Overnight Temple Stays: A Visitor’s Guide
We often mistaken peace for a thoughtless state in which the mind is completely under our control. It is actually quite the contrary. Meditation is a state of connecting entirely with the current moment. Thoughts and mental images may come and go, and that’s ok. Creating peace in the mind enables us to acknowledge the thoughts and send them on their merry way as we return to the present moment. Like any sport or form of art, meditation also requires daily practice and considerable commitment to perform effectively.
These days, meditation is often in the media and commended for its ability to shape the mind and body by reducing stress and enabling practicers to live mindfully. Why not try meditating in a temple in Japan? It’s an experience that will change your perception of meditation and calm forever.
One beautiful temple in which temple stays and meditation are possible is Eiheiji Temple in Fukui prefecture. Founded about 760 years ago by Zen master Dogen, Eiheiji Temple is one of the famous headquarters of the Soto Zen sect. At the temple, it is possible to see how monks live and the daily tasks they must perform.
When staying overnight, visitors are asked to stay within their groups and follow the instructions of their monk guide so as to not disturb the scheduled activities of the temple. The day begins in the afternoon with a tour of the temple. An early dinner is served; limited to vegan ingredients, the meal is not only delicious but thoughtfully crafted and quite filling. Following dinner, visitors are allowed to take advantage of the bath house before attempting the first round of meditation. For beginner visitors, this meditation is usually no more than 20 minutes.
Bedtime is early at Eiheiji, which makes sense considering the 3:30am wake-up call. While practicing Zazen without falling back asleep at this hour is quite difficult, it is an incredibly refreshing experience. Following meditation, visitors are invited to the main temple service around 5am. Afterwards, a light breakfast is served and visitors are asked to remain in their rooms while the monks perform their cleaning duties. The overnight stay ends before noon, allowing visitors to wander the temple again or head home.
Overnight stays are highly recommended. While they vary from temple to temple, the experience is undeniably unforgettable.