Foreword to Thomas Hand, S.J.,
If you were told by an authoritative source that you would die within a few months, how then would you spend those last precious months of your life on this earth?
Fr. Thomas Hand, S.J. (Hando, to those of us privileged to have known him closely and loved him as a friend, guide, spiritual companion, teacher, and more), diagnosed with terminal cancer, was told just that. He wrote this novel as his way of responding to the question. When No Wind Stirs: A Tale of Enlightenment and Love thus comes to us as his last will and testament, his life’s gift to all of us. The diagnosis hit the mark, and he died soon after this novel was completed.
I first met Hando as I came to Kamakura, Japan in the Fall of 1970. Just about to turn 50, he was then Spiritual Director of the Jesuit Language School, located in this ancient city surrounded by mountains and hills and near a beachfront facing the Pacific Ocean, one hour by train ride from Tokyo. I was in my early twenties, sent from the Philippines to the Japan Province of the Society of Jesus, to join in the religious and educational work done there by the Jesuits since the time of St. Francis Xavier and companions, who had come to this island country as Christian missionaries in the sixteenth century. I was to study Japanese language and culture here, before continuing further studies in Tokyo in preparation for ordination to the Catholic priesthood.
The spiritual direction sessions I had with him would often turn into conversations about the riches of Japanese culture and religious tradition, nurtured by indigenous elements identified with Shinto, or “the way of the divine,” and fertilized through the centuries by elements from the Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist traditions introduced from China and Korea. He focused particular attention on Zen Buddhism, noting how it opened new horizons for Christians, notably in the understanding of God, of how God relates to the world and human beings, and how the world relates to God.
At that time he had already been a practitioner of Zen for some years, continuing to receive guidance from Yamada Koun, Zen Master at San-un Zendo, or the Zen Hall of the Three Clouds, auspiciously located in the same city of Kamakura. Yamada’s Teacher was Yasutani Hakuun, who had founded the Sanbo Kyodan lineage as a community of lay Zen practitioners. It was upon Hando’s encouragement that I myself began this practice of Zen, commuting to San-un Zendo regularly and receiving the personal guidance of the same Zen Master, Yamada Koun.
Reading When No Wind Stirs, I could not help but recognize familiar themes from our conversations. I also could not help but recall scenes from those times spent sitting and mingling with fellow practitioners at San-un Zendo. We were a motley group indeed, who gathered together to sit in zazen during those bi-weekly (Saturday evening and all day Sunday) sessions, when Yamada Koun would give a Zen talk (teisho) and make himself available for one-to-one practice consultation (dokusan). There were also the intensive Zen retreats (sesshin) that would last from five days to seven days, held at San-un Zendo four or five times a year, where participants sat in zazen, had meals, and slept all together lined up side by side in the same Zen Hall.
In addition to the regular Japanese practitioners who came from the surrounding areas of Kamakura and also from Tokyo and environs, and there were also increasing numbers of non-Japanese (gaijin), who had come all the way from the United States and Canada, Germany and France, from Singapore, and other places, men and women from all walks of life, of various ages, ranging from the early twenties to their sixties or seventies. They had heard about this Zendo and its Resident Roshi (Zen Master), and came in earnestness to seek his guidance in their spiritual practice.
A notable feature of this vibrant Zen community that sat together regularly at San-un Zendo was that, together with the Japanese lay Buddhists who comprised the majority, there was a good number of those who were devoted Christians, including Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, nuns, and lay persons. There were also some who came from a Jewish background. During the bi-weekly sittings and also during sesshin, we all sat together in the main hall, and joined in the chanting of the Buddhist sutras as part of the communal ritual. But over and above this common schedule, the Christians were given special permission to get together in a separate room at a designated time, to celebrate the Eucharist.
These gatherings of the Eucharist, in the context of the deeply felt atmosphere of silence in the midst of Zen retreat, were indeed special occasions that enabled those of us graced to be there, to experience in a very intimate way the cosmic dimensions of this ancient and ever new Christian ritual practice, building up to the pivotal words of consecration: “This is My Body,” and followed by the shared meal of Bread and Wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
The depictions of various ritual observances and verbal exchanges among members of the spiritual community described in this novel evoke those scenes of the San-un Zendo community based in Kamakura. Reading this novel, those of us who, in our different ways, had been privileged to have met him and known him, joined his retreats or listened to him talk about those things he was truly passionate about, in the various phases of his life spanning eight and one-half decades and long career of service to others, as a Jesuit priest, spiritual director, teacher and guide, may also recognize the recurrent themes that came up in his talks and in his writings. His book, A Taste of Water, co-authored with Sr. Agnes Lee, also comes to mind in this regard.
However, When No Wind Turns is a work of fiction. Thus, one might say, and rightly so, that such associations and nostalgic personal recollections as I am disposed to entertain about Hando’s life in Japan, or resonances with those themes on the spiritual path that were dear to the author’s heart, which those who knew him or heard him are sure to recall in reading this work, are totally irrelevant and unnecessary. So be it. Let the novel be read as a novel, and be enjoyed as such.
Independent of such considerations about the author’s life and career as I have noted above, this is a stimulating, thought-provoking novel, a joy to read. Here and there it offers the reader a glimpse of the infinite spiritual horizons of being human. True to its subtitle, it is a tale of enlightenment and love, flowing out of the heart of one who lived in an enlightened and loving way. It was written by a deeply reflective and holy man during the last few months of his life, with the full awareness that he was about to die.
This is a man who in his youth was blown by some strange Wind to leave the comfortable and familiar surroundings of his own country and Western culture, to venture Eastward, to the island country of Japan. In the course of his sojourn there, he is drawn to delve more and more deeply into its fertile religious soil, and is gradually transformed through his encounters with the spiritual riches of this East Asian culture. Having stayed in Japan for over two decades, he is blown by the Wind again to return to his home country, to share the riches he had received from the East, with those from his own culture in the West.
When No Wind Turns: A Tale of Enlightenment and Love is a precious gift from such a man, to be treasured and cherished, offered to all who would care to take and read.
Ruben L.F. Habito
Maria Kannon Zen Center