowed again. Keisen-gohosama did not acknowledge them. Beyond, thought Shinsen, beyond beyond. Yet it was hard to go with no word of goodbye. The wind intensified. As they found their way back through the underbrush the first, fat drops of rain began to fall. Shinsen looked back. Would he need no shelter? Would he not need a cloak over his robe? Kyodo-sensei pressed on, not once looking back. Shinsen followed, his heart breaking. Goodbye, Sensei, goodbye. The end of the Heart Sutra chanted in his mind.

"Gyate, gyate, hara gyate, hara so gyate . . ."

"Gone beyond, gone beyond, gone beyond beyond, even beyond beyond the priest has gone . . .

(Three mornings later,) after shomyo and zazen, Shinsen and Kyodo-sensei went back to see Keisen-gohosama. It was a sunny morning, the dew's evaporation rising into patches of heavy fog. On the way Kyodo-sensei showed him which trees had the proper nuts, which pines the proper needles and bark, for Keisen-gohosama's food. They collected a bagful, the same sort of bag Keisen-gohosama had been carrying.

They found him seated where they had left him four days before, as if he had not moved at all. His eyes were open but slitted, turned deeply inward. He made no acknowledgement of their approach. They sat flanking him, Kyodo-sensei exchanging the newly filled bag for the nearly empty one. No one spoke; Keisen-gohosama stared inside at they knew not what, while they watched him, listened for any sound from him, felt in their hearts for any message from him. A sweetness wafted from his body, of pine, perhaps, and the dew, of a flower unknown to either of them. There was dew on his robe, slightly steaming now, and drops of moisture clung to his eyebrows.

"Soon I will not be able to move at all," he said abruptly, in a voice that seemed to come from high in the great cedar tree and echo all around them. "Tomorrow, please build the platform inside the cave. Then the next day, please build the door, but do not seal it."

"Yes, Gohosama," Kyodo-sensei said, "but the door will take more than one day. At least two days, I think."

"That will do. Thank you for the food. I will need no more until the building is finished."

"Yes Gohosama."

"That is all."

"Yes, Gohosama."

They sat with him a while longer, but nothing more came, only the strange, sweet smell. They left silently, Kyodo-sensei leading down a different set of paths. When the temple was in sight, he explained. "We will make a very clear track as we move the lumber and tools up to the cave, you see. So we cannot use the same route even twice from now on. The place must be a secret for many years, until the age of the living Buddha can no longer be determined."

"Yes, I understand. Will we have other monks to help us tomorrow with the lumber?"

"No, we will not need anyone. We can do it all in two or three trips. We can take up the first load this afternoon."

They were back in time for the midday meal, and ate heartily, knowing they would have heavy work to do the next few days. Afterward they went first to the dojo to change into black kempo gi, and then to a shed behind a utility building which formed part of the back wall. There they found the lumber, well-seasoned and largely pre-cut, for the platform. Larger, un-cut pieces waited in another stack for the construction of the door.

They took up the pieces for the base and frame of the platform, bound them with twine and rigged them into backpacks for each other, Shinsen, because of his much greater height, having to kneel to be loaded. They trudged up the mountain, Kyodo-sensei taking yet another, almost invisible, track.

The loads were considerable, requiring two stops for rest. When they neared the great cedar, Kyodo-sensei led them around in a large circle, avoiding the tree so as to disturb Gohosama as little as possible. They quietly unloaded each other at the mouth of the little cave, then went silently to the cedar. Keisen-gohosama sat in perfect lotus, unmoved since their morning visit, his little bag of food apparently untouched. Still exuding his sweet smell, still gazing inward, as if the magnificent view of the mountains were inside rather than in front of him. They sat with him until the falling sun told them that it was late and time for them to go. Neither spoke as they bowed farewell.

They were nearly back when the bell began to toll. Even though they were late, Kyodo-sensei led them first to the dojo to change back into their robes. Hearing the mokugyo and the Heart Sutra from outside, Shinsen remembered New York, the first times he'd stood outside the temple on Bond Street, longing for whatever it was he would find inside. It took him some effort to release his sudden sense of personal history, to envelop it in this vastly longer history of which he had become a component. A history which was not properly a history at all, a tradition out of time. He and Kyodo-sensei bent low as they scurried to their mats in the great hall, hurriedly arranged their cushions, straightened their robes and joined the chanting of the Heart sutra. By the time it was over, Shinsen had again forgotten Arthur Wells, New York, Bond Street. He had returned completely to Kyosenji.

After morning services Kyodo-sensei loaded all of the remaining planks onto Shinsen's back and sent him up the mountain. His load would be lighter, the toolbox and a small, cold lunch from the kitchens. Shinsen was to rest and wait for him at the first turnoff from the path they had taken down the afternoon before.

It was cloudy again, threatening rain. Shinsen lay back on his load of planks and watched the sky above him, the movement of the ragged clouds from the southwest, the occasional flicking of a small bird across his vision. In his peripheral vision he saw a hawk, far, far out to the north. It lazily moved lower and into more central range. In another corner of his eye he spotted a smaller bird, perhaps a pigeon, darting nervously from branch to branch in a pine. He lay still, watching, wondering.

The hawk circled lower yet, looking over the man on his odd bed of wood, then circled tightly around the pine. The pigeon panicked and bolted in a great shudder of wings. The hawk adjusted for the wind, folded itself and fell. Talons extended. One, two, three . . .

Wham! The pigeon became a cloud of feathers. The hawk struggled to regain altitude, couldn't, cupped the wings and turned upwind, controlling its descent, the pigeon limp now, the cloud of feathers spreading downwind from the point of impact, blending into the gray of the clouds. No death could have been more different from that Keisen had planned for himself, Shinsen reflected, except that both would be utterly perfect. In a little while Kyodo-sensei joined him, helped him to his feet. They continued upward, following yet another course. Shinsen had to rest again about an hour later, and was getting ravenously hungry. But it was not much farther, and they were at least another hour from hearing the bell, so they went on.

Shinsen glazed, but became fascinated by the glimpses he would catch of the tools in Kyodo-sensei's box. Dark wood, mainly, blocks and handles carved with turtles and dragons, only the occasional glint of steel. There weren't many of them -- the box was about a foot square by less than three feet in length -- but moving as they were it was hard to distinguish what tool was for what kind of work. It kept him distracted from his hunger until, within sight of the great cedar, they heard the first, faint strokes of the bell. Kyodo-sensei didn't react to it, but continued to walk all through its thirty-six strokes, all the way to the mouth of the cave. There he helped Shinsen unload the lumber, then signaled him to follow him around the tree to pay their respects to Keisen-gohosama. Only after that did they return to the lumber, chant quietly the thanksgiving sutra, and settle in to eat.

The little boxed lunch consisted of cold brown rice, a few strips of seaweed, two Takuan pickles each, and a small bottle of water. Shinsen found it delicious, but could have eaten twice as much. They recited the sutra for after the meal, then set to work.

One of the most fascinating of the tools was the chalk line, a large block of wood carved intricately with a dragon. Its string wound onto a hand-cranked wheel, then fed over a pot of grainy black ink. Another was a large plane in the shape of a turtle, again intricately carved. The other decorated tool was a large bore, a kind of brace and bit, dragons carved into all its wooden parts. The rest, chisels, a wooden mallet, a pull-shave, were plain, except that the blade of the saw had yet another dragon etched into it. Shinsen mainly just fetched and held pieces, watching Kyodo-sensei work expertly, saw cutting on the pull, chisels drawn toward the center. Kyodo-sensei marked points for boring and taught Shinsen how to use the brace and bit while he drove the pre-cut pegs into the finished holes with the mallet. No nails or screws. They sanded the finished surface together, using scraps of lumber as blocks.

They were finished, swept, tidied and loaded with the few scraps well before the evening bell. The tools were boxed and left in the cave. Then they went to sit with Keisen-gohosama, told him they were finished, asked if he wanted to be moved into the cave. He made no overt response, but they both knew he did not want to be moved. They bowed and left.

The door for the cave was a much more complicated problem and required much more lumber. They hauled as much as they could in the morning, stacking it in the cave. Kyodo-sensei then spent much time measuring the opening with hand and eye, deciding how to follow the shapes of the rock, how much they would have to depend on the mud and reed sealant.

Shinsen sat with Keisen-gohosama while Kyodo-sensei worked. It was silent and companionable, though Shinsen was troubled by the old man's appearance. Though his posture was still perfect, he had shrunk even further, to the size of a child of perhaps seven. What flesh showed -- hands, face, neck, one foot -- were like singed parchment. The foot was especially dark, almost black, every bone visible through the thin, dry skin.

Kyodo-sensei came and sat with them for a moment when he had finished his calculations, then tapped Shinsen on the shoulder. They bowed and went back down the mountain. It had started to rain.

"We will bring up the rest of the wood today," Kyodo-sensei told him as they went down. "We will stay in the cave tonight, then start first thing in the morning. The framing around the cave's mouth will be difficult."

They wrapped the rest of the lumber, their robes and bedding, in plastic sheets which had come to the temple as wrappings for tatami mats. Back up then, in heavy rain, late in the afternoon. Kyodo-sensei also carried a few different tools (he would have to work curves for the door), two more lunch boxes, and an extra bag of pegs, all of it awkward. They rested often, under cedars when they could find them, huddling like the cold, wet animals they were. It was nearly dark when they reached the cave, changed into their dry robes, made beds on the lumber piles and dropped to sleep, with only the Heart sutra muttered quietly, so as not to disturb Gohosama, whose sweet scent flooded the cave, carried on a light wind. Mist in the morning, the sun glowing through it, promising a warm, clear day. Hard at work with the first light and the Shi Gu Sei Gan Mon, being the shortest sutra, muttered as they changed into their wet kempo gi. The frame for the door had to be fitted to the irregular curves of the rock forming the cave's mouth, and that would take virtually the entire day.

The frame was finished just after sunset, a curved A-shape, looking raw and out of place. Still, they knew it would darken with time and exposure, become a proper part of the place. And that kind of time was as nothing, in the context in which they lived and worked. They slept again, rose again, built the door in half of the next day, lay it propped at an angle next to the platform. When the noon bell sounded they were finished. They prayed, ate the last of their food, prayed again, then went to pay their respects to Gohosama.

This time they knew there was no point in words. They bowed. Shinsen went around behind the old man and picked him up gently around his ribs. Kyodo-sensei picked up the bag of nuts. Both the man and the bag were nearly empty. Kyodo-sensei took the bag into the woods to fill it while Shinsen carried his tiny burden to the cave. There he seated his teacher on the center of the pallet, facing outward, absurdly relieved that he was finally under cover. Then he sat before the pallet in seiza, looking at the almost unrecognizable version of the face he had so long loved.

Beyond, beyond . . . .

In half an hour Kyodo-sensei returned with the bag and placed it by Keisen-gohosama's right side. Then together he and Shinsen lifted the door in place, secured it quietly with the four pegs fitted for the purpose. Both bowed, yet hesitated. Finally Kyodo-sensei bowed again, turned, picked up the toolbox and left. Shinsen bowed, tried to leave, and couldn't, not until he heard the first strokes of the evening bell. Then he slowly collected the scraps wrapped in plastic, his robe and bedding, and started down the twilight mountain.

He went up alone the next morning. Until it came time for the charcoal fire and incense, time to seal the door, until then he would go alone every morning, replenish the little bag with nuts and bark and needles, make sure the old man was still breathing.

That morning he was. The door opened easily when the clever pegs were turned. Keisen-gohosama did not react to the sudden light at all. Shinsen bowed and knelt in seiza before the platform, smelling the sweetness of the old man's body, listening for breath, watching the wizened, shrunken face. He was clearly alive, though it was difficult to say how Shinsen could know. The bag of food had hardly been touched. Shinsen bowed again, swept a little near the door where some sawdust had fallen when he'd moved it. A few flecks of dirt where his geta had scraped just outside. He bowed again, replaced the door and began his slow walk back down the mountain. He would arrive at the temple just a little before the noon bell.

Eighteen days later he found Keisen-gohosama dead.

He and Kyodo-sensei carried up the brazier and charcoal and incense Zenkyo-kyoshi had mixed for them. Two other monks brought buckets of wet plaster, the fibers from discarded tatami mats tied in bundles. The fire burned for three days behind the sealed door. On the fourth morning, the two monks who had carried the plaster and fiber carried Zenkyo-kyoshi up the mountain. She examined Keisen-kai, pronounced him dried. Then they carried her back down and immediately carried up fresh plaster and fibers. Kyodo-sensei and Shinsen re-sealed the door.

Back at the gate, the guard monk told Shinsen that the abbot wanted to see him.

"It is done, then?" the abbot asked.

"Yes, Soincho."

"And you have learned much."

"Yes, Soincho, but not as much as I wish."

"Good. That is good. You want to stay, then."

"Yes, Soincho, I want to stay. To sweep. To study with Zenkyo-kyoshi."

"But of course you cannot. Keisen-kai has given you your duty. You must go and do it."

"Yes, Soincho. I know it."

"Now, I want to show you a map of this area, so that you will understand something important."

From under his table he withdrew a tactical pilotage chart, in English, of Shikoku and the Chugoku area, unfolded it to center on Shikoku. He used his thin, brown finger to point out where Kyosenji was. "We are here." Then he went to the scale and used two fingers as dividers.

"This is ten kilometers, ne? Watch." He put his index finger on Kyosenji, then turned his hand in a circle. In every direction, his other finger touched a village, crossed a road or a powerline. Then he held the distance between his fingers and moved them all over the face of Shikoku. "You see? There is nowhere in Shikoku more than ten kilometers from other people. Now look at this."

He pointed out a set of dotted lines showing three bridges under construction connecting Shikoku with Honshu. "The first one to be finished is this one, from Kojima to Sakaide."

Then he pulled out another map, a road map in Japanese, unfolded it and laid it over the aviation chart. "Now look here. The Shikoku-Judan Expressway. And here, more to the point, the Shikoku-Odan Expressway." Again dotted lines, roads not finished. The Odan roughly followed the train line, from west of Zentsuji down to Kochi.

"So you see, our little protection from these steep mountains is to be ended in this generation. Our way of life here will end. We will have tourists and pilgrims, our monks will have to devise new modes of secrecy, our taxes will rise, it will be harder and harder to find our herbs and medicines.

"That is why Keisen-kai went to America, many years ago. That is why he brought you here. If Kyosen-ryu is to survive, it will depend on monks like you. You will have to find a sanctuary, in the mountains somewhere. And you will have to teach future monks how to live in the midst of the modern, somehow, without losing the Mikkyo or the okuden." The old abbot turned his gaze onto Shinsen, deep, deep into his eyes. "There is one more waza," he said. "Right now, only I know it. It is this."

In that instant, the abbot disappeared. Completely. Behind where he was sitting, the tatami, the shoji, a corner of the scroll hanging in the alcove, all clear. The man was gone. Then just as suddenly he was there again, exactly where he had been, the same gaze boring into Shinsen, who couldn't have moved had he been sitting on a fire.

"I will teach it to Kyodo-sensei while you are gone. When you come back in three years to open the cave and help build the shrine, he will know it. I will give him permission to teach it to you then."

"Thank you, Soincho."

"One other matter. I will arrange for a formal death certificate for Sakamoto Yukei to be sent to you in a few weeks at Nishi Kyosenji. He will have a gravestone here, with the other monks who have died. So there will be no legal trouble." "Thank you, Soincho."

He left after shomyo and zazen the next morning, facing rather brisk and detached farewells from Kyodo-sensei and Zenkyo-kyoshi, which would have been disappointing to Arthur Wells, but fell perfectly into the scheme of things as far as Shinsen was concerned. It was two days' walk to the little station near Tosaguchi, a day to Takamatsu and the sealmaker by train, and countless centuries back (or perhaps, forward) to Nishi Kyosenji.