Translated by MATCHA_En
Try Free Zazen At Engaku-ji Temple And Feel Refreshed In Body And Soul
Written by Marina Wada
Engaku-ji Temple is just a minute's walk away from Kita-Kamakura Station. Here they hold morning zazen practices, where you can take part in a short Zen Buddhism meditation course for free and without needing a reservation.
What Is Zazen?
Zazen is one of the practices of Zen Buddhism, in which one meditates while seated in a strict posture. Of course, even non-Buddhists are able to join gyoten zazen meetings as long as they are respectful and abide by the rules and etiquette of the temple. If you are interested in trying a course like this, you must be able to get up very early in the morning, and should wear loose comfortable clothing.
How to Join the Gyoten Zazen Meeting
Gyoten zazen meetings are held in the early morning. You are not allowed to join if you arrive late, so you will need to get on the first train of the JR Yokosuka Line to Kita-Kamakura Station, then go directly to the temple without getting lost or distracted along the way.
Follow the guide board at Kita-Kamakura Station and walk alongside the railroad tracks.
Please be aware that the main gate to the temple is not open in the early morning.
If you are visiting the temple just for sightseeing, then you must enter via the main gate, but if you are attending a gyoten zazen meeting, then you will need to enter from a different gate which is a bit further ahead of this one.
Enter the gate and go straight, and you will see the temple building in which the gyoten zazen meetings are held. On days with good weather, you will need to line up here, but on rainy days, you can enter the space directly.
Take your shoes off at the entrance way, and put on the pair of slippers you have been provided with. Place any bags or items on the shelf, then take one big and two small cushions. If someone happens to point out any manners or rules that you might have not known about, make certain to follow them from strictly.
Preparation for Zazen
When you enter the Buddhist temple, the preparations for zazen start. Many may think that zazen is all about the distinctive meditation posture, but this is actually one of the last points that you will cover during your gyoten zazen meeting.
Sit on the pedestal, then take off your slippers, socks, and watch/jewelry. Place them neatly in front of you. Although this may seem small, this is the beginning step of zazen.
Place the big cushion parallel to the line of the pedestal, then put the two small cushions on it. You will be sitting cross-legged for quite some time, so you will need to find the right position that keeps your body steady. After this, place your right hand under your left.
Don't close your eyes tight, rather, let them stay slightly open if this is comfortable for you. You should be looking at the floor about one and a half meters ahead of yourself, with your eyes partially closed and downcast. Draw in your chin, and close your mouth, making sure to breathe through your nose quietly.
Time to Start Zazen
Participants will then start to meditate. Concentrate and empty your mind of any and all thoughts when the signal is given by the head priest. If you aren't used to sitting cross-legged, your legs will soon fall asleep, but try your best to be patient until the signal for a break is given.
Zazen is performed as follows; start → zazen (the first half: about 30 minutes) → recess → zazen (the last half: about 30 minutes). After the zazen meeting finishes, it is time to read the Hannya Shingyo. Though it may be a bit difficult to read Hannya Shongyo, read it loud with other participants.
When everything is done, replace cushions and slippers you used.
Buddhism You Can "Experience"
Because zazen is a method of practicing Zen Buddhism, it has strict rules and is physically hard on those that have never tried it before. Though it is free, it may be challenging to join the zazen meetings; for example, you have to get up early and it can be hard to focus that early in the morning. Please also note that first time attendants to the meeting should try to arrive ten minutes early, in order to be fully instructed in what to do by the priests.
Despite the difficulties of taking part in a zazen experience, it is definitely something that you will want to try when visiting Kamakura. You just might be surprised at how refreshed physically and spiritually you feel afterwards!
Address: Kanagawa, Kamakura, Yamanouchi 409
Hours: Engaku-ji Temple - 8:00-16:00 (Dec.-Feb.) or 16:30 (Mar.-Nov.), Zazen Meetings 6:00-7:00 am only
Closed: Temple always open, but no Gyoten Zazen from Jan.1st-7th, Oct. 1st-5th, and on event days
Nearest Station: Kita-Kamakura Station, JR Yokosuka Line
Access: 1 minute walk from Kita-Kamakura Station
Entry Fee: Adult 300 yen, children 100 yen (gyoten zazen meetings are free)
Website: http://www.engakuji.or.jp/top.html (Japanese)