Zazen Meditation Experience: Calm Your Mind

Located on the path to Daisen Temple, Sanrakuso offers temple lodging to its guests. These historical lodgings are located in front of the temple entrance and offer guests full enjoyment off nature’s strictness and beauty.

Sanrakuso also offers a zazen meditation experience. Recently, it has been especially popular with young women.

I had a rather serious image of zazen, so I was a bit nervous about visiting for an interview.

My guide was Goken Shimizu, chief priest at Sanrakuso. Mr. Shimizu was very kind, and he emitted the same calm aura as the many trees that grow around Sanrakuso.

First, Mr. Shimizu explains zazen to me. “Currently we do various activities At Daisen Temple themed around totonofu. The word totonofu comes from the zazen words choshin, chosoku, and choshin, which mean harmony of body, breath, and mind.”

He asks me whether I have done zazen before. I tell him I have not. I also tell him I am nervous, as zazen seems quite intimidating. “Here at Sanrakuso,” says Mr. Shimizu, “you do not need to kneel for our zazen, so it is not difficult at all.”

To begin, Mr. Shimizu tells me how to prepare for zazen.

“The goal of zazen is to empty your mind and enter a state free from worldly thoughts,” he says. “This is extremely difficult. Zazen is the training to helps us reach this state. The fundamentals of zazen are the harmony of body, breath and mind that I mentioned earlier.”

This “harmony of body, breath, and mind” (choshin, chosoku, choshin) refer to the following:

Harmony of body (choshin)
Assume a good posture, cross your feet, and straighten your lower back.

Harmony of breath (chosoku)
Breath from your abdominals, inhaling through your stomach and exhaling gradually. In particular, focus on breathing out.

Harmony of mind (choshin)
If the above two fundamentals are done correctly, your idle thoughts should naturally disappear.

“I have this image in my head of getting hit with a stick,” I say to Mr. Shimizu. “When does that happen?”

Mr. Shimizu replies with a smile. “That is called keisaku. The Tendai sect only uses the keisaku when someone requests it. We won’t suddenly hit you from behind,” he says I am relieved to hear that.

Sanrakuso follows the teachings of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Whenever your breath, posture or mind is disturbed, you are supposed to bring your hands together in a prayer position and lower your head. This is the sign that you are asking for the keisaku.

As soon as he finishes the explanation, we begin our zazen session.

After the zazen session begins, the only sounds I hear are those of nature. I hear sounds I do not normally notice, such as the chirping of small birds and the soft sound of the wind. I close my eyes and it feels as if I am sitting directly in the midst of nature. I focus on my breathing and count silently. Occasionally, idle thoughts appear. Not thinking sounds easy, I think to myself, but it is harder than it sounds. I return my focus to my breath. The sound of the floorboards creaking—something I never normally pay attention to—seems incredibly loud. For a long while, I cannot return to a state of nothingness. I remember Mr. Shimizu’s words and bring my hands together in prayer, lowering my head. Mr. Shimizu approaches and strikes me twice on both my left and my right shoulders. It does not hurt at all. Yet, my mind is suddenly clear. The experience is completely different from the zazen I imagined.

“The session is finished,” says Mr. Shimizu into the silence. It felt like only an instant had passed.

“It was a lot harder to empty my mind than I thought,” I say. In reply to this, Mr. Shimizu tells me something interesting. “Instead of trying to empty your mind,” he says, “It’s important to try to see the thoughts in your head from a different perspective.”

My mind was strangely clear, and it was interesting to leave the business of everyday life and experience this new world. Try to see things from a new perspective. Do this, and you will find harmony of the body, of the breath, and of the mind.

During this decidedly extraordinary journey, I was able to immerse my body in nature and see myself from a different perspective. It was a wonderful experience.