This Zen temple is very unusual because almost all of monks are non-Japanese although it is historical Zen temple that has a graveyard of the lord of Okayama castle in Edo era.
Last week, I went to its Sunday meditation session with Mei-Lin who I met at guesthouse Torii-kuguru. Since she was doing meditation in U.S.A, she already found Sogenji and decided to visit there before I told her about it. On Sunday, we met at around 7:00 and headed to the temple by car.
About 50 people from neighborhood gathered in the ashram by 8:00 a.m., and they silently sat until a monk hit wooden bell to start.
After chanting, we started meditation. It was just silent time. I heard Japanese bush warbler singing during the time. I know that I should not have noticed it because I had to ignore any worldly desires, but it was so great time that I was just closing eyes and hearing beautiful bird singing.
Two monks, Taiwanese woman and European man, led our meditation at that day. On the other hand, participants from outside were mostly Japanese. In the last part of the meditation, monks slowly walked around carrying long sticks, and hit the shoulder of participants who wish to receive it. It is said that the hitting activity means encouragement by God.
After 30-or-40-minute-meditation, we had a tea time with monks and other participants. One of topics was the difference of anger and scolding someone. They talked that when you scold someone, it contains love to the person, but anger often comes from only selfish feeling. The associate chief priest said that we should receive it as a message to learn something when we are scolded. She also said that it was very hard for her to know if Japanese people is angry at someone or just scolding. She is American origin.
After the session, monks backed to daily work in their gardens and woods. They were chatting each other in English. “This place is like America in Japan,” Mei-Lin said. “Yes, and you are the majority here,” I said to her. A man who is a short-time trainee told us that there are about 20 non-Japanese monks and only three Japanese monks there.
We looked around the temple for a while. I liked the contrast of shades and lights inside of the temple. Straight and curve lines of the traditional wooden building were also amazing.
When we left there, it was about 11:00 a.m.
Sogenji has international centers all over the world. You can check their information on the following site.
Also see here.
Okayama-ken, Okayama-shi, Naka-ku, Maruyama 1069
At JR Okayama station, you can get on the bus bound for Saidaiji, and get off at Sogenji bus stop. It takes about 20 minutes.