Back in Rotterdam, I have to fast backward to remember who I was in Japan, for I am different now. Nothing special about that, nobody has the fixed nature that we attribute to everything.
Still, interaction with strange and unknown things makes for a different difference. One day I stood face to face with a gigantic statue of Daruma, his piercing black eyes infiltrating my pale blue eyes.
Daruma is the Japanese pronunciation of Bodhidharma, who in the sixth century travelled from India to China to establish Chan, which later became Zen in Japan.
I had rented a bike at the station of Kii-Tanabe and winded my way down and up to Kozenji, the temple that Daruma watches over. I had to look up to him, for this statue is over 4.5 metres tall.
He has no eyelids. Legend has it that he tore them off when he fell asleep once in the nine years that he silently sat facing a wall.
These nine years of sitting silently had intimidated me for a long time. In nine years, empires may rise or fall, wars may rage, borders may be redrawn, all kinds of beings are born and die. And you just sit.
A zen teacher told me once that those nine years could also be understood metaphorically. Maybe he was facing a wall inside his head, confronting barriers that he wished to transcend.
This altered the story of nine years of sitting silently, but did not make it less intimidating.
All around Japan Daruma also appears in the form of a paper doll, people give them to friends and loved ones and even colleagues for encouragement. The doll has two blank eyes. You are supposed to blacken one of the eyes and set your goal. You blacken the other eye when you have met your goal.
At home I have a Daruma doll a friend gave me a while ago. He stares at me every morning with his one eye, the other eye forever blank.