Zen retreat in Japan
March 24, 2015 6:41 PM   Subscribe

This summer I would like to do something interesting. I would like to go to a place in Japan or China or somewhere in the East to meditate and perhaps live a bit like how a monk lives. Zen fascinates me. And I think might be more inclined towards the Rinzai school but since I am a novice I prefer not to make sharp judgments about things I do not know.

So I was wondering if you guys knew any place that would take a foreigner speaking English but no Asian language in. I was looking online and found some places that ask for quite substantial amounts of money per night. This turned me down. I am looking for places that are free, ask for donations or costs little. Where there is an experienced master or Roshi. And which would be very fruitful for all parties involved. It may be in a monastery or not.

Does anything like that exist?

In other words, I don't want a tourist experience, I want a transformative experience.
posted by iliketothinknu to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Does it have to be Zen, specifically? There are many programs (free, I might add — however, a donation is suggested) throughout the U.S. and elsewhere that put on 3- or 10-day retreats with all meals and housing provided. Search for Vipassana retreats and see if that fits the bill. There might even be Zen retreats, but I don't think I've ever heard of one that's in the same vein as these Vipassana retreats. While you wouldn't truly be exposed to Zen — although I question if you'd be, even if you were to find the right Zen monastery for you and your needs, anyway, depending on the time you'd be devoting to this — it's a fine enough approximation.
posted by un petit cadeau at 7:08 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: I stayed here, and it ended up being a transformative experience, good or bad, I don't yet know. I've also stayed at Osorezan, which is a remote sacred mountain, you can find information on that here.

I think you're unlikely to find a teacher who will be willing to teach you in English for free, unless you are already a more advanced student who has been recommended for a program.

Have you thought about WWOOF? There's a membership fee, but other than that it is free.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:22 PM on March 24, 2015

There are also reasonably low-priced retreats (like $200 for a week retreat, negotiable if you really don't have the money) at Zen monasteries throughout the US. Many are in beautiful scenic locations and built with traditional Japanese architecture. They usually stick to the Zen monastic code, which I think you would be expected to follow while there. The teachers will be officially-recognized Zen priests who can trace their lineage back to Japan; most of these places were originally founded by Japanese monks who came over here to proselytize.

It's worth considering; it might be most of what you want out of this.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:24 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: I did a week-long sesshin retreat at Hosshinji in Fukui Prefecture about 10 years ago. At that time they offered hosshinji to laity and foreign visitors about four times a year in spring and winter.

At the time Daigaku Rumme still resided and practiced at the monastery, but he works with the Soto Zen organization in Los Angeles now (and recently translated another book by the former abbot of Hosshinji).

So I don't know what the status of Hosshinji is these days. Their website is defunct.

Sojiji on the Noto Peninsula has offered sesshin for foreigners in the past as well. However, their website is in Japanese with no English.

You could also try a temple shukubo on top of Mount Koya. Mount Koya, near Osaka, is filled with a number of temples and small monasteries devoted to Shingon or esoteric sect of Buddhism.

Rather than following a strict regime to "achieve salvation" (or satori, as the case may be) like Soto Zen, Shingon is more like the Swiss Army knife of Buddhist denominations, using a variety of techniques and practices as part of its practice. And this includes seated meditation.

I've also done shukubo, but what I experienced was more like being at a B&B where they serve nice food and wake up for morning vespers.

That said, if you do a bit of digging I am pretty sure you can find a Shingon program on Mount Koya that offers you what you're looking for.

The challenge with Zen-shu is that it's pretty popular in Japan, and so the experience, save for at tiny monasteries like Hosshinji, has become commodified. A big tourist trap.

But I personally have always identified with Soto Zen. I was lucky to have found Hosshinji when I did.
posted by Nevin at 9:00 PM on March 24, 2015

BTW, at any of these places you're going to have to pay something, at least for food (which will be the best food you have ever eaten in your entire life).
posted by Nevin at 9:01 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, Japan WWOOF has a wide range of hosts. I wouldn't be surprised at all if a handful of monasteries/temples were listed.
posted by jrobin276 at 10:04 PM on March 24, 2015

Note that the sesshins discussed by Nevin are extremely rigorous all-day multi-day silent meditation retreats done in a formal seated posture on the ground with straight spines and no movement. The rigid posture and extended, relentless durations can feel extremely painful after a few hours even for serious daily meditators. This would not be the dabbling experience the OP seems to be looking for.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:52 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Actually, the sesshin I attended at Hosshinji was more relaxed so to speak about posture. There was one fellow who used a chair. As well if you bother to take a look at the list of temples I researched, all provide varying degrees of instruction.

That said, Quisp does bring up a good point - a week-long sesshin is an intense experience. You get up at 3AM and practice (in different ways) until late at night. There is no talking, and it can be a transformative experience. But each day my knees and back ached.

However the list of temples provided by Soto Zen does include those with one-day seminars. There is one temple in Nara that also facilitates homestays in nearby homes. That would be pretty awesome.

The Koya-san shukubo experience would be the very definition of "dabbling." You get to the shukubo lodging, are shown to a nice room, eat awesome vegetarian fare, go for a walk in the moonlight around the temples of the ancient town, have a bath, sleep, and are awakened for morning vespers, which you will not understand at all.
posted by Nevin at 4:20 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been a serious meditator for decades and, even so, the dabbling Koya-san experience sounds awesome to me!

It's not "Zen", though (as Nevin surely knows). Contrary to popular notion, Zen's not something one can experience a "touch" of. It's not a style, not a vibe. It's a long, patient process of internal unclenching. A "Zen weekend" is a bit like a "French language weekend".

But, that said, who doesn't like awesome food and moonlit ancient temples? I'm in!
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:26 AM on March 25, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for you input. In the end I applied for a 10-day vipassana meditation close to where I live. Maybe I will do a Zen travel another time!
posted by iliketothinknu at 4:26 PM on March 31, 2015

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