Many of you know that I have been participating in Zazen (sitting meditation) at a local temple for a few months now, and that this was made possible by the friendship I developed with a local Buddhist priest, Fujio san. When you go to a special "Zazen for Foreigners" on a whim, and one of the monks says you can find him on Facebook, who wouldn't friend him?! So that's what I did. And months later, I've been to his temple many times, learned a lot, and have grown eager to share these experiences with others.
So a month or so ago, I talked to Fujio san about hosting an "Introduction to Buddhism" class for people in our military community who would like to learn more about this religion while living in Japan. This was not necessarily a class for people interested in practicing Buddhism or becoming a Buddhist, but was intended to be an opportunity for people to learn about another religion that they might not otherwise have come in contact with.
We had about 10 women (anyone else find it interesting that only women came to this?) show up, most of whom hadn't been inside temples before, hadn't met monks, and knew relatively little about Buddhism. Fujio san was also nice enough to invite two other Zen Buddhism monks, and a priest of Pure Land Buddhism so that we would have some other perspectives during our discussion. When the other monks arrived, we learned that at lunchtime, they would be fixing us radish rice, hikiji (stir-fried seaweed), and miso soup. They wanted us to have a taste of a traditional temple meal.
We started out our day talking a bit about Buddhism's background - how it was started, who the Buddha, what are important Buddhist teachings and texts, etc. - and even though I had already learned much of this, it was wonderful to have it explained from the perspective of the monks. It helped to clear up some of my own misunderstandings about Buddhism that are difficult to learn from reading books alone. Towards the middle of our time together, we took a break for lunch, and it was such a blessing to have food prepared for us. The food was DELICIOUS. I would have thought that being a monk would have meant bland food for some reason, but it was amazing. And as I sat there making conversation with Fujio san, I just couldn't help but be thankful for all of the opportunities I have been given.
I was afraid that maybe I was going to be the only one who really enjoyed all the discussion about Buddhism and Japanese culture, but most of the other women who came thanked me for putting it together and asked to come again. We learned so much but had so many questions develop that we will have to schedule a second class to learn more. I am so thankful to Fujio san and the other monks for taking time out of their day to talk with us and cook for us. These are the reasons I love living in Japan.