The weather, which has been hot and humid seems to have turned, it’s cool and breezy this morning as I sit outside to write. We are staying at Shunko-in, in the temple complex at Myōshin-ji. Instruction is in English here, we had a short session yesterday, and will have a longer one this morning.
From Myōshin-ji, we went to Tenryu-ji – Temple of the Heavenly Dragon – a 14th century temple founded by Ashikaga Takauji, who also founded the Moss Temple (Saihō-ji) which we visited later in the day. Tenryu-ji has a famous garden as well.
At Tenryu-ji we spoke with Thomas Yuho Kirchener, a Zen monk – an American who came to Japan many years ago. He told us a bit about daily life as a monk, what in the Western Christian monastic tradition might be called the ordo. The life at a Zen monastery moves between intense training periods and less intense periods, where the monks might travel from monastery to monastery. The balance of this life reminded me of one of the Desert Fathers we read in my class, Abba Anthony the Great, criticized for allowing his monks to take time away from meditation, “If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.”
We discussed postures for meditation, finding a way to be balanced and comfortable for long periods. Kirchener demonstrated the use of the keisaku, the stick of compassion. Two swift slaps of the stick on each shoulder blade can ease the tension in your back. While we sat for 30 minutes, he patrolled the zendo. If you wanted relief, you put your hands up in gasho, then bowed together over the stick. Bow in gratitude when you are done.
Entrance to the Moss Temple is restricted, we wrote months before we left to secure a spot this afternoon. And you can’t be late. We made it from Tenryu-ji to the temple with a few minutes to spare. Several students left their shuoin books to be stamped and inscribed as a record of their visit to this temple. The Moss Temple has a particularly beautiful stamp and inscription. We began our visit by listening to the heart sutra chanted and then inking our own copies. Then we walked the gardens, where the moss deadens the sound of voices and footfalls. The garden itself is a treasure, you have the sense of walking through a miniature world.
We ended the day by returning to Tenryu-ji to walk the garden there. It was nearly closing, the light was gorgeous and the gardens almost empty. A wonderfully restful way to end the day.