Sunday, 18 May 2008

座禅 Zen Meditation

After trying guided meditation for a first time last month, I wanted to take my chances, while being in Japan, to experience a different kind of guided meditation. This time I took my friend from Germany and met with my friend 草柳さん Kusayanagi-san in Yokohama.

持寺 (総持寺) Souji Temple

Going from Yokohama to 鶴見 Tsurumi (2-3 stations away), you can find the Souji Temple near the Tsurumi University. According to Kusayanagi-san it is the biggest temple in Yokohama and might as well be the biggest temple in the larger Tokyo area. In any case the area was really huge and we partly had to walk for 5 minutes to get from one room to the next.

Tsurumi Univeristy

Therefore the view, the buildings and surroundings were really impressive. Also impressive was that the temple was actually included in the even larger complex of the Tusrumi University and some other schools like a elementary school and a culture school (In a culture school you can learn things like 茶道 Tea Ceremony, いけばな Ikebana, 折り紙 Origamu, or 書道 Calligraphy).

all pictures taken from Wikipedia

座禅 Zen Meditation

Zen meditation is entirely different from the Tibetan meditation, I have joined last time. Instead of an image to focus on you just have a wall in front of you having your back to the floor. Also instead of focusing on anything, you try to completely erase your mind and free your head of any thoughts. Therefore it is actually not advised to close your eyes completely, since then immediately a series of pictures and thoughts will come up your mind. Instead you keep them half open, starring at but basically ignoring the wall.
What is also very different, is that one monk will constantly walk behind your back and check people for movement. If somebody moves during the meditation, he will be hit with a whiplash. The sound of someone being hit is really scary and many times upon hearing somebody being hit, I winced. However being hit is actually not that painful, as I have been hit once. In the end I must admit I even found it very useful, as every whiplash sound reminded me of again thinking about things instead of emptying my mind.
The mediation was split into two parts with a short break in between. The time was either 40 minutes or two times 40 minutes. I really can't say, since I did not bring a watch and entirely lost track of time during meditation. This time I could hold a state of meditation longer and more easy than the last time. It was not throughout the process, but at least for longer periods in between and it felt quite exhilarating. I fear the guy with the whiplash really helped me relax in a weird kind of way. Of course at the beginning I was totally tense, but with time I realized that this extreme feeling of tense actually made it easier to become the tenseness altogether.

During the first half of the meditation there was also the sound of a broom being wept on the ground heard, yet Kusayanagi-san later explained me the sound was not related. Apart from the broom there were Gongs to announce the break and later when it was over. There was the guy walking around with the whiplash. Another guy poked me with a finger twice, or at least so I imagine. There was some wooden thing somebody hammered on. And some more sounds.
Having your eyes almost closed and unfocused on the wall not seeing where all these sounds come from, gave me quite another experience, while I was awake during meditation. It wrapped me into a completely new world of sounds which stimulated my imagination. It felt a bit like the virtual barber shop, role playing games and video game immersion. It was at least as fascinating as the meditation itself and sometimes really hard to get away from.

Other Kinds Of Meditation

掃除 Souji Cleaning
Kusayanagi-san later explained to me that the broom was actually part of another part of meditation for intermediates. In this meditation exercise you brush yourself into meditation while cleaning the floor.

料理 Cooking
In yet another exercise you exercise yourself in meditation while preparing a meal, as strange as it sounds.

茶道 Tea Ceremony
Also the tea ceremony can be seen as a kind of meditation.

唱歌 Chanting
Viktor finally told me, that in other kinds of Buddhism the normal form of meditation is by chanting.

In the end I guess it is good to gain some experience with different kinds of meditation to be able to pick one that suits you best. You can also take elements from different kinds and mix them together for your personal meditation.

教育 Education

Which surprised me was, that after the meditation we were lead into a great room, where a head monk of the temple held a lecture on primordial lifeforms to us. The lecture was partly taken from a Russian university scientist of Biology and Chemistry and extended by ideas about Zen Meditation (座禅 Zazen). The monk illustrated how similar we are still to this first life form, by still being more fluid than stiff. To illustrate his point he made one volunteer lie down and by moving one leg or arm his entire body was floating around the ground, just like the water filled plastic glove he showed us before.
He continued by showing some toys he bought from a 100Yen stores, that should further illustrate his points and then talked about society systems. He took the system of a "modern" state where the people try to control nature in contrast to people like the Inuit, who try to life together with nature. He then continued in saying the human body is just like the system between human and nature. And you can try to control the nature inside you or try to life in balance with it.

All in all it was a little hard for me to follow, since it was all in Japanese, but it was definitely interesting. He also told us that previous lectures where about vortices, the legend of Sisiphos, and many more seemingly unrelated things, which he apparently still always related to Zen in the end. It also surprised me that the monks appear to work together with the university nearby, as well as professors as far away as Russian. The monk also was perfectly fluent in English and showed a deep understanding of what he was talking about (this time biology and chemistry). This openness and curiosity towards science is quite cool and very different to what you can find in Christianity and Islam. (Although also monasteries in Europe were the centers of science during the Dark Ages).

総持寺の情報 Temple Information

Because of these fluent English abilities, the temple also offers introductions into the Zen meditation in English:
Of course if you are capable of understanding Japanese, you can also join the Japanese lesson at 12:30:

You can easily find the temple when asking or searching for the 鶴見大学 Tsurumi University in Tsurumi near Yokohama, but the site of the temple also offers an access map:

Meditation is a truly great way to enrich your life, go ahead and try it!

all pictures taken from Wikipedia.


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Vilwarin said...

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