Before the forty minutes of Zazen that was the prelude to bedtime, it was time to take a bath. As the time switched from women to men, my friend kindly pointed me in the right direction.
As I entered, a monk had come in also. Through a series of gestures and bad Japanese and English, I still managed to misunderstand that the washroom was designed for two and he meant we would be going in together. This point landed home as I turned around to see a nude man casual enter the room. this wasn’t my first time in a communal bathing situation but it was my first time being surprised by it.
Upon entering the bath we sat only a couple feet apart. Things may have been awkward if we didn’t end up laughing about our inability to speak each other’s language effectively and stumbled over words to explain how we ended up in this monastery.
The second day started much like the first one. We woke up and did Zazen, ate breakfast and performed morning service. This day, however, was a little different as the Abbot asked me to help him and another worker lay down some new grass for the front of the temple. With my limited Japanese my conversation with the worker was very limited to motions informing me that if I saw a caterpillar, to rip it in half.
The Abbott took this chance to express that he didn’t feel my stay there was long enough and that I should not just stay for longer but leave school and live there. That conversation didn’t last very long, but I appreciated the compliment behind it. It’s always nice to have an option to come back regardless.
After I had finished, the day went on just as the others did and during free time I climbed around the old dirty mountain pathways.
On the final day there, I still continued to avoid seiza as much as possible, and continued to be amazed at how much I was okay with the food. This day there was an event happening and we all headed out to the Abbott’s home monastery, where he grew up.
The monastery was very nice and as we arrived all the monks and nuns went out to do chanting. as they left I was charged with staying with the only person that lived there, and elderly woman, whom was not to thrilled it seemed in having me there. I suppose this came from my lack of Japanese and the fact that I was supposed to help her in the kitchen. Despite having worked many food-related jobs and cooking back in the states, I let her give me her tutorial on how she likes to wash dishes. I have come to find out that many times in Japan there is a set way to do things and that’s just the way it is.
The woman appeared cold and only concerned with dealing with the Abbott, but we finally finished making the egg salad sandwiches, and other small snacks and waited for everyone to return.
I got another moment with the Abbott in which I used my time to ask him about the moon designs I had been noticing on small pillars around temples. His reply, however, was, “What is ten moons, 1,000 moons, 10,000 moons. Do you understand?” He then walked away and the elderly women simply looked at me with a smile and said, “That’s Zen.”
One moment stood out to me in particular though. I stood outside taking pictures as everyone was returning and we had finished preparing the meal. The elderly woman opened a window and called out my name. As I responded she said, “Will you please come in and eat.” it was the first time she had seemed welcoming all day. that marked a subtle change in the rest of the experiences.
As everyone returned it was the first time we had eaten a meal together where people were smiling and seemed to have a good time with a few laughs.
We arrived back at the monastery just in time for nighttime meditation.
As my experience came to a close, I found myself staring out into the night sky and then reading a book on Zen in the small light of my room. It was a moment I could only describe as serene.
I enjoyed the day to day practice of Zen, however, I was not a fan of Zazen. I did not feel that it was more beneficial than meditating on ideas and the self as opposed to losing the self. However, as I have continued to sit Zazen outside of the monastery. I have come to enjoy it more and more. my blood pressure has even gone down, which has been to the delight of some of my concerned friends.
Buddhism still interests me and I continue to read about it and learn more. I appreciate the life that monks and nuns, who live in monasteries lead but I know that it is not the life for me. perhaps a visit for a few days, but regardless of if I decide to walk a more Buddhist path in life or not, my place is out here in this world.