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Table of Contents

"I Know I Have Changed": Encounters with Zen in Japan

By Camelback to Timbuktu

The Seasons Come and Go:
Impressions of a Peace Corps Tenure in Ghana

Summerterm in Nepal:
More Than They Bargained for

To Russia, With Love

Learning Outside the Classroom: The FTAA Protests in Quebec City

"Yon ti dlo fret"
(A Little Cold Water)

Student Initiative

Memories of Afghanistan

Laurentians in the Peace Corps

SLU International Programs

Alumni Accomplishments

Class Notes

Magazine Cover

"I Know I Have Changed": Encounters with Zen in Japan
By Neal Burdick '72

Practicing zazen meditation at the International Zendo in Kyoto are, from left, Marcus Perman, Nicole Gagnon, Bethany Taylor and Courtney Williams. The four students and their mentor, Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Erin McCarthy, spent five hours a day in meditation while staying at the monastery. [Credit: Erin McCarthy]

"You know, I think I did learn something from Zen and early-morning meditation. I learned that things need to be appreciated while they are there, while we are living in the moment. A moment can never be recreated."

That's Nicole Gagnon '02, writing a letter on the plane on her way home from Japan in June. Gagnon, of Buxton, Me., had spent three weeks there, studying Zen Buddhism with Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Erin A. McCarthy and three fellow students: Marcus Perman '03, Washington, Me.; Bethany Taylor '04, Hopkinton, N.H.; and Courtney Williams '04, Bristol, Vt. The group was assisted by a Freeman Student-Faculty Fellowship from ASIANetwork, a consortium of over 150 North American colleges striving to strengthen the role of Asian studies within the liberal arts to help prepare a new generation of undergraduates for a world in which Asian societies will play more and more prominent roles.

At Kokusia Zendo after the morning work session: from left, Courtney Williams, Marcus Perman, Proshi ("head monk") Hozumi, Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Erin McCarthy, Bethany Taylor and Nicole Gagnon. [Credit: Erin McCarthy]

The purpose of the non-credit venture was to explore several facets of Zen: nature, practice, methods of teaching and the role of women. The Laurentian quintet met with Zen masters and scholars and visited Zen temples, museums and teahouses, as well as one of the two Japanese institutions where St. Lawrence has programs of study, Nanzan University. At the International Zen Monastery, outside Kyoto, they followed the daily routine of Kokusai Zendo, rising at 5 a.m., practicing zazen meditation three times a day for a total of five hours, and engaging in manual labor for most of each morning.
The quote above is excerpted from the journal Nicole Gagnon kept during her time in Japan, as part of a group journal the students composed. She went on to say, "I'm not sure when this realization [that a moment can never be recreated] really sank in, or why, or how. I guess it was gradually, but I have noticed that even now it has changed the way I understand some of my relationships. I'm sure that, as we've learned in studying Zen, this realization isn't complete and probably never will be."

Nagoya Castle, where the group spent its first day in Japan. [Credit: Courtney Williams]

The other students also recorded their impressions in journals:

*"Travelling to Koya-san was an amazing opportunity. From the moment we arrived, traveling up the steep slopes on a cable car, I was sure I would return. The mountain and its temples are beautiful, but more than that there is a special feeling to the place that is indescribable. I know I have changed." --Marcus Perman

*"The part of my life that I love the most, that my being is centered around, is the mountain camp where I am a counselor in the summer. That is why the pine smell of Mt. Koya and the picture of a child learning the way from one who walked the same path mean so much to me. It is through such familiarity that all of Zen becomes clearer. I'm not saying at all that I 'get' Zen inside and out, but at least I have found the right language to learn it." --Bethany Taylor

A Shinto purification ritual. [Credit: Marcus Perman]

*"To work in the garden, see the flowers, rake the moss and really be the flower, the leaf, my own breath during zazen was a very subtle thing, not at all mystical, which is what I was expecting. If I wasn't paying attention, I might just have missed it."
--Courtney Williams

The students were obligated to produce a tripartite end product of their sojourn in Japan: the group journal; and individual papers that will be compiled into a series of articles for submission to the Wittenberg University East Asian Studies Journa.

The Freeman Fellowship encourages the faculty member who mentors the students to stay on and pursue research after the students depart, and that's what Professor McCarthy did. She explains, "I was a visiting research fellow at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture at Nanzan University pursuing research on Watsuji Tetsuro, the modern Japanese philosopher I study. I also gave a paper at the Asian Studies in Japan Conference held in Tokyo." She says that that experience, coupled with those she had with the students, "will undoubtedly enrich my classes this year." Clearly, it was not just the students who learned from their adventures.

Courtney Williams tutors a group of Japanese students in English in Kyoto. [credit: Nicole Gagnon]