Thursday, November 24, 2011

Japan Day 4: Zen Meditation in Kamakura

Blog Entry #53: Japan Day 4: Zen Meditation in Kamakura

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday morning commuters in Tokyo
Monday morning in Tokyo saw us start off with a traditional Japanese breakfast of green tea, fish and tofu soup with Risa and her mom, and then a reimmersion into the Tokyo subway and train system at rush hour to make our way to Yokohama where the ship had docked the night before.  The Japanese train and subway systems truly are amazing, landing us within a few blocks of the harbor and an easy walk to the new, modern port terminal.
Engaku-ji Temple grounds in Kamakura
Fall Leaves in Temple gate
I had an FDP trip leaving at noon that day, so we had just enough time to unpack and shower before I headed out again (Pat’s back had seized up our last day in Hiroshima, so he stayed on ship to nurture it a bit).  I headed to the nearby city of Kamakura with 22 shipmates and two guides from the Kanagawa Systematized Goodwill Guide Club (picture retired Japanese Rotarians) to visit a Zen Buddhist temple and participate in zazen – Zen Buddhist seated meditation.
Gate into the Engaku-ji Zen Temple
Our train deposited us directly in front of Engaku-ji, one of the five main Rinzai Zen Temples in Kamakura, dating to 1282.  Set in and among groves of tall cedar trees, the grounds are beautifully maintained and one feels far from the rush of Tokyo and Yokohama when you step through the gates.
Engaku-ji Temple in Kamakura

[It was here that I had one of my more comical moments in a Japanese temple.  Noticing a small vertical sign near the Buddha in one of the side temples that had lovely Japanese calligraphy, I asked our guide what it meant.  “Do not climb on the railing” she replied.  So much for a profound message from the Buddha!]
Archers at the Engaku-ji Temple

As we were leaving the Temple grounds to walk to the monastery, three of the monks were doing a session of traditional archery.  It was fascinating to watch the careful attention to each step of the process, a very deliberate step-by-step process that was later mired in the tea ceremony we participated in.
Preparing the Tea Ceremony
Altar for Tea Ceremony
Buddhist Monk at Zazen Meditation
Room for zazen meditation
From here we walked along the railroad line until we came to a nearby Buddhist monastery with carefully tended grounds.  We entered the monastery buildings where our hosts first took us through a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, explaining how it had evolved as part of the Buddhist mediation process as a way to keep the monks away through the long hours of zazen.  Then one of the monks from the monastery took us through about 30 minutes of zazen – sitting meditation, explaining the process ahead of time, and then leading us through it.  Despite the growing protest of my achy knees (and lack of yoga practice for several months), it was amazingly calming to sit together for meditation practice.

Following the zazen meditation, we had the chance to walk through the beautiful garden grounds of the monastery where several workers were meticulously pruning the trees -- giving the same, careful deliberate attention to each pine needle that we had seen in the archery practice and the tea ceremony.  The rich blend of Buddhism, Shinto and Confucianism seem to infuse each of these traditional arts, reflecting in a rich, simple harmony in each setting.
We made it back to the ship by 6:00 pm – in time to join Pat for another lovely dinner on the deck with the Yokohama skyline behind us.

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