Here is a message that Nobuko sent recently, along with permission to pass it to the blog! It has been edited just at a couple of places. The third post in a row about people getting experience of monastery settings -- excitement, pressure cooker environment, sake, amusement....everything!
I had the most wonderful morning here! The monk that I met yesterday met me today at the Daisen-in, a temple in Daitoku-ji. Once I got there, he showed me the first room with the shrine, which he said we would come into first and then bow. Then he led me into the next room, which had sliding doors which he left open to the outside. He didn't really give me instruction, which was fine, he just sat me down on the tatami mat with his bell (like the one you use at sesshin) and his wooden clappers (and his stylish green cell phone to keep time). He said that his style was like this- which was full lotus. We didn't use zafus or zabutans. We just sat down on the tatami mat like that. So we sat for a period of 30 minutes, then stretched, then another 30 minutes. After about an hour he asked me a few questions. He asked me how long I'd been doing zazen for, which I said about two years, then he asked me about what I wanted to do, what my goals were. I was a little bit confused at first, then I just said I didn't really have any. Even if I did, I wouldn't have been able to explain it in Japanese anyway. So he said that was fine, and we continued to sit for a bit. I think this monk is the head monk's son, that's what my host-mother told me yesterday.
After three sits, about four monks dressed in full robes came in. The teacher there told me to get up and come to the shrine room, where he had me sit down. The monks stood outside. The monk lit some things on the shrine, then handed me a sutra book, which had all of the original chinese characters, with the Japanese pronunciation written on the side, which he thought was fine for me to read. We then recited the Heart Sutra together, which was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. My teacher led, his voice drawn out and deep (like how enka singers sing, the traditional Japanese singing). Then the other four monks joined in. They pronounced everything very differently than even I thought was correct, but the experience was just amazing. At that point I kept thinking, am I really here? Is this really happening? But I didn't want to get too wrapped up in my head so I just kept going, and chanting the sutra which thankfully I already knew pretty well.
After the sutra he said I should come outside for tea, but then when I sat by the other monks, he told me to come somewhere inside instead. A woman came out and said, it's cold, no? And led me inside. I was led into a warm living room-kitchen area, with two little children, the young woman who led me there and an older woman. This was the monk's family who also lived at the temple. They gave me a sweet snack, a sort of sweet made of rice cake with sweet bean, and they made me traditional tea (the kind used for tea ceremony, with the whisk and everything) and as the young girl took the bowl, turned it twice, I followed suit. It wasn't official tea ceremony but I figured they did something of the sort, since it was a tea bowl and the kind of tea used for ceremony. Then the family kindly asked me questions and chatted, and I told them what I was doing there and such. It was really a wonderful experience, and when the older woman asked if I was homesick, she said any time I felt homesick I could come there to their house. I'll be going there anyway though, for zazen everyday at 7:30. That's what the monk said I could do. The two young children were his children, and very very cute. When I left the young girl who was ten years old made me an origami flower. I said "arigatou gozaimashita, mata ashita ne" which means thank you very much, and I'll see you tomorrow!
I'm really having a good experience so far. You know it's funny, I haven't experienced the euphoric shock that I think comes when studying abroad, maybe it's because I've been in Japan before. Even when going around the temple three days ago, I thought it was weird that I wasn't overwhelmed like I was three years ago, the first time I set foot in a real Buddhist temple in Japan. I felt rather at home, and maybe like the Japanese feel when they pass it, like it's normal but still beautiful. Anyway I will still try to enjoy it to the fullest, and do my best to do so naturally! Though I feel, perhaps I already am.
I'm so glad that I can practice here! The practice I got at home (in U.S) though is invaluable, and indeed I get the feeling that some American practitioners are much more serious than the Japanese ones. Though the monk asked me if we use "keisaku" and I told him we didn't, not anymore, I think that the American mindset is much more... stern in some ways. It depends on the sect. My host mother knows the monks pretty well- that's because she owns a liquor store around the corner- when she told the monk her name he said, "oh, Konaka-san!" And after talking to them she said to me, "all monk know me, I friendly with all monk because they drink much much sake!" Apparently they live well here in Daitoku-ji because it's funded by the government and they don't have to pay taxes. Also the tourism is high as well, this morning when I left there were already a lot of people around. But at any rate though, the monk has been so kind to me, as well as his family, so I really can't be grateful enough!