Saturday, 6 June 2009

Zazenkai in the morning

So it's zazenkai in the morning. There's a pretty decent Soto Zen temple close to my house which has been holding a Sunday morning sitting for many a year. No-one there speaks much English and my Japanese is weak, but we manage all the same. I can get basic instruction, but getting into the nitty-gritty of Buddhism is beyond our ability to communicate just yet.

I'll get up at around 5am, have some toast and rooibos tea and take my scooter on the ten minute ride to the temple. People start gathering very early. Yamada-san is a grisly, old dude who drives a 1970s English Mini. He'll be there from 5am reading his Japanese history books. There are a few older women who come and, in taking with traditional societies everywhere, will see to the tea and sandwiches while we men beat the drums and ring the bells. I'll mark the beginning of the zazenkal by striking a drum and bell. Afterwards, I mark the end with two others as we hit mopan (wooden plate gongs) and an umpan, or cloud gong, which is made of metal. I hit the umpan and it makes an almighty racket.

The monk who owns the temple spent two and a half years in Eiheiji Monastery in Fukui prefecture. For those who don't know it, it's a very prestigious Soto Zen monastery, founded by Dogen himself in the 13th century. They sit for 40 minutes there, so we sit for 40 minutes in our zazenkai. It's a long sit, and was especially so when the monk dozed off one morning and didn't wake until we'd been sitting for almost an hour. Even he had difficulty getting to his feet after that length of time. He freely admits he's not altogether up for being a monk, but inherited the temple and, therefore, became a monk as a matter of filial piety, i.e. respect for his parents and ancestors. Still, he enjoys the Sunday sitting and especially the coffee and sandwich session afterwards which can run on for a few hours.

I'll blog about tomorrow's zazenkai when I get back from it.

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