In 2005 I was witness to the training going on here at Eiheiji. We, the late Iain Robinson and I were escorted everywhere and left in no doubt as to where and what was expected of us. Interesting, informative, educational and stressful! The highlight for me was being invited to offer incense at the main altar during Morning Service. All very formal, we survived! Thought readers would want to view this ‘window’ on how young monks are trained to be priests in Japan.
Eiheiji is a world-famous Zen monastery located in the mountains 200 kilometers northeast of Kyoto. As the temple’s founder Dogen prescribed, the core practice is zazen: simply sitting to calm the mind and examine one’s self. Most of the 150 monks are in their 20’s. They live at the temple, devoting themselves to uninterrupted Zen practice. With unprecedented access inside this remarkable temple, where Dogen’s teachings have been practiced unchanged for over 770 years, the program follows the monks’ lives over the course of 6 months.
First published May 11, 2005. Reading this now I am amazed all over again at where (the late) Iain Robinson and I found ourselves while in China. Being in the abbots quarters at Tiantong Temple where Zen Master Dogen met with his master and then next morning being the first female, ever, to enter the dining room at Tiantong were moments never to be forgotten. Under categories in the left hand side bar you will find Pilgramage 2005 where you can find all the posts and photographs from that East Asia trip.
Five days after arriving in Shanghai I am just about getting the hang of it all. It would take more time than I have at the moment to communicate what has happened these past days…and perhaps it is not possible to adequately convey to you. There will be photos so you will get a sense of what things look like.
From what I have seen and picked up from talking to monks and others along the way Buddhism is alive and well and growing. We were very fortunate to stay one night at Tiantong Temple near Ningbo, Zhejiang where Zen Master Dogen came to practice in the 12th Century. We joined in the daily practice with the 100 plus male monks, met the Abbot and even joined a formal breakfast. Doing that was a first for a female western monk, and probably a first for a male western lay person too. You should have heard the silent gasp as we walked in!
We were very fortunate to be traveling along with a novice monk from the Tiantong Temple for three days while we have been here. He escorted us to Puto Shan which is an island one hour ferry ride from the mainland and a major pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists. Ru Xian Shi, the monk, was both an inspiration and a doorway into a China we would not otherwise have known.
There is much to say about these days however I see the clock ticking away. Today we travel by bus, the train line having been closed, to our next destination. Thankfully Ru Xian has written our hotel name in Chinese script as well as instructions to taxi drivers to get us to the bus station here in Ningbo. It cannot be over stated how difficult it can be to travel in China when you don’t speak or write the language.
Wind, water, sky – together.
Back in 2005 when I was about to fly to East Asia on Pilgrimage I wrote a poem on a scrap of paper while out walking in Vancouver, Canada. The underlying message behind what I wrote was let go and trust – continuously. When in mental, physical, emotional extremity, as I was then, basic teachings take on a renewed meaning, and urgency. During the trip my advice to myself proved in practical every-day ways to be both a life saver and a very good thing! Circumstances and conditions repeatedly came together in near miraculous ways and we, my traveling companion Iain and me, were ushered into places and meeting people it would not have been possible to plan for in advance. Travel stress was a constant and I guess trust/faith must have been there.
Over the next few days I’ll be revisiting and reflecting upon my poem with the spotlight shining on what it means in practical terms to let go. I speak of rising up in the poem implying a ‘place’ from which one moves. Sitting down perhaps? The keystone and well-spring of pilgrimage, daily living, is sitting still in the midst of it all. Meditation is present in the midst of living out our day, even within the seeming chaos most of us experience. One doesn’t need to travel or otherwise enter stressful circumstances to prove this true. Opportunities arise quite naturally!
Formal meditation is practiced in subdued lighting with the emphasis of turning ones attention inwards. Into the darken hall of ones mind/body. Sitting still, allowing the senses to still, we enter into a metaphorical darkness of unknowing by allowing the known to fade. This is however an illuminated darkness, bright aliveness of body and mind rises naturally – given half a chance. So, within compassion/acceptance for all that comes and goes, letting go and trusting is…about how it is.
The habit is to follow the arising and the passing. To entertain, wine and dine, thoughts, sensations, emotions, bright ideas, memories etc. It is enough to notice the arising and passing, simply noticing is the letting go. Noticing over and over again, the known fades in importance.
BTW. Iain didn’t get due credit for a number of the early posts from Japan which he wrote. Thank you Iain and thank you for making the trip possible.
As good fortune would have it I just received, via email, a link to an article on receiving the Buddhist Precepts. There is a lot of good teaching in it for those who have received lay ordination and those who have not, and may never do so. I should mention that we do not follow the practice of new aspirants sewing a rakusu (small kesa) and to not give a Buddhist name at the time of Jukai, (Ten Precepts Meeting). The teaching given in the article about the making a giving of the small kesa still stands very true though. Lay Ministers of our Order wear a blue/green small kesa which is made for them and given by a senior monk when they become lay ministers. Here is a photo so you can see what a small kesa looks like and to take you into the spring heat of China in May…
I’m wearing a small kesa. Iain Robinson who is a lay minister was not wearing his at the time. Taken this May during a visit to Tiantong Temple near Ningbo, Zhejiang where Zen Master Dogen came to practice in the 12th Century. That’s the Abbot and his mother in the middle with other relatives and attendants.
Looking back on early postings I realize that there is hardly a mention of the visit to this temple. Making postings while in China at all was quite a struggle though. Got anything to say Iain?