meidos: (misc * lurk)
mあddy ([personal profile] meidos) wrote2012-04-02 08:47 pm
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on zen

So I was in the Catskills at the end of my spring break! Up there, I was at a Zen Buddhism monastery doing an "Intro to Zen" weekend with a class from my school on Japanese Culture through Food. Here's a report on my trip!

Warning: Image-heavy, as the area was very beautiful. I did my best to resize, but if you want a bigger photo, ask away.

We left at 11 am on Thursday and drove up to the mountains, and on the way, I took many photos as we got closer. We pulled off the main road and that road became a dirt road... all in all, it was a single stretch of road with a small stream on one side and rolling mountains on the other for most of the part. Every now and then we'd see houses. There was no reception at all, and maybe one phone wire that we could see.

 
 
 



We finally pulled into the gate and were met with... more road to travel through! It was about half an hour from the gate to the main building.

 
 

The first thing we saw when we got to the physical monastery was a damn huge lake. It was scenic and silent, and the monks let us know early on that anything said across the lake could easily be heard within the monastery. We found this to be true.

 

They took us to our rooms so we could dump our things. It wasn't anything extravagant, as expected of a monastery - just a bed, a lamp, and a table.

 

Apparently I lucked out in getting a painting.

 
The view was enough of a painting, really...

 
The Buddha Room, I think it was called. We came in here for a few meetings and more formal sitting sessions.

 
The engawa, which was my favorite area.

 
I don't know what this room was called, but it was right in front of the zendo. Nothing in it, it simply looked out to the engawa.

 
We were taken to get our robes (which I pose for here), and wore them over our normal clothes during formal ceremonies (meditation and meals, mostly)

And now some photos of the monastery from the outside.
   

After getting settled we had a few hours to kill, so my classmates and I decided to take a walk around the lake. We were told it would take around forty minutes, and were still waiting on our professor and other students, so we decided to go for it.

 
 
 
 
 
There were a lot of Canadian geese.
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Interestingly, this rock was jutting out from the tree... or perhaps the tree was growing around the rock? Either way, it was cool.
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 


We went back to the monastery and had a quick tour, were taught how to eat in the proper way (which I'll build on later in this entry), and then we did our first zazen.

 
 
 


Zazen is basically meditation. You sit still for 45 minutes at a time and don't think of anything... is what they told us to do. I, for one, can hardly sit still for ten minutes, let alone forty five, so it was torture. You sat either in seiza (legs under your ass) or cross-legged (not as easy as it sounds). We had pillows and such, but really, they didn't help all that much. I think I managed one good zazen period while I was there, and that was because I just forced myself to ignore the pain in my legs that were tingling from having fallen asleep... other times I fell asleep.

We had zazen four times a day, between when we woke up at 5:30 and when we went to bed at 9. It was my absolutely least favorite part of the trip, ahahahh.

The second day, we begun chores. That day, I did wood chopping and... picked up leaves by hand in the engawa since the grass was too delicate to use a rake on. Yeah. I didn't mind the wood chopping very much (it was for a purpose, since the zendo is heated by a furnace and there was a mechanical chopper) but the leaves killed my back and I found it utterly useless to do.

 
These were the logs we chopped up, though.


The next day, though, I was on cleaning crew, which was awesome (if you know me, you know I like cleaning). I was sent to do floor cleaning, which was done in the "traditional way," they told me, AKA the way Chihiro did it in Spirited Away.

 

This was one of the halls (along the meditation room) I ran up and down to clean. /pose

Oh, I can talk about eating now. The food was amazing. I also adored the way we ate it, even if it was seated on cushions like we were in zazen. 

 
The bowls were like this behind us in the meditation room, and we opened them to find...
 
Three bowls! And chopsticks in the tan rectangle on the right. Three different foodstuffs would come down the table at the beginning of the meal and we would take them into each bowl, one by one. We were "teamed" in a way with whoever sat directly across from us at the long tables where we ate, and would bow and slide the food down, bow with our hands pressed together if we planned to take food, or hands on our knees if we didn't want any. It was done all in complete silence except for sutra reading at the beginning, and I loved the silent aspect. I always feel pressured to chat with whoever I'm eating with, and since I knew none of the monks I ate with, I wasn't looking forward to awkward chatter. The silence was nice, and so much can be said with simple eye movements and hand motions instead.

We had a few workshops, such as a tea ceremony that was a lot of fun to watch and... surprisingly delicious (not the tea, but the sweet that came with it -- manju, I believe). The tea master was a very skilled, tiny old Japanese woman with an assistant student who was so adorable and sweet and had the kindest smile as she gave me the tea. It was really amazing -- the class I came to the zendo with had been studying tea ceremony for a bit, so seeing one and participating in one was really something. If I go to Japan next year, I'd like to try to learn what I can about it.

We also had a short meeting about haiku, which I seemed to be the only one excited about (I really like haiku). It was instructed by the head abbot, who was a really remarkable older woman, and the first ever female zen head abbot in the world. ...Also, she had an absolutely adorable dog who was the most well-behaved dog in the entire world. It only barked once, and it was while she was away from her master. So cute.

 
My friend also wrote a haiku about her (who we dubbed the zendog -- zendo dog).
 
Accurate.

The last morning, we were woken at 4:30 am and went to do zazen, but then were taken to the Buddha room not long after. We did a chant for so long, repeating it nearly thirty times, maybe. I didn't even try to keep track. As the repetitions increased, the monks said it louder and more forcefully, and finally, all of a sudden, all screamed out MU. The thing about the sutras is that they're in Sino-Japanese -- Chinese characters read with the Japanese pronunciation. It was a little interesting to know the reading from what we knew and pick apart the basic meaning of the sutra, but most of the time, I was lost. I did, though, know what mu meant -- 無, nothingness. It terrified me so much, and my vision even blacked out for a split second coupled with how tired I was and how shocking the sound hit me. I'll likely not forget that.

...Anyway. Here's some final photos. There's a lot more I could say about the monastery, such as it's "tradition" and the people it was made up of and my opinion of that coupled with what they said to us, but really, that's just stuff I talked about in my class, so who cares here. I hope my recap was fun to read, ahaha.

 
 
Library room.
 
 
Where we had a midday snack one day.
 
 
Rock... garden? Uh.
 
And a photograph hanging in my room. (Not a photo of the monastery grounds, haha).

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