Member Spotlight: Jake E. Nagasawa

Tell us a bit about you:

I use he/him/his pronouns. I am a member of Clouds in Water’s Ethics and Reconciliation (EAR) committee, and I co-facilitate the Teen Practice Group with Keika Karin Aguilar-San Juan.

Occupation (This doesn’t have to be a job! Answer this as you wish – cloud dwellers welcome):

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of American Studies at Macalester College. I teach courses in the fields of Asian American studies and religious studies. I have a PhD in Buddhist Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

How did you discover Clouds?

I learned about Clouds through Keika, who is my colleague at Macalester and on of my very best friends. When I moved to the Twin Cities in 2018, Keika invited me to join the BIPOC sitting group, and the rest is history.

If your life was the title of a book or movie, what would it be called?

Haha I’m not too sure, maybe, Dazed and Confused?

Why do you practice zazen and mindfulness?

My practice is what keeps me grounded. It is a source of both peace and inspiration. Truly, it’s one of the most important things in my life.

What excites you?

Mentoring my students; good books and new ideas; going on long summer walks outside.

Where are some places you feel at home in the Twin Cities?

I feel very much at home at Macalester College where I teach, as well as the Mac-Groveland neighborhood where I live. I also feel at home anywhere near the Mississippi river.

If you had to recommend one dharma book, what would it be?

Good question! Since I’m a scholar by training, I’ll recommend three Buddhism-related books—an academic book, a Dharma book, and a novel. I think everyone should read American Sutra by Duncan Ryūken Williams. It is a dense and very important book about Japanese American Buddhism and the role it played during the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Next, is Gateway to Knowledge by the 19th century Tibetan Buddhist master Ju Mipham Gyatso and translated into English by Erik Pema Kunsang.  Published in four very short volumes with parallel Tibetan text, Mipham intended it to be a summary of the entire Buddhist canon. Lastly, I’ll recommend A Tale for the Time Being. It’s a super fun and interesting novel by Ruth Ozeki, who is an ordained Sōtō Zen priest. The title is a clever play on Dōgen’s concept of uji, “being-time” or “time being.”

Anything on your bucket list?

Yes, my bucket list items are all pilgrimage-related. The first is the Shikoku Hachijūhakkasho or the “88 Temples of Shikoku” pilgrimage in Japan. If possible, I’d love to visit Buddhist sites in Tibet, especially in Lhasa and Kham. I’ve also always wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

What are you listening to right now?

I’m about to head off to Japan for a few weeks, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Japanese music lately. Most recently, I’m listening to a lot of Meiko Kaji, an actress and singer who became very well-known in Japan in the 1960s and 70s for starring in a couple of samurai revenge films.

Do you have any favorite words of inspiration – a quote, song lyric, poem, or something else that supports you?

Yes, it is a famous line from Śāntideva’s Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra:

“For as long as space endures

And for as long as living beings remain,

May I, too, abide

To dispel the misery of the world.”

Summer or winter?

Hard to say. I think our Minnesota winters are both beautiful and challenging (especially when there’s still snow in late April). But it’s the winter that helps us appreciate our fabulous Minnesota summers when nature roars back to life. You kind of can’t have one without the other. So both, I suppose?

Tea or coffee?

Oh coffee, without a doubt. French roast, no cream or sugar, two cups a day (maybe a third in the early afternoon, occasionally). Sometime in the form of espresso, either straight or made into a cortado.

Evening with a book or a night on the town?

 Not to be too wishy-washy, but I honestly like both!

What or who is nourishing you most right now?

Right now, I’m feeling nourished by the sun, the summer humidity, and the trees coming back to life.

What are you most looking forward to at Clouds in 2023?

I’m forward to starting a new Teen Practice cycle in Fall of 2023, as well some ongoing work that the EAR committee is engaged with in terms of programming.

Any Twin Cities community organizations or efforts you’d like to highlight?

Definitely Clouds in Water!

Anything else you’d like to add to help us get to know you better?

Let’s see, what else? Well, I’m originally from O’ahu Hawai’i, which is very important to me. I’m half Japanese and half Portuguese and grew up in a multicultural, multi-religious household. I practice extensively in the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. I love to play the ‘ukulele and sing Hawaiian songs. I did martial arts for many years. I read Sanskrit and Tibetan. My favorite novel of all time is Bless me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. I lived in California (San Francisco and Santa Barbara) for about 11 years. That’s all I’ve got for now!

Clouds in Water Zen Center is a vibrant urban community in the heart of Saint Paul, Minnesota. We practice in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition, dedicated to awakening the heart of great wisdom and compassion. We welcome people of all backgrounds and faiths.

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