Zen experience at Eiheiji temple

Friday 27/10

By Ludivine:

Réveil à 5:50 à Naoshima. Pendant que tout le monde s’apprête, je vais plonger dans l’eau glaciale de la mer pour deux minutes. Le ferry part de Naoshima à 6:40 en route pour Uno! De là, on roule 6-7 heures jusqu’au temple Eiheiji, en s’arrêtant pour des pauses et un MacDo. Le temple est ma-gni-fique. Il a un genre hyper zen et calmant. On arrive dans notre chambre, dépose nos affaires, et les parents visitent le temple pendant que nous, les enfants, allons voir les magasins souvenirs. On rentre au temple et s’apprête à aller manger le souper, à 17:30! Comme nourriture servie: 6-7 plats japonais presque tous immangeables! Pourtant, les parents et moi avons TOUT mangé (en difficulté). On a même mangé un cube de riz en substance de gel hyper hyper hyper dégoûtant (tellement mauvais que Jules et Florence ne l’ont même pas touché!). Juste après: Zazen, méditation avec les jambes en lotus face à un mur pendant 40 minutes. D’abord le guide nous explique la position et toutes les règles de zazen et puis on commence. Les premières minutes vont bien, mais après, je ne sentais plus mes jambes. Après la plus longue demi-heure de ma vie, on va prendre un bain, comme à Naoshima, avec les autres filles de notre groupe. Dans le bain, j’ai mis ma tête en dessus de l’eau pour me rincer et mes cheveux se sont fait aspirer par un jet! Ma tête était coincée en dessus de l’eau et pendant 3 secondes, j’ai cru que j’allais mourir. Je ne pouvais plus respirer alors avec un grand coup, j’ai tiré ma tête hors du jet, en arrachant plein de cheveux avec et je suis remonté à la surface. Après cette événement, on est remonté à la chambre et s’est préparé pour aller dormir malgré qu’il était 20:30. À 21:15 on s’est endormi car demain, réveil à 4!


By me:

We take the ferry at 6:40am and arrive at 7am in Uno

The gps of the car mentions an arrival at our destination at 1:30pm. It’s ok because we have an appointment at 2pm, at Eiheiji Temple. But it still means that it will take us 6h30 to make 400km!

The traffic is heavy this morning. They don’t seem to know what ‘rings’ (highways around the cities) are, in Japan.

No more traffic after Okayama. The road is nice; mountainous landscape with many tunnels.

We buy breakfast at a 7 Eleven.

For lunch, we go to Mc Donald’s. We are a bit afraid of the food that we’re going to receive in the monastery…

I indeed booked (long time ago) a 24-hour zazen experience at the Eiheiji temple. Zazen is a meditative discipline.

Eiheiji, the “Temple of Eternal Peace”, is one of Soto Zen’s two head temples. It is located in the mountains near the west coast of Japan, not far from Fukui City. It was founded by the great Zen master Dogen zenji (in the 13th century) whose authentic Zen has been scrupulously observed by his successors. Up to today, both priests and lay people devote themselves to his practice of Shikantaza (“just sitting”).

It’s one of the most important Zen temples in the world; there are 150 monks living in the temple. The priests in training practice zazen in a hall (Sodo) lined with platforms on which are tatami mats. Each priest-trainee has just one tatami mat, about 1 by 2 meters, on which to do zazen, eat, and sleep. Not only zazen, but eating and sleeping as well are performed as religious practices. Talking or reading thus is never allowed here.

Normally they don’t accept children below 18 for this experience, so I had to insist and to say that they are used to meditation (which is not really true…).

We arrive exactly at 2pm. Our guide (or rather the interpreter, who is mandatory in order to participate in this experience) is waiting for us. The temple is a palpably spiritual place amid mountains, mosses and ancient cedars.

We have a nice family room (we start getting used to it) with futons on tatami mats on the floor (we also start getting used to them…).

We do a tour of the temple (just the 2 of us, Isabelle and I).

We have diner at 5:30pm! Vegetarian of course. We have to recite Sutra at the beginning of the meal (and at the end). The kids have some difficulty to eat the served food (ready, on a tray, in front of us) but Ludivine makes a huge effort and finishes everything. We are encouraged to eat at the same pace as the other people. We cannot talk during the meals. We need to keep some tea in our cup in order to clean our chopsticks at the end of the meal (and drink the remaining tea afterwards).

At 6:20pm we have our Zazen session. Before the session, the monk gives us a brief introduction about the position of the hands, how to enter the hall, arriving at our seat, the sitting position itself (full lotus or half lotus), how to hold our hands, the posture, the eyes direction, the initial swaying of the body (to find the straight and proper sitting position). We receive a small brochure ‘The Practice of Zazen’ (http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/). Once in position, we do not need to concentrate on any particular object or try to control our thoughts. When we maintain the proper position and our breathing settles down, our mind is supposed to naturally become tranquil… It’s quite tough for the whole family to keep our position for 40’!

One thing impressed the kids very much: the stick (kyosaku). If you are drowsy of are daydreaming, you can asked one monk to be struck by the kyosaku. Our guide did ask and just the noise of the kyosaky hitting her right shoulder refrains us from even thinking of asking such “encouragement”…

We then watch a DVD explaining the monks’ life in this temple during a full year. Interesting.

It’s time for the bath. Jules and I have the bath for ourselves (after the 4 Japanese leave).

In the room, each of us summarizes her/his feelings about the experience (we even record them). It’s interesting to hear from each of us the thing(s) that most struck her/him.

Lights extinction at 9pm.


Saturday 28/10 (1/2)

From Florence:

We woke up at 4am today to have a dharma talk with a monk. He explained how he lived with the monks and about Buddhism. He would talk in Japanese and outlet guide would translate it for us to understand. It was interesting but I was kind of falling asleep. After the dharma talk, we went to another room for the morning service. It was freezing cold in that room! We were sitting in two rows on the side and we were watching the monks sing and talk and pray. We weren’t allowed to talk or laugh or anything. There was 2 times were we stood up to go and burn ashes for our ancestors. The morning service was about 1h long. While going back to eat breakfast, the monk gave us a small tour of the temple and explained some stuff. When we finished, we went and ate breakfast. Yay… We walked in the room and we saw about 7 dishes and only one looked appetizing: the rice. I tried to eat everything but some of the stuff I really couldn’t swallow. At the end of the breakfast, while we were going out of the room, we passed by a table and they gave us an envelope and a small book in what the monks read in for their morning service. Inside the envelope was a little book about someone becoming a monk and a brochure about the temple. Everything was in Japanese thought. We went back to our room and started packing to leave the temple. We took everything downstairs to get ready to put it in the car.


From me:

We wake up at 4am to attend the Dharma talk at 4:30am. We must first clear the futons in the room.

A Dharma talk is a discourse on Buddhism by a Buddhist teacher. The experienced monk tells us that teaching and eating haven’t changed for 770 years in this temple. ‘Lead your daily life carefully’: this is the essence of the teaching of this kind of Buddhism.

We then attend the morning service for the monks (1h). We must wear white socks. It’s rather impressive to attend this one-hour service. At a certain point of time, all the monks stand up and recite sutras while walking. The sutras are collections of Shakyamuni Buddha’s sermons (his words have absolute authority). It’s rather cold and despite our warm outfits (kids even put their woolly hats) we are a bit cold.

We (re)do the tour of temple.

We take a breakfast, following the same rules as yesterday evening.

We leave around 9am.

It was an inspiring experience for the family, a bit shot to really experience any kind of change of course but it gives us a very interesting insight of the life of these monks and their meditative life.

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