[6/27 Event Report 2] Zen2.0 Kick-off Pre-Event “Returning to the Zen Mind” June 2020 Jochiji Temple (Part 2)

Jul 22 · 8 min read

(continued from Part 1 of June 2020 Event Report, “Returning to the Zen Mind”)

3. The Zazen Experience

After the talk, there was a 15min break that showed the beautiful surroundings of the temple, with hydrangea in full bloom. Also some beautiful image showing Zen Words with the deep green moss.

Coming back from the break, Rev. Eon Asahina and the 2 founders have moved to a tatami room, called the “Shoin” with a beautiful Japanese garden in the background. Here, Rev. Eon Asahina talked to us about how to sit in Zazen.

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“The basics in Zazen is to inhale and exhale. The most important thing is to breathe in slowly, then breathe out until all the breath is gone.
If you breathe slowly, your belly button will be pushed forward.
When you continue to breathe, you may start to notice things around you, that is not you, maybe also from your peers or seniors.
When you can breathe and get the moves right, things start to change for the better. We should not neglect these things every day.

The first thing is the posture — “choushin” means to adjust the body. You can raise your buttocks with a cushion, and support your body with the 3 points.
You can make a bowl with your hands and put it on your lap.
The head should stand straight on your body, and your eyes can gaze 1meter in front of you, only half opening your eyes.
You can exhale slowly from the nose, exhale and exhale until you have no more breath to exhale, then breath in fully with the next inhale.
When you breathing out, hold your lower abdomen firmly.
Please look after your posture and breathing.
During the Zazen, I would like you to concentrate on breathing in and out.
You can be sitting down on a chair or on the floor in lotus position, as long as the top of your head to your hip is aligned straight.
Now, let’s try 10 to 15minutes of Zazen (sitting meditation).”

There were 2 Zazen sessions with a short break in between. It is quite a nice, soothing experience to know that there is a space across the zoom screen many people are sitting like myself.

4. Dialog in the break out room
(Excerpt from Hazuki Natsuno’s blog)

Before and after the Zazen meditation, there were break out sessions. Hazuki’s first breakout session was with 3 other Japanese female participants.

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There were comments such as “It really felt like I was in Kamakura”, “It is so refreshing to hear Heart Sutra right in my own home”. A participant who works in mindfulness business shared that she is getting more enquiries from clients after the corona crisis. May be the corona crisis has lead us to deepen the demand for introspection more than we thought.

The second breakout session was an English speaking room.

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One participant who resides in Japan said “It was very nice and relaxing. It feels like I am in a temple”. Two other gentlemen from Amsterdam and Australia, seemed very happy also with the experience — “With the Zazen experience, I felt my awareness increased internally and externally” “It was really good to experience the traditional way of Zen”.

5. Yoga Time during the break

The event was quite long, 3 hours, facing the screen, now after 2 hours, we participants were starting to feel a bit tired! So during the last break, there was a short and easy yoga session by Miho Kodama, introducing yoga that could be done sitting down. What a refreshing experience!

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Many participants took part showing off their moves. Always nice to move together even if it is online!

6. Q&A and Dialog with Participants

Based on these experiences of sutra reading, zazen and yoga, there was Q&A time for a conversation with Eon Asahina.

Question 1 : How do we practice with strong feelings, for example if our body is full of the feelings of anxiety and our minds are very busy, how do we practice?

Answer by Rev. Asahina: Zazen isn’t a prescription drug, so it’s hard say what would be good for you. What I think, looking back at my own training there were many different kind of struggles, and we cannot say that meditating solved all these problems. If it is concerning work, the best thing is simply to work things out one by one. To complete the work, we must do what is in front of us, step by step, fully and completely, with intensity. It is almost wrong to think that meditating and breathing itself will solve our problems, it may or may not connect to how you can “be stable in the stomach” when you work.
In practice, we are taught to do the simple things like eating and cleaning with all our energy. It is important to value “doing things as they turn up in the moment,” and to do them as best you can. Don’t think about anything else, just do it as hard as you can.

Question 2: I feel that there should be more opportunity for Japanese people to experience the spirit of Zen. I feel that it would be meaningful in order to respond to the current stagnation and challenges in Japan, to increase the opportunities for children to be exposed to the spirit of Zen from a young age. I’m wondering if it would be possible to reflect the spirit of Zen in education.

Answer by Rev. Asahina: I think it’s good to learn basic things in the Zen life such as taking good care of things from a young age. However, if we try to introduce it as a religious act in educating children in school, I think some people will be negative about it, so we may as well leave out the religious nature.
I myself have been instructed Zazen for teachers even at catholic schools, so it goes beyond religion, and there is definitely a need. But I have no intention of pushing religion towards people, and it might be a good idea to talk about things that have been handed down as a basis for Zen life, more as a wisdom from an old man.

Comment by Mikio Shishido: I personally think that there is great need to train our spirituality. I understand that in the US in particular, there are over 6,000 schools that teach mindfulness. And they express it in an even simpler form than that of mindfulness, using words such as “be still”, “sitting”.

Question 3: In the Zazen meditation, I had the feeling of being connected with nature and even the universe. I have heard somewhere that in meditation, we should sit and breathe in the air from nature, and breathe out the air through our whole body focus on our lower stomach. Is that the way it should be done?

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Answer by Rev. Asahina: I don’t usually talk about my meditation experiences, but actually, in our practice, I have had times (though we say that we should not “think”) I thought I should be conscious of not just the breathing, but that it is connected the universe. When we consciously do this, it usually does not produce anything. I did have an experience though during one Sesshin, feeling that I could fly anywhere, that there was a feeling of being connected to something grand, so there are experiences like that, and there is no neglecting that.

Question 4: When I think of mindfulness and zen, I wonder if it is a teaching for those who are well off, and my confidence decreases. There are people who are struggling to find food or a safe place to live tomorrow. Though I feel that Zen and mindfulness is something that we can do with no money, I wonder if is it really democratised? How should I think about this?

Answer by Rev. Asahina: In the Zen way, there is the concept of “chisoku”, to be satisfied with what we have. But can really able to sit quietly in a moment of devastation, this is challenging, and we cannot even start to imagine know what is our limit. Japan is a rich country, with not so many people in poverty, but there still may be people in fear of their lives, and it is difficult to ask them to just sit.
Compassion, the spirit of loving kindness is also important and I hope we can provide insight for those who see us in our practice. When we train, we often start to think of training ourselves to be enlightened, forgetting about others, but it is an important practice in Zen to understand and realise that we are alive thanks to others, That is actually our mission in Zen.

Question 5: You said that the spirit of Zen is to live simply by throwing away anything that is “not necessary”. In the Zen way of thinking, when we think of living a simple and happy life, how is “not necessary” defined?

Answer by Rev. Asahina: We are not scholars and there is no fixed definition of “things that are not necessary”. For us, we simply think, if it’s an ingredient, it would be to use or eat everything, without producing waste and not putting your hand on anything that you are not going to have. This has to do with the Zen concept “chisoku”, (which means to know one has enough, to be satisfied with one’s lot in life). It differs by ones’ perception of what is enough.

7. Ending & Comments

At the end of the session, there was a brief introduction of the activities of Zen2.0, and a final comment from Reverend Asahina, to “please cherish the human connection with the people that are important to you. Especially in our modern times, we have wonderful tools such as the internet to help us connect us as we did today, and know that we are not alone. Let us cherish these connections”

And the event finished off with beautiful footage of the Jochiji Temple zooming out to the sky.

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3 hours session seemed like a long event to be held online, but all in all, it was a wonderful and unique experience, and I was captivated by the world that was being communicated through my own PC screen, and amazed how much we can experience can be gained through an online seminar.

There was a feeling that there was a broad world opening up, connecting with a traditional Zen temple, and with nature and the dialog with other attendees. Also through the Zazen experience of breathing, you could really experience being in the present moment. In this day and age where we cannot fly, this felt like the next best thing and eco-friendly way to travel, and also connect to ourselves as well as others!

(written & translated by Maki Ishiwatari, in collaboration with Natsuno Hazuki https://natunohazuki.com/2020/06/27/zen_jyouchiji/)

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