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Modern Koans – Metta Study On A Tokyo Tour Guide

By Andrew Furst @a_furst
CosmologyModern Koans is an ongoing series that recognizes that good questions are often more important then their answers.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. ― G.K. Chesterton


My Asian Mona Lisa

No reality, no perspective.
Foreign yet familiar.
You were a smiling face in a crowd

I was going through old photos and uncovered a few from a trip I took to Tokyo many moons ago.  Among  them was this image of a Tokyo Tour guide.  I was struck by her smile.  It’s a bit brighter than the Mona Lisa, but still remarkable in its subtlety.  To be honest, I have no idea where the photo was taken. I have no clue who she is. I didn’t even take her tour. Our being in the same space and time was purely coincidental.

The search for compassion is difficult, because we have little insight into the thoughts and experiences of others. The gap closes when we have a relationship with the other person.  But finding common ground with strangers doesn’t always come naturally.

The Buddhist practice of loving kindness asks us to pierce that veil.  We begin with ourselves and our stories. Our stories are how we imagine and judge ourselves.  We tend to focus on tiny details, leaning heavily toward the good or the bad. Our self-esteem leans with our narrative. Piercing the veil requires us allow our stories to expand fully into what is and accept it all.  When we accept it all, we can have compassion for ourselves.

Piercing the veil with others is harder.  Our view of their stories is sparse and we tend to fill in the blanks. There may be little in common between how you see someone and how they view themselves.

Our instincts also conflict in dealing with strangers. On one side we are prone to come together with people who have familiar stories. We are very superficial in this regard.  We group by things like skin color, sexual preference, and education.  We naturally settle into an us and them world view.  This view is reinforced by the safety it provides.

But we are also social beings, driven to reach out. Try sitting in silence with someone you  don’t know. We are torn between the fear of crossing the boundary of anonymity and the urge to reach out. For me it’s difficult not to reach out to new people.

When we do choose to reach out, we search for common ground in the form of shared stories. Loving kindness practice teaches us to imagine those stories.  One of the most common practice is to imagine that the other person is your mother.  Visualize them as someone who has unconditionally loved you from birth and would sacrifice themselves for your well being.  It is not hard to send loving kindness to such  a person.  The question that is always left out there is “How different is anyone we encounter from our  mothers?”

This piece is a Metta practice on this smiling Tokyo tour guide. I offer some imagined stories of my Asian Mona Lisa.

May she have happiness and its causes

May she be free from unhappiness and its causes

May she dwell in equanimity, free of attraction and aversion

May she quickly find the great happiness that lies beyond all misery

May she enjoy inner and outer peace now and forever

Modern Koans – Metta Study On A Tokyo Tour Guide


For stories, we are sometimes at a loss
however, I offer one or two
with bowed head
and Gassho

tokyo tour guide random


What had your sister meant?
Maybe she was drunk,
or the tears flooded her mind,
rendering it muddled.
You reached down hard
putting your heart out.
She took the offer.
Forgotten, tomorrow may betray
or blossom.
But your love took seed.

Modern Koans – Metta Study On A Tokyo Tour Guide

The Bus

I hope I didn’t miss it.
I need this job, but the bus is nowhere
to be seen.
No familiar faces.
An empty bench.

tokyo tour guide random 11


Is he going to be alright?
It’s too early to tell…

Modern Koans – Metta Study On A Tokyo Tour Guide

 Heart Song

It was perfect. Ah.
So much beauty, so much to take in.
I will always treasure it,
and have it to let go.

tokyo tour guide random 8

Can’t We Be Happy?

There’s not enough time.
We couldn’t possibly do it.
The pressure, so few resources,
We can’t do it justice.
Can’t we find another way.
Say no this time.
Why must we always do more,
can’t we be happy with what we have.

How could I think so little of us.
I’m so sorry.

Modern Koans – Metta Study On A Tokyo Tour Guide

 Tokyo Tour Guide

If they would

tokyo tour guide random 6


He takes advantage.
My kindness won’t always be there.
Can’t he see, how he takes it for granted.
Asking, taking, assuming.

The practice tells me to let go,
and the practice says start with me.
Resentment, is my wisest teacher.

Modern Koans – Metta Study On A Tokyo Tour Guide


It was time.
We expected it.
How frail human life is.

tokyo tour guide random 4

 Old Family Photographs

Do you have any idea who
that is?
Isn’t it weird to have all these photos.
They are our ancestors,
yet they have no names.
We have dishonored them.
Forgive us.

tokyo tour guide random 3

 It’s a Statement

This doesn’t look Japanese?
It looks like something an American
child  splattered on  a page.
This is  not art.

It speaks to you,
doesn’t it.

tokyo tour guide random 2


How was your  day?
It was good.

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