[From September Issue 2010]
In 1253, when Kamakura (present day Kamakura City) was still Japan’s capital, the Kenchoji Temple of the Rinzai school of Zen was founded. “Zen,” which teaches universal acceptance, arrived from China and spread across Japan. TAKAI Shoushun, Kenchoji’s present Chief Priest, considers that, as one of its functions, the temple must spread the message of Zen to the world. With that goal in mind, he is offering “zazen-kai” (a Zen meditational retreat) in English for non-Japanese.
Takai says that “Zazen-kai for non-Japanese,” which started last April, is held once every three months. He adds that “Kamakura is a historical city and there are many temples and other things to see. It is also rich in nature with the Bay of Sagami and the surrounding mountains. It is a popular sightseeing spot not only among Japanese, but also among non-Japanese tourists. If you are coming to Kamakura, I strongly suggest that you experience zazen.”
The zazen practice is lead by three priests from different temples who are all fluent in English. FUJIO Soin, a priest from Dokuonji Temple, Yokosuka City is one of them. With previous experience working as a banker in New York and several other foreign cities, he says that “the explanation is made in English but the message is the same as in Japanese. The guests easily understand it since the desire to look within oneself is universal.”
Although the basic posture is to sit cross-legged on the floor, seats are available for those who want, or need them. A 15-minute set is repeated three times. The proper breathing and gaze are explained in detail. Then, during the breaks, participants can stand up and walk around to cure the numbness in their legs. After meditating, participants all chant the sutra (hannya shingyo) together, which is written in romaji. Lastly, tea and confectioneries are served while the guests chat with the priest.
Reservations can be made via fax. Last minute applications made on the same day are also accepted. A reception starts at 1 pm followed by Zazen-kai at 1:30 pm with the entire course finishing around 3:30 pm. The participation fee is 1,000 yen plus 300 yen to enter the temple. While everyone leaves the temple satisfied, Takai has greater aspirations: “We need to do more advertising. If the number of participants grows, we would gladly make it a monthly event.”
So far, Kenchoji has practiced zazen with people from many foreign organizations. People of all nationalities and occupations, including managers of Western companies, psychology counselors, and research groups from the United Nations University, have all had firsthand Zen experience. Even Fujio has been lecturing at these retreats for ten years. Takai concluded by saying that “Zen Buddhism lies at the heart of Japanese culture. So through this Zen experience, I hope that Japan’s qualities will be better understood by more people from other countries.”