Making Footprints Not Blueprints

S07 #17 - How new are you? - A thought for the day

January 27, 2024 Andrew James Brown/Caute Season 7 Episode 17
Making Footprints Not Blueprints
S07 #17 - How new are you? - A thought for the day
Show Notes Transcript

The full text of this podcast can be found in the transcript of this edition or at the following link:

Please feel to post any comments you have about this episode there.

The Cambridge Unitarian Church's Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation can be found at this link:
"New Heaven", written by Andrew J. Brown and played by Chris Ingham (piano), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Russ Morgan (drums) and Andrew J. Brown (double bass) 

Thanks for listening. Just to note that all the texts of these podcasts are available on my blog. You'll also find there a brief biography, info about my career as a musician, & some photography. Feel free to drop by & say hello. Email: caute.brown[at]

A short thought for the day” offered to the Cambridge Unitarian Church as part of the Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation


On New Year’s Eve, I offered you an address designed to help ease us as positively as possible into the New Year but without, at the same time, falling into the typical liberal religious trap of engaging in over wishful and optimistic thinking, especially since 2024 really doesn’t look like it’s going to turn out to be a good year at all.

Now, whether or not I succeeded in my aim is hardly for me to say, but what I can say is that very shortly after writing that New Year’s Eve piece for you, I began working on a translation of a very short address written by Imaoka Shin’ichirō (1881-1988) called “New Year’s Greetings” (January 1980, published in “Mahoroba” [まほろば]) that he wrote when he was 99 years old, and which he delivered in 1980 to his own creative, free spiritual community, the Tokyo “Kiitsu Kyokai,” i.e. the Tokyo “Unitarian Church.” 

The sign outside the Tokyo Kiitsu Kyōkai

Well, Imaoka-sensei’s words have stayed with me since then, and today, having had the opportunity to reflect upon them for a few more weeks, I find that what he said in that piece gifted me, and now I hope will also gift you, something of great help as we try to make the very best of the next eleven months and, indeed, the months and years beyond them.

Imaoka-sensei began his short talk by pointing out to his Japanese audience that in the West, when people say to each other, “I wish you a Happy New Year,” they tend to do this with a strong sense that the happiness and joy, depends on the way the coming year is to unfold. That, at least in my case, seems to be right, and given that the prospects for this year neither were, nor are, particularly rosy, during the first couple of weeks of January, I found it almost impossibly hard to say to anyone “Happy New Year” with anything like a clean heart and full belief (pathos or impressiveness). In short, so far this year whenever I have wished someone “A Happy New Year,” my words have felt profoundly hollow. 

But, as Imaoka-sensei immediately makes clear in his own talk, as he stood at the beginning of his 100th year of existence, the happiness and joy he was wishing for others, and for himself, was not something that depended on the way the coming New Year unfolded, but rather upon the way WE, as individuals and as a community, might unfold. Imaoka-sensei describes this unfolding as being a process of “self-awareness and growth,” and he thought it was joyous because it “becomes increasingly new with each New Year.”

Now, properly to hear what Imaoka-sensei is trying to say to us at this point, it’s vitally important to be acutely aware that his great age meant that, superficially, the adjective “new” didn’t seem to apply to him. And, to address this point, he suggests, that whenever one is tempted to ask about a person’s age, “the English question ‘How old are you?’ should be corrected to ‘How new are you?’”

This, I think, is Imaoka-sensei’s key insight in his talk; namely, that no matter what the new calendar year ahead promises us in terms of events — and even when what it promises looks uniformly dark and gloomy — we can, ourselves, continue to promote a process of “self-awareness and growth.” And, when we fully inhabit that process, even in the darkest of times, we can ourselves always-already become new, new every morning.

But, I realise that in bringing this positive idea before you against the dark background of world events, it might still sound as if I have fallen into the typical liberal religious trap of over wishful thinking and optimism that I was worried about falling into at the beginning. Given this danger, it’s really important for you to know that Imaoka-sensei — despite living through the collapse of the early Japanese “Yuniterian” movement during the 1920s, the catastrophic aftermath of Japan’s Great Kantō earthquake in 1923, the nightmare of Japan’s descent into fascism and war during the 1930s and 40s, and of course, through the utter horror experienced following the dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 at the end of the Pacific War — that despite all these things, his own, personal, ability to embody this process of “self-awareness and growth” always meant he was able to be new every morning, right up until his death in 1988, aged 106. It was his ability continually to embody newness that meant after the 1923 earthquake he had the creative vision and energy to rebuild and make even more successful the influential school, the Seisoku Academy, of which he was principle; in the 1930s and 40s he was able to keep liberal and progressive thinking and religion alive despite the brutal and repressive fascist regime; and, from 1945 onwards, he was able, not only to restart the Japanese “Yuniterian” movement in 1948, but also play a key role in promoting important liberal reforms in education, religion and politics, both in Japan and internationally.

Drawing on a verse by the 15th-century, Zen monk and poet, Ikkyu Osho, Imaoka-sensei concludes his brief address by indicating that, for him, each new, calendar year — whether good or bad — was to be thought of as somewhat like the traditional pine and bamboo decorations (kadomatsu) made for the New Year which stand outside houses and temples across Japan, namely, simply a “mile-post” on the journey of life, “neither particularly auspicious nor inauspicious.”

However, what always remained auspicious for Imaoka-sensei — and I would suggest should remain auspicious for us, too — is the ability to embody in our daily lives the process of “self-awareness and growth” that ensures we can always-already be ourselves a new beginning, no matter what the calendar year brings. This process lies at the heart of jiyū shūkyō, the creative, free spirituality he encouraged throughout his life, and which we in this local community are seeking to embody and encourage in our own difficult times.

And so, to finish, and send you positively into the rest of 2024, may I respectfully encourage us daily to put to one another the question Imaoka-sensei asked his own congregation 44 years ago, “How new are you?”