Last Sunday I went to Shoganji Zen temple for a week's meditation. I was worried that the harmony I've been feeling here in Japan would quickly vanish when back in Gothenburg again, and wanted to find a way to make that feeling of harmony stronger. And it sounded pretty cool to stay at a Buddhist temple, maybe cook some Japanese food with the monk there, get to know him a little. As it would turn out, cool was it exactly what it was.
I took a train from Beppu to the little seaside village of Kozaki. There were some westerners on the train and it was fun to think about who else might be interested in such a temple stay. Well, I was the only one to get off at Kozaki. Jiho, the monk, came to pick me up in his car. He drove like a car thief, an Italian one at that! Reality-prejudice 1-0. Jiho's father built the temple as a part of the family's house, and now Jiho lives there with his 96-year old mum. They take paying guests as a way to keep running the temple (no contributions from the government), and I think also because they really like to meet new people. Jiho is probably about 70 but he looks a lot younger and is very slim and strong. The mother (I never caught her name) loves cooking, Korean soaps and baseball. She'd spend hours cooking lunch and although I kept offering to help I was only ever allowed to do very little things for which she thanked me profusely.
Jiho had a ceremony at a family's home that afternoon and invited me to come along (I was the only guest). They're used to me taking guests along, he said. We drive off to a family and Jiho held a short ceremony in memory of a deceased relative. The family then invited Jiho and me to dinner. They were very hospitable and friendly but it was pretty awkward to eat their food and drink their beer! But saying no thanks wasn't an option.
Jiho gave me some texts to study and the next morning he woke me up for a chanting service at 05.30 followed by an hour and half of meditation. The night was very cold and it was two degrees in the temple hall (indoors) when the service started. Jiho chanted so quickly that even if I had wanted to participate there was no way. Then he turned out the light, put some incense burning and we settled in to meditate. I had bought a big winter jacket Michelin man style a.k.a. my meditation jacket in Beppu. It wasn't enough. I've been out hunting many cold mornings, but I think the adrenalin of the hunt keeps one warm then. I could have used some of that adrenalin now! After an hour Jiho stood up and said it is very cold today, let's finish early and go have some tea. Music to a frozen man's ears!
The rest of the day was supposed to be samu, helping out around the temple doing chores or whatever needs to be done, cooking and some free time in the afternoon. Jiho suggested making a fire in the garden. Great idea! Jiho was very surprised that I could make a fire and sustain it. I guess most of their guests at Shoganji are stressed out city folks who come as much for the "retreat" as for the spiritual side. We finished all the day's work before lunch, then enjoyed our lunch a lot. "Breakfast is poison" says Jiho and I followed his advice; we just drank water before lunch. We compensated a bit by having a really big lunch. His mother had cooked many delicious local dishes that were new to me. In the afternoon we relaxed, went to an onsen (fortunately the roads weren't slippery!!), and for dinner Jiho brought out a small bottle of sake. He had many interesting stories of other guests and their pursuits.
But there weren't so many spiritual discussions. Jiho said that Zen Buddhists feel that it is up to each individual to find their own path in life. He wasn't so keen on giving guidance or addressing specific issues. I think he also felt a little ashamed that he didn't speak better English. But he was a very nice man and I enjoyed spending time with him.
The house was very cold. Japanese houses are very bad, said Jiho, and I haven't found any reason to disagree. I'm sure the sliding doors and windows are very nice in spring and summer but they're terrible in winter! They probably don't have a lot of insulation in the walls or floors either. If I put the heating fan in my room to 20 degrees it didn't get to more than ten at the other end of the room and the floors never warmed up. Jiho later said that it was unusually cold for Kozaki.
The next day it was raining hard and wasn't much warmer than the day before. Jiho went off on official duties at nine and was out until one. There wasn't much to do. And it was so cold. Yes, Sweden can be much colder, but we have good houses and it's WARM indoors even in winter! That afternoon Jiho drove me back to the train station.
Shoganji is probably a great place to stay when it's warmer and when there are other people there (most of the year). It's probably a fantastic place to calm down and definitely a great get-away-from-it-all.
I didn't learn to meditate. But I think I found what I was looking for. In Zen Buddhism, Meditation is part of the eightfold path to a proper life. I have been completely useless at giving myself time to unwind. I never sit down and do nothing. I don't digest, think about what's happened during the day. These last few years I couldn't bring myself to just listen to music even for an hour; I always had to do something else at the same time. Jiho says this is poison. Zen Buddhism teaches that one of the purposes of meditation is to find one's true self, and that without meditation one will never manage this. One can never find harmony is one does not allow oneself the time to be still.
The other thing that resonated with me from the eightfold path was the Right Livelihood. A part of that is that your thoughts, speech and actions should be aligned. If you keep saying and doing things that go against your thoughts or your beliefs, you cannot find harmony. Guilty as charged. I'll try to stand up more for what I believe in and think more about what I say and do.
It'll be a test to come back to Gothenburg for sure, but I feel a lot stronger after Shoganji. Bring it on, SSPA!
So, I took a train back to Beppu and went back to the fantastic little Miyukiya guesthouse. I spent three days getting cold walking around Kannawa Onsen, then finding an onsen to warm up, finding a place to eat, walking around, and so on. Very relaxing! I'll put some photos from Beppu, Shoganji, Fukuoka here soon!
Right now it's Friday afternoon here, I'm back in Hiroshima for the third time and am just about to go meet my friends Denis and Marta at the airport. It'll be great to see them again and to have some fun, English-speaking company!!