Saturday, 29 May 2010

A strange sitting indeed.

I went to Eiheiji Nagoya Betsuin (永平寺名古屋別院) today in the hope that I could join their zazenkai, but I got the timing wrong, again, and there was no sitting. However, the monk at my usual temple told me that the zendo at Eiheiji Nagoya Betsuin is always open, so I asked if I could sit alone, but the monk I spoke to told me that I couldn't use the zendo and offered to let me sit in the hatto, the main temple. Well, I had arranged a meeting for two hours afterwards so I was happy to be able to sit, rather than find a coffee shop and sit around twiddling my thumbs, so I accepted the offer.

When I had first arrived I went to the small reception desk and rang the bell. A young monk in novice's  clothes came out to speak with me, and he was Eiheiji through and through. He immediately dropped to his knees on the raised tatami floor, did gassho and prostrated himself with the elegance and softness I have only seen of monks in Eiheiji. I was a little surprised by it. I wasn't expecting to see it, but it brought back good memories. I asked if I could join the zazenkai, but he told me it wasn't on and then gracefully excused himself and returned with an older monk who was very pleasant, and seemed genuinely happy that a foreigner had appeared and was wanting to sit zazen. He offered to let me sit in the hatto and beckoned me to meet him there. 

I was wearing my motorcycle riding boots and pants with my samue under them, and when I stopped outside the temple to take off my boots and riding pants, and put on my samue top, the old monk and the novice appeared at the hondo door with a zafu for me. They were both a bit set aback seeing me in samue, and the older monk immediately asked me where else I sat. I told him about my weekly sitting and that I'd been to a sesshin in Eiheiji last year, and this entertained them both no end. They led me into the hatto and pointed me to a set of oshire doors (solid paper doors leading into a traditional Japanese cupboard) to the left of the main altar and told me that I could sit there. They gave me the zafu, did gassho and left. I set my phone timer for 30 minutes and placed it on the tatami along side the zafu. I got down on my knees, fluffed the zafu, stood, did gassho to the zafu, turned and did gassho to the room and then sat on the zafu and swung myself around to face the doors. Soon I was settled into a sitting.

It was a strange place for me to sit. Usually I sit in silence at home, in the temple and in the university zendo, but this place is in the centre of a major city with a four lane road outside its gate. The traffic noise is serious, but like all things constant, I soon stopped noticing it. I heard footsteps on the gravel outside and imagined that it was the monks moving around out there, but then I heard money being dropping into the wooden collection box at the big entrance to the hatto from outside and knew immediately that lay-people or tourists (most probably the former) were there. I could hear a man and woman's voices and I knew that I was completely within their view. It must have made a strange sight indeed, a foreigner meditating in the hatto. I felt uncomfortable about it to begin with, but I just focused my mind on my breath and let the thoughts fade away. After 30 minutes my timer sounded and I rose to do kinhin for a few minutes, and then I got back onto the zafu for a further 30 minutes. 

After a while I could hear someone in the hatto walking behind me. They came and went, but soon they returned and I could hear someone at the altar making preparations. I knew that they would not have done that unless they had to. I was in the way. They wouldn't have disturbed me otherwise. Sure enough I got up, turned around and two young monks were in cermonial robes, and they were getting the place ready for something. I did gassho, thanked them for allowing me to sit and left the hatto. As I turned at the door to bow, I could see several young monks gathered behind the altar, ready to come into the main hall, so I had indeed been holding them back.

I stopped at the reception to thank the older monk, who really was the loveliest man. He put me straight on the schedule and invited me to return next Saturday for the zazenkai. I'm very much looking forward to it, but right now, I must wash and go to bed because I've got zazenkai at my temple in the morning and I must get up at 5am.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences here.
    Always love reading your updates.

  2. Hi Jordan. Thanks for visiting! Actually, I slept in this morning and didn't make my zazenkai. The kids had us awake very early so I slept through my alarm in the end. Well, sometimes sleep is better than zazen. Maybe I could get away with saying sleep is zazen?? Maybe not ......