On Thursday this week, I went to a famous temple about 10 minutes from school with some of our buddies and Groups A and C(which I’m a part of)as part of the experiences offered by RSJP(Ritsumeikan Summer Japan Program). Myōshin-ji is known as largest temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. It was originally a palace for the Emperor Hanozono during the Ashikaga Shogunate period, but was donated to the monks when the Emperor himself took the tonsure and abdicated.
At Myōshin-ji, I took part in a lecture explaining to us the basics of Zen-Buddhism zazen meditation. Before that, we were allowed to do a little sightseeing as we were lead by the program coordinators to the main area in which the activity took place.
Zazen meditation is the heart of Zen Buddhism religious practice. It is difficult and requires focus and concentration. Zazen is about not being distracted, but at the same time too much focus moves away from the principle of letting things just flow in and out.
Our lecturer told us that meditation is much like losing weight, you can't skip exercising this day and the next and expect to get any better. He said that to receive the benefits of meditation, you must practice daily, even if only for a short time. We were shown how to correctly perform it. In this type of meditation two things are key: breathing and posture. Concentration on breathing is how apprentices are taught to focus their mind away from other thoughts. With correct posture, one can become accustomed to sitting for long periods of time without pain. Some people were good at seiza(a traditional Japanese sitting position), while others opted for what is lotus and full lotus which is what you usually see in a lot of Buddhist images regarding meditation.
Our teacher offered us help in the form of a stick used by those leading meditation practice in which you are hit twice on the back with a stick to help you focus. It is not meant to hurt, but to help. I did not partake in that(hahaha). Although, some of the other group members tried it out.
Eventually, we started the meditation practice. We sat on our pillows and meditation started with the ringing of a bell and something which looked like two erasers, but were made of wood and represented both the ending and start of meditation. We were made to meditate for five minutes which went by blazingly quick even though I could barely focus because of my discomfort.
After this, the head monk led on on a tour through the main area which led to beautiful Zen rock gardens and ponds. The rock gardens hold ancient wisdom in that you'll never be able to see all the rocks within the garden from one angle. The metaphor is that there are many different ways and paths to resolving and visualizing problems.
This pond in particular struck me with its beauty. It was so peaceful and serene and the water was fed from the upper parts around the temple. As the tour came to a close, we were allowed to explore the rest of the area and basically continue back home. With some friends from school and one of our buddies named Daisuke, we went exploring around the rest of the temple.
If you want to see the rest of pictures I took of that day, you can take a look through the flickr I set up for this exact purpose.
Till next time,