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Copying Sutras at Eiheiji Temple

Jan. 21 - I really enjoyed my recent visit to Eiheiji (Temple of Eternal Peace) deep in the mountains near Fukui City on the Japan Sea coast. In 1244 Dogen Zenji, who had studied Zen practice at Mount Tendo in China, founded this temple. For over 700 years Eiheiji has trained his followers in the perfection of Zen practice in every action of every day.

My colleagues from the Nagoya American Center and I received a guided tour from a priest trainee who explained his austere daily life. He wakes up before dawn each morning to practice "zazen" meditation for one hour in the priests' hall. Each priest has just one tatami mat on which to practice zazen, eat and sleep.

Nagoya American Center director Stephen Wheeler and I tried our hand at copying sutras.

Terashita-san and me at Eiheiji

After morning zazen, the priest-trainees move to the great hall to recite sutras. Breakfast consists of a small bowl of rice gruel (okayu) and pickles, and then the trainees clean the temple floors for the rest of the morning. The wooden floors of the rooms and corridors have been polished smooth by hundreds of years of this daily cleaning. Performing such arduous and humble tasks is an integral part of this training. Despite the frigid weather, our guide wore open sandals, and I thought he must have felt quite cold.

After our tour, Nagoya American Center Director Stephen Wheeler, NAC Programmer Ms. Terashita, and I tried our hand at copying Buddhist sutras using a Japanese brush and ink. We started by grinding the ink stone with some water to make our own ink. After we started writing with the delicate brush, I discovered that copying such tiny characters was much harder than it looks - it was a challenge not to run all of the many strokes together. I really had to concentrate to produce readable characters. After we finished our task, I felt relaxed and calm.

Our guide did not want to be in any of our photos, but we did take some nice photos of ourselves copying the sutras, so you can share our wonderful experience.

Until next time,


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