Nara visit

Nara is the earliest capitol of Japan and it is also the ancient home of the  seven schools of Buddhism that were originally imported. Construction of Nara began around the 5th century ACE.

 

Storinzan Darumaji visit

Syorinzan Darumaji is a Zen Buddhist temple located just outside of the city of Takasaki in Gunma prefecture. The temple derives it’s name after the Zen Partriarch, Daruma. Daruma is the Japanese pronunciation of Bhodidharma who is a renowned cultural and religious figure well known for bringing the teachings of Zen (pronounced Chan in Chinese) to China from India during the 5th or 6th century.

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Syorinzan temple is of the Obaku denomination of Rinzai Zen. Obaku is a version of Rinzai that came several hundreds years later to Japan after Rinzai had already been established. It is the 3rd largest sect of Zen in Japan though often it is considered part of the Rinzai school. Obaku has retained more of it’s Chinese heritage and customs than it’s sister school the Japanese Rinsai sect. The largest sect of Zen in Japan is the Soto shu.

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Fuku-Daruma, better known as the daruma doll. is considered a good luck charm. During new years season it is often purchased to bring good luck during the upcoming year. The Fuku-Daruma originated at the Syorinzan temple. The founder of this temple, Shinetsu began the custom of giving the local farmers pictures of Bodhidharma that he would paint with a single brushstroke. Several centuries later the tradition of crafting wooden images based on the brush paintings evolved. Eventually the local craftsmen started making these dolls for sale.

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Cho zu or Water purification is an essential part of any Buddhist temple or Shinto Shrine visit. There will be a stone reservoir  of cold clear water usually near the entry way.

 

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The custom is to take one of the ladles and dip it into the water first washing the left hand and then the right.

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Last take another ladle of water and drink from it. Now one has been cleansed of worldly impurities and you are ready to enter the temple.

 

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Temple life

I have been here at Fukojo-ji Temple for about a week now. It is mid summer so the weather is very hot and muggy on some days and rainy on others. One thing about the weather in Japan though is that it is variable and it is rarely the same two days in a row.

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The resident priest here, Jirai Reinhardt Mehl, has several work projects that he wants to accomplish during my stay. We work in the mornings but he allows me to take the afternoons off. He is gone three days out of the week working at an International Zen Training center for foreigners. The International center is run by a private foundation. The mission of the foundation is to provide a place to allow people to experience the life of a Rinzai monk for a limited time. The foundation has purchased several old buildings from monasteries and rebuilt them at their site near Hiroshima. Sometimes companies send employees to the International training center to teach them discipline and single mindedness.

During the days when the priest is gone my job is to caretake Fukujo-ji. My duties consist of opening the gate in the early morning and closing the gate in the evenings. Additionally, I have to open the shoji in the mornings and close them in the evening. I also carry on the tradition of doing two periods of Zazen in the mornings. I enjoy this time alone especially when I am doing Zazen. During this time alone, the feeling is overwhelming that I have been entrusted with the solemn responsibility of care taking the Buddha Dharma.

A typical day here at the temple begins with Zazen at 5 AM which goes until 6:30 AM. After Zazen there is Choka (service). We chant the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, the Dia Shin Dhrani and the Buchinson Dhrani along with several smaller verses and echoes. The chanting takes about a half an hour and it is done very fast so I find it impossible to keep up with the tempo.  Once I loose my place it is sometimes difficult to find it again. I find that I am always glad when the chanting is done.

After the choka (service) is done we then prepare breakfast which always consists of Okaiyo. This traditional rice porridge is very light on the stomach but at the same time quite filling. One of the most useful things I have learned  so far it how to prepare traditional Okaiyo.

 

My Japan

I find Japan to be a place of unbounded esthetics and endless inspiration. The confluence of Shinto, Buddhism and the history of the Samurai form a culture that is steeped in honor for self and other, reverence for nature and respect for tradition. I hope you’re inspired by these images and essays of temples and shrines of Japan and moved by them to a better understanding of this deep and beautiful culture.