少林寺 三原市須波西/寺院 座禅会

初 座禅会

Last Sunday, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine which was to try out zen meditation. I have been interested in the zen way of thinking as well as meditation since I can remember. My friend Noriyuki invited me to participate in a zazan meditation group at the Shorinji Temple in Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture. His wife, Maya’s family run the temple, which made this experience even more special.

Noriyuki picked me up at about 4:15 in the morning for the drive with three of his kids in the back. We had a great talk all the way there and as we exited the highway, the fog rolling through Mihara City was an exhilarating view with the sun just coming up.

The narrow winding roads, literally about as wide as the car, led us up the mountain to the steps of the temple. We arrived with perfect timing and were welcomed by his mother in law, with a soft, warmhearted smile. We left our belongings by the door and she led us to the main room of the temple where we would be meditating. 

The room was slightly dark and calm, with the regulars there ready to get started. The monk, Maya’s father, guided us to our places and politely explained each step of the way. One of the others quietly advised me of the subtle things I should observe along the way. For example, not to step on the edges of the tatami mats.

We put our hands together as in prayer, palm to palm with fingertips point up, and bowed to the person behind us. Then turned around facing the small round cushion on the floor in front of the wall. Next we walked around the cushion from the right side and rounded it out in preparation to be seated. We were told to sit on the edge of the cushion with our backs straight up, yet not tense. 

The “tanden” (point approximately 2cm below the belly button should be slightly forward and we would focus our energy there throughout the meditation. Next we pull our feet up on to our thighs in a cross-legged fashion (one leg is fine if you can’t do both) and lay our hands on our knees, palm up, and slightly rocked back and forth, side to side so the cushion would form well to our buttocks and we could sit comfortably. Then place the right hand below the tanden, with the left hand on top of it. The thumbs should only slightly seem to touch. The shape of your fingers should resemble that of an egg. Lastly, we should raise our heads up lightly and tuck the chin in with our eyes gazing slightly downward at about a meter in front of us, on the wall.

The room was dark, quiet and serene, and the tone of the mallet striking the Buddhist singing bowl signaled the beginning of the meditation period. 

While meditating, the ultimate goal is rid your mind of any thoughts and come into a state of “mu” or “nothingness”. Essentially, you learn to train your mind to expel the thoughts as soon as they come up. Really, it’s as simple as that. 

mu (nothingness)

After about 20 minutes, a bell from the other side of the temple rang pleasantly, signaling that the meal preparation was complete. The tone of another strike of the Buddhist singing bowl let us know that the meditation period was over. The monk instructed us to gently sway our bodies back and forth, left and right again to loosen up since we had been sitting so long. We would then walk around the right side of the cushion and bow to the person in front of us and sit on the cushion facing the center of the temple.

The monk sat at the alter in the center of the room and lead a chant. I sat patiently listening while those who knew the chant already recited it with him. The vibrations and tones in the chanting soothes the mind and brings our bodies into harmony. Once the chant was over, we stood up and faced the cushion we sat on so we could once again round it out to its original shape and return it to the closet for next time.

As we prepared to leave the room, we approached the alter one by one. The gentleman in front of me kindly explained to bow first, then take a pinch of some of the powder in the bowl, bring it to your forehead and sprinkle it on the incense stick in the bowl. Then bow again before leaving.

Next was a simple, yet delicious zen meal. Which I’ll explain in my next post.

I hope reading this brought you some peace and relaxation, just as this whole experience did for me!

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