“Since everything on earth is connected, those relationships prove that you exist. That is En.”
I put down my glass of hot tea and quickly jotted down the quote from Masa, one of two monks that run a temple in a small village deep in the mountains region of Nagano. Truth be told though, the previous page in my notebook had the exact same pen-written message, circled repeatedly to mark its importance like one would do in a university lecture hall.
Even though this was the second time Masa had tried to explain this concept to me, I was still scratching my head to make sense of it all in light of everything we had talked about beforehand – predominantly his tuned Mini Cooper S.
It’s not everyday that you get to spend the day with a monk who just happens to be a huge petrol-head, let alone gain an insight into his beliefs and see what affect they have on his car life. But here I was.
‘Is that a monk with a car?’ ‘I thought they weren’t allowed to have any possessions?’ ‘Isn’t it against their religion to own a car?’ These were just a few of the comments I received when I told a few people the reason why I was heading to a small village in the mountains to spend the day with Masa, and an ideal way to kick off the interview…
Masa: “Perhaps people still believe that monks still practice that kind of lifestyle, but truth be told, that type of practice is almost non-existent these days. At one point in time you could live with minimal things and accept donations of material things rather than money as you could barter. For example, you could trade silk with a carpenter to repair the temple.”
Masa: “Nowadays that is simply impossible. Could you imagine trying to pay your mortgage with silk? How could I possibly take care of my family with a minimal lifestyle approach?’
Ron: Speaking of which, many people also believe monks aren’t allowed to have families, but obviously that is not the case.
Masa: “Yes, again, that is the old lifestyle practice. A very long time ago this was true, monks weren’t allowed to get married. However, when it became more difficult to find apprentices to take over the temple, it became acceptable for monks to get married and have children to increase the odds of a successor.”
Masa: “It would probably be more accurate if you were to think of a monk as a normal occupation instead of anything religious. Besides, Buddhism isn’t a religion, but teachings on how you, and the rest of the world, can feel happy and satisfied in life.”The Importance Of Relations & Balance
Ron: And this relates to ‘en’ – the idea that everything is connected, right?
Masa: “Yes, that’s correct. Buddha himself never claimed to be a god though different gods do protect him. Those gods you can see around our temple. Buddha’s main point, if you will, was to follow teachings on how to live to be happy, and how to overcome the four struggles for humans: life, death, age and disease. Two of the main philosophies that help overcome these struggles are ‘en’ and ‘chudo’.”
Masa: “En is the idea that everything on earth is connected and your entire existence is made up of these connections – both with human and objects. Countless relationships are formed through en and these connections make up your life story. Your parents gave birth to you, which area you grew up in or even live now, your job, how you met your significant other – these are all examples of en. Without these connections, it would be very difficult to prove your existence. Think of it as there is no such thing as coincidence.”
Masa: “Even how I acquired the R53 Mini Cooper S was through en. Before me, the Cooper S belonged to my friend. He bought it with the goal of it being his toy, but in reality he never had any time to drive it and felt it was a waste.”
Masa: “Knowing that I love cars and driving them on the touges in the area, he decided that it would be better to give me the car instead of it sitting in his driveway. If it wasn’t for the relationship that I have with my friend, I wouldn’t own this Mini and consequently, I wouldn’t have met you, Ron, without the Mini.”
Ron: What about ‘chudo’? What is the main point behind it, and does it also relate to your Cooper S?
Masa: “Of course it does as chudo focuses on the idea of balance. Humans have emotions by nature and these emotions create desires. Buddha understood that humans will always have these desires and it’s perfectly fine to have them. It becomes a problem though when people lean to the extremes of these desires and affect others around them. Thus, Buddha came up with strict rules in hopes that it would bring people somewhat in the middle and escape the extremes of desires.”
Masa: “Take the example of work. If you work too much, it can cause unnecessary stress, spend less time with family and friends, and can become fatal. If you don’t have any work at all, then you can’t pay bills, buy food, etc. It’s perfectly fine for me to love cars but not to the point where it affects my family. On the flip side, it would be wrong of me to get rid of the Mini because I have a desire for cars. So a balance, chudo, is required.”
Masa: “I apply this principle in everything I do, including the way I have modified the Cooper S. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time doing a lot of maintenance as the car sat for a long time. Pulleys, radiator, new battery and weather stripping are just a few examples.”
Masa: “I then changed out the old suspension to get better compliance out of the chassis. Giomic is a well known MINI specialist company, and I turned to them for replacing the springs and dampers. I decided to go with their CCS V2 with 7kg springs up front and 6kg springs in the rear. I felt this spring rating was a great balance of stiffness that I could enjoy on the touges without making the ride too uncomfortable for my family on the off chance they want to ride in it.”
Masa: “For wheels, I went with 17-inch Advan Racing RG-D2s and wrapped them in Advan Neova AD08s. Sorry I forget the wheel specs though Ron… Oh, I also replaced the brakes with an AP Racing kit. I wanted to ensure I had enough braking power as there are a lot of steep downhill touges around the area.”
Masa: Underneath the hood, I’ve left things pretty much stock besides replacing the air box with a carbon fiber Gruppe M intake. I really like the power of the 1.6L Tritec supercharged engine in stock form. With the Gruppe M intake, the combination of the supercharger whine and induction noise is great fun. More power could be fun, but it isn’t necessary.”
Ron: This is another example of chudo, right, Masa?
Masa: “Exactly. Having 1,000 horsepower would be too extreme. At the same time, no power would be boring. Thus, where it is at now is just right. I really never understood why everyone nowadays wants lots of power.”
Ron: Absolute power corrupts absolutely – that’s why Masa. I definitely can understand the philosophy better now. Tell me about the interior.
Masa: “The interior still incorporates chudo. I’ve changed the driver with Bride Low Max seats, but went with Recaro for the passenger as they are more comfortable. This way, I can have a seat that fits my shape better without getting something too uncomfortable for a passenger.”
Masa: “I’ve also added an oil temp, water temp, and boost gauge, so I can monitor what’s going on with the engine and make sure everything points to green when I’m out for a drive. Finally, I replaced the original steering wheel with a Nardi one as I like the way this one feels. I believe that’s pretty much it.”
Ron: Thank you Masa, I greatly appreciate you taking the time out to spend the day with me. Do you have any future plans for your Cooper S?
Masa: “No problem, Ron. I hope I didn’t confuse you too much?! With regards to my Cooper S, right now I’m more than happy with the balance of everything. I can have fun with the car without bothering my family (too much), so I think I’ll leave it as it is. If you can have fun still with whatever car you have, then you can feel satisfied, right?”