I rubbed my eyes blearily and looked at my watch.
I sighed disgustedly and then turned back onto my side to get a little more sleep. After studying until around 3, it seemed like the best answer on a Wednesday morning where all I had to do was go to class at 1pm.
After a little tossing and turning, and finally turning my AC down a little, I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up into 11 when I heard a knock at my door. I jolted up and ran to my door after throwing on my shirt and some pants, and upon opening it found Maryann waiting.
“What’s up?” I said, wiping my eyes.
“Where’s that Zazen thing today?” she asked. “Because I think I’m going to take the bus if its very far.”
Zazen? My mind woke up a little and then I remembered:
“Oh, it’s at Myoshinji. It’s literally right south of school. It should be easy to find, don’t worry.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I’ll look it up on the map. I’ll knock on your door if I have any questions or I want to take the bus, okay?”
After that, I proceeded to grab my towel and take a shower to wake myself up a little before going to Myoshinji temple and doing Zazen, which I’ve just realized that I’ve rudely neglected to explain to you.
Zazen is Zen meditation. Zazen, like most meditation, involves focusing and controlling one’s consciousness. However, unlike a many types of meditation, Zazen involves open eyes, because it promotes Alpha-wave functions in meditation which are intentionally suppressed in other forms of meditation.
Back to the story, though, this was part of our Japanese culture class, which had split us up into three groups: one going to OMRON, an electronics company, another going to Sado, the tradition Japanese Tea Ceremony, and, finally, another going to Zazen.
After a quick shower and gathering up my camera and other necessities, I embarked to my destination, which was only a couple of bus stops away. After a couple of minutes, everyone began to gather and then finally the teacher came and rounded us up into a group and led us into the temple itself.
If you have a view of Buddhist temples as being one building, you’re sadly mistaken. Most temples, at least in Japan, are rather large complexes of buildings in which people live out their everyday lives in addition to buildings in which the specifics of Buddhism are performed. Myoshinji is no different, and, after walking around for about 20 minutes in the hot Japanese sun, our teacher announced to us that we were lost and she’d be finding someone to lead us to our destination.
After waiting another five minutes, she returned with an elderly man who kindly pointed us in the right direction. At this point, we were drenched in sweat and thankful for the house we were apparently being led to.
After taking off our shoes and laying our bags down, we entered a large room with mats and pillows to sit on, and we were instructed how to sit for meditation. The monk in charge assured us that if we were uncomfortable, they would be happy to let us use chairs if we needed them.
Partly because of pride, no one accepted this kind offer, although when I questioned my friends later, they all complained about how hard it was to sit during the meditation and not how hard the meditation itself was.
Settled in, the monk gave us a brief description of how we were to take natural breaths and let our stomach rise and fall with our breathing as we focused our consciousness behind our navels and tried to push thoughts from our minds.
At this point I was doing well. I looked out towards the center of the straw mats in the room and started to meditate as best I could until I realized, to my chagrin, that my leg was killing me. The monk had already warned us against moving, as it would disrupt our own meditation as well as others, so I bade my time excruciatingly and waited until the loud claps and bell chimes announcing the end of the session sounded.
I relaxed and let my legs regain their bloodflow for a little while until the monk started explaining that we were going to have a second session, this time with our eyes half-open in the style of Zazen, and it was at this point that he explained to us what I earlier explained to you: about the point of Zen meditation and the reason for its style.
This took a little longer than it should have, because although I could understand the gist of what the monk was saying most others couldn’t, and our student translator, as nice as she was, couldn’t for the life of her do a quick translation fo what the monk had said. So after about 2 minutes of consultation with our teacher after every senetence or two that he said, she explained it to us.
I really couldn’t compain, however, as my legs were finally starting to feel normal by the end of her series of explanations. Finally, we began our second session, which proved to be much harder than the first. For some reason, my legs hurt more this time than the first time, and as much as I’dve liked to focus on Mu, the void, I was focusing far more on the void of oxygen in my leg which was turning completely numb over a period of 30 minutes.
During this time, though, the monk moved about us and used a large stick to hit our shoulders if we wanted in order to help us focus more. Despite his saying beforehand that it woudn’t hurt, the first person to recieve a sound thwacking startled us all because of the volume of the said thwacking (seriously, it was loud). So, in addition to focusing on my poor leg, I was losing focus every minute or so because of an explosive sounding smack of a long stick against some person or another’s shoulders.
Finally, it came my turn to be smacked, so I bowed to the monk and then bowed deeply and held my breath as the stick came down on my shoulders.
You’d be surprised at how effective that was at refocusing my attention, but there was a problem: time was up.
We shared tea with the monk, and our translator struggled yet again with the finer points of Zen philosophy. However, I couldn’t help feeling I had had a rather good time despite my troubles and inwardly resolved to try it again except this time without the whole leg pain.