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Zazen at Zuiō-ji Temple

Experience seated meditation at a Zen monastery

Zazen at Zuiō-ji Temple

Zuiō-ji Temple is the preeminent Zen temple in Shikoku. When you climb the steep steps to the main gate, you’re greeted by a discreet wooden sign saying, “Please be quiet. Zen meditation in progress”. This is because the temple is actually a monastery where monks come to train. Amongst other kinds of study and discipline, the monks in training sit in meditation – zazen – for many hours a day. Zuiō-ji was established as a dedicated Zen monastery and place of meditation in 1897 during the Meiji period, and today the temple continues to fulfil this role. It’s the only Zen temple in Shikoku to hold the highest rank in Sōtō Zen Buddhism.

The young monks who come to Zuiō-ji will later return to their own temples around Japan and carry on the tradition of offering their parishioners opportunities to find enlightenment through the form of simple meditation practiced by the Buddha himself. At Zuiō-ji, they lead a spartan, communal life in a large building occupying one side of the temple compound. Although the room where the monks sleep and eat isn’t open to visitors and can only be seen through the doorway, the hall where they meditate is a public space, and you can make an appointment to try zazen there yourself, just as the monks do.

Zazen is led by the kindly chief monk who explains the life of the trainees – how they get up early to meditate, eat their meals in silence, and wear no socks, however cold it gets. He may be accompanied by one of the trainees who graciously answers questions. Then the chief monk shows you the little rituals monks conduct as they prepare to sit in meditation. And then there’s the matter of the stick and the whacking. With a twinkle in his eye, he explains that it isn’t battery or punishment; it’s an invitation to enlightenment. It doesn’t actually hurt and it’s rather stimulating.

The zazen lasts for forty minutes or so. You can arrange in advance how long you want to sit. You can also opt for some walking meditation, conducted by monks to ensure healthy legs. The session ends with a brief exhortation to try a little zazen every day henceforward, with the promise that daily meditation, however short, brings many benefits including quiet happiness.

This experience requires a reservation.

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