Meditation at Shorinji Temple, Kyoto – Calmness of the Mind Through Zazen
At the very core of Japanese culture outlined by utter simplicity, beauty, and almost choreographed perfection, Zen plays a vital role in nursing the mind and spirit of the Japanese people.
I often wonder why foreigners find traveling to Japan irresistible. They may speak of the beautiful temples and shrines protected by carefully landscaped gardens, ponds and stone formations, but what they really feel is the vibrating tranquility and peaceful balance of nature and material that comforts the mind and soul. They may rave about delectable dishes and confectioneries, but what they really see and taste is the perfection of culinary, raised to a high level of precision blended by minimal flavors. They may express admiration for the Japanese people’s virtues of courtesy, honesty and perseverance, but what they truly experience is optimal tolerance and detachment from personal emotions. It is because of this strong regard for selflessness, guided by Zen teachings, that makes Japanese culture both charismatic and mysterious.
To be able to absorb the wholeness of the Japanese spirit, experiencing a brief moment of Zazen meditation can be quite bracing and uplifting. At the Shorinji Temple in Kyoto, regarded as the oldest Buddhist temple in Kyoto built in 712, visitors are allowed to engage in Zazen meditation sessions by reservation. As a sub-temple of Tofukuji Temple, Shorinji is also known as Bishamonten, the guardian of the north and Buddhism, since the tall, human-sized statue of this deity is stationed in this temple.
The temple was founded in 1550 by the head priest of Tofukuji. As you climb up the hill, entering the temple grounds, you are instantly welcomed by the garden blooms, which burst cherry blossoms in spring, and vibrant maple colors in autumn. There is a small stone pagoda in the garden where Buddhist sutras are buried. The garden is small and simple, which perfectly fits the mood for humble meditation.
Zazen, literally translated as "seated meditation", is a disciplinary practice of Zen Buddhism that delivers a deep insight into the nature of existence. It was believed that Buddha attained enlightenment by meditating under a Bodhi tree for seven days and nights; thus, Zen practitioners follow this path for cleansing of the soul. By relaxing the body in a seated and erect posture of folded legs and hands in a simple mudra over the belly (curved palms with thumbs touching), and half-lowered eyelids, looking downwards approximately one meter away from the body, one is subjected to powerful concentration, harmonizing the body, mind and breath = "za".
The breathing technique teaches breathing from the belly, which is the center of gravity. Zazen promotes calmness in the mind and spirit to help one look into oneself. At Shorinji, participants meditate in two stages for about 15 minutes each, with usually a 5-minute break each when the priest briefly talks about the history and significance of Zazen and the Shorinji grounds. As part of its disciplinary training, the priest may hit the participant on the back of the left and right shoulders with a Zen stick, "keizaku", when the person is falling asleep or needs to concentrate more attentively. To request for a "keizaku", the person must place his hands in prayer position and bow, then the priest will come forward to strike the practitioner’s shoulders. The meditation room, which receives ample sunlight from the garden outside, can accommodate more than 20 participants, including groups. A halo of calmness, freedom and openness seems to set on you even in just a short moment of silence.
Participants may choose from several types of Zazen meditation: simple Zazen meditation and Zazen meditation with matcha green tea and sweets for 1 hour each, relatively costing 1000 yen per person or Zazen meditation with yoga for 130 minutes, costing 3000 yen. There is also a morning Zazen with hot porridge experience lasting for about 80 minutes, costing 3200 yen. You may check the website for more detailed information. After a pleasant cup of matcha tea and bite of sweets, you descend from the temple with absolute invigoration and a deeper appreciation of life’s blessings.
Open 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
Access: 8-minute walk from JR Tofukuji Station on the Nara Line or Keihan Tofukuji Station
Bus: City Bus nos. 202, 207 or 208, alight at Tofukuji bus stop