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Heaven and Hell 天国と地獄

On June 8, 2019, there was a RCCO members’ pipe organ recital at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale, and I played Mendelssohn’s organ sonata #6. I worked at it so hard hoping that I would play well and would be happy.

The reality was…..it went relatively well for the first 70% until a big accident happened. I had a person turning pages and pushing buttons to operate the general (pre-set registration) pistons for me. When I was at a very quiet place, by mistake, the loud pistons were pulled and I literally jumped. The unexpected loud sounds shocked me and my head went blank. At the same time I heard the other person uttering “oh shit!”

I didn’t know what to do.

I corrected the button myself, went back to the quiet part again, then carried on to the end. My heart was pounding like a storm, and my performance thereafter was messy. I just couldn’t focus.

OK, OK… accidents could happen. I have had so many accidents in my life of piano and organ playing. However, how could I lose focus after what happened? Why couldn’t I just keep my head calm and carry on? What a disappointment, I felt extremely angry for myself.

You know….I practiced so hard. I put so many hours into this piece for this concert. And this is the result. In fact, I am having this result over and over. Shouldn’t I give up my organ if I can’t even play a piece satisfactorily?

Looking at our front and back yards everyday full of weeds grown as high as my knees, I had been saying to myself, “well, never mind, I can do weeding as soon as my concert is over.”

Night after night, so exhausted but forcing myself to put on headphones and practicing one more hour, what did that do?

The sacrifice and efforts I made were all waste of time…why do I keep doing this? Indescribable anger rose inside me and exploded. I shouted. “I am going to quit organ!” Yes, I declared that to my teacher and colleagues and friends.

Two days later, I went to my Zen meditation class. During the meditation my teacher Hoben told us a story. He didn’t know what happened to me at the concert…..so it was truly amazing.

This is the summery of his talk.

When do we feel unhappy or unsatisfied? It is always when things didn’t go the way we wanted, when we didn’t get the results we wanted. The question is what do you do when that happens? Do you get angry, get emotional, shout, blame other people, or even hurt other people? Or….?

What’s important is how you live that moment. Just because you practice Zen meditation, it does not mean bad things don’t happen. External hazards, undesirable things fall on everybody equally. However, how do you live that moment when that happens? That’s where Zen meditation can make difference.

….shocked….he is talking about me…..

There is a story, Hoben continued.

A man died. He woke up in a beautiful field. He thought, “wow, what a beautiful place! My afterlife is not as bad as I thought! But I don’t have a place to sleep.” Then, instantly, a beautiful dream house appeared before him. He was ecstatic. Then he found himself to be hungry. As soon as he thought of foods, beautiful dishes appeared on the table with all his favorite foods. Everything was like that. He had everything he wanted the moment he thought of it.

One day, he met an elderly man on a walk and was asked, “so how do you like your afterlife?” He said, “fantastic. I love it. I wonder how it is like in hell…”

The elderly man said, “how do you know you are in heaven and not in hell?”

So….he was in hell. Having everything he wants, the way he wants, without any obstacles, is a life in hell.

Working with purpose, failing and trying and yet failing, is actually the real heaven – that’s what this story tells.

I was ashamed. What an arrogant attitude I had, getting angry, declaring I am quitting, just because I couldn’t play the way I wanted to play. At that moment, my gratitude for the gifts given to me had totally disappeared from my mind. I am fortunate to have music in my life, to have opportunities to learn and perform. How could I forget that?

How stupid, how pathetically stupid I was…..