As mentioned below, this past weekend I visited the city of Sendai, about an hour and a half north of Tokyo on the bullet train. I always thought, since I'm in Japan, it would be good to try meditation, also known as Zazen. Sendai gave me the opportunity to do this, but not before getting advice from my interpreter, here the conversation we had over e-mail about Zazen, I thought it was kind of funny:
Me: I might try this:
Wikipedia: Rinno-ji Temple (輪王寺), 1-14-1 Kitayama, Aoba-ku. +81 22 234-5327 (bus: “Kitayama - Shiheimachi line,” get off at “Rinno-ji mae”). Zazen (meditation) meetings are held every Sa 6:30PM-8PM. Instruction is given in English and participation is free. Wear loose fitting clothing.
Interpreter: Zazen… I am not sure if you can stand it or not...
Me: That's a good point, what is Zazen? One second.
Wikipedia: Zazen (坐禅; Chinese zuò chán pinyin or tso-chan Wade-Giles) is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. The aim of zazen is just sitting, "opening the hand of thought". blah blah blah.
Me: Soooo, the aim of zazen is just sitting. I can do that.
Interpreter: It is not only sitting, but also you can't move. If you move yourself, you will get hit by some kind of wood bar on your shoulder. Sometimes it takes 1 hour
Me: I will hit that guy back, ask him to stop. How do you say "please stop smacking me in the head" in japanese?
Interpreter: あたま を たたかないでください But that is his job. You are not suppose move. He will smacking on your shoulder.
That conversation more or less convinced me to go, same as the bell below this was at Rinno-ji, here is the temple outside:Here is the temple inside, although meditation was not in this room. I was unable to take photos of the meditation room.And here is the temple donkey:I never got a clear answer what the donkey is for.
First of all, Wikipedia said classes are in english. This is far from the truth, no one spoke any English. We can also define some of the terms from the above conversation. 'some kind of wood bar' is a 3 foot long wooden stick about 1 wide and 1/4 thick. 'you can't move' is simply that, no movement, no noise. 'smacking on your shoulder' turns out is kind similar to how Barry Bonds smacks a ball out of Comerica park.
So I did not get hit in the shoulder, I was able to sit still, and it was really cool. There was about 40 people and during meditation and no sound. The only thing you heard was the monk walking around and birds. The donkey added an interesting dynamic, it made noise twice and it was difficult to keep focused when the donkey started acting up. Through out the hour, when ever there was an un-expected sound, it was quite jolting. The monks ended meditation by ringing a sharp sounding bell, that even caused me to jump a little bit beacuse I became so use to the quiet.
Someone did move though, once, about 25 minutes in. When this happen, you can hear stuff going on behind you, but in this room you are sitting on a tatami mat and facing the wall. You can only see the rice paper wall. I heard the person move, then the monk walking across the room the the sound of the stick slicing through the air, kind of like that of a golf club about to drive a ball. Then that sound quickly ended when the person who moved stopped the swing of the stick with their shoulder. Even worse, the monk made sure the person who moved knew he meant business by smacking that person 2 more times. This only reinforced that I could not turn around and look at what's going on. This event really scares you into peaceful meditation.
Overall it was a very good experience both mental and physically channelling. Although I did not reach the level of enlightenment I was hoping for.