In Japanese, the word “kampai” literally means empty cup. More commonly it is used it is used when making a toast, much like the Germans say ‘prost’, the Danes ‘skål’, the English ‘cheers’, the Italians ‘cin-cin’. With this background, my story unfolds.
One of the biggest faux pas I ever committed in Japan happened in Osaka after an event. It was evening and I was sitting around a table with some Japanese friends waiting to have dinner. I was feeling tired and a little spaced-out from the day’s activities when drinks arrived. I had been in Italy only a few days before and without thinking picked up my glass and said, “Cin-cin!”
The red faces and shocked looks all around indicated something had gone terribly wrong. Then someone leaned close to my ear and whispered ‘cin-cin’ means ‘prick’ in Japanese.
“Skål!” I quickly said.
Oops, wrong country again.
“Uh … Kampai!” I shouted.
Everyone laughed nervously and drained their glasses in one gulp. Very politely, of course.
In Japan, as with other modern cultures, celebration is simply ‘skål!’. You clink your glass of beer together with friends and hope for a better day tomorrow. A friend of mine who teaches English in Japan was sharing how beautiful and full of life the young children are who come to his school. Yet he observed how quickly the society seems to crush them, squeezing out all their joy of life.
I have heard Osho say most people in the world die around the age thirty. Maybe not physically, but spiritually. They just give up. And the rest of their life is a long, boring march to the grave. One can find many beautiful temples in Japan – perhaps once upon a time they provided shelter and inspiration to real meditators. But nowadays they are simply museums to a dead past. Within their aesthetic gates, you’ll find no music, no dancing, no singing. Only the silence of a graveyard. A kind of silence, yes. But there is no celebration in it. Things look beautiful on the outside but are very seriousness on the inside. Is this not the nature of the world we live in?
I have always puzzled why Osho made celebration the last stage of Dynamic Meditation. Why it doesn’t just end in silence like Kundalini or Nadabrahma. Is it because Osho realized not only is mankind incapable of silence, but has forgotten the language of celebration too? This koan unraveled during my most-recent tour in Japan.
One particular morning, I was participating in Dynamic Meditation with a group of enthusiastic Japanese. The fourth stage (silence) had gone very deep. Then, as the first notes of music heralding the fifth and final stage pierced the stillness, the roomful of meditators began to pulse with joy and dance. In that moment, I suddenly remembered how it was to be a child again: innocent, a clean slate — tabula rasa; how I came into this world before the society, the priests, my parents, my teachers all got hold of me. And in a flash, I had insight into the deeper meaning of kampai.
One can think of kampai like the last stage of Dynamic Meditation. As one progresses through the different stages, one reaches the fifth and final stage — kampai — via silence(stage four). In the silent stage we remember who we are again and from out of this silence, we become the small child we once were — dancing and singing in the sun and rain, our life worth living: full of magic, laughter and joy bubbling spontaneously from deep sources within. Once we know who we are, real celebration — the real kampai — begins.
Kampai is our birthright. Kampai is our empty cup — empty, yet full; overflowing with love and the wine of life. Sound Zen? Let’s just say, Kampai!