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Thread: Question about Eiheiji Temple

  1. #1

    Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I have seen a few short videos about Eiheiji Temple and I was wondering if they train westerners who wish to become monks. I ask this because out of all the videos I have seen there seem to be no westerners in training. Is it that difficult for non-Japanese to enter formal training in Japan?

    I have, as of now, no desire to become a monk it was just a question that came up.


  2. #2

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Hi Myoshin,

    Yes it is possible and very few westerners managed to put up with this very strict training. Many gave up too...the very poor diet, the long hours of seiza, the difficult weather conditions with extreme temperatures make it a very challenging experience. One of the teachers of my school who happens to be a good friend too is the son of a Soto temple priest. So, he had to do the training. When i asked him how it was, his only answer was: it was hell! If it is hell for a Japanese then I leave it to you to figure out what it would be like for us.You also may join a week long training for lay people where you will learn a lot about how to become an oryoki expert. Sojiji temple seems to be a more welcoming place. Jundo might tell you about Sojiji, he knows the temple very well.



  3. #3

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple


    Another issue is the focus of training at places such as Eiheiji and Sojiji (the two Head Temples of the Soto School in Japan).

    There is primary focus on the precise performance of ritual, which is often very different from the "freedom" of Zen practice, or some "gentle, peaceful search for enlightenment and personal self discovery", which perhaps most Western practitioners envision. It is something of a prison, with punishments and rigorous discipline maintained ... (in fact, when I used to volunteer as a Zen teacher at a maximum security prison in America, there were more than a few obvious similarities).

    Of course, a central point of it all is that true freedom can be found in what seems, at first glance, to be a rigorous lack of freedom! The true "prison walls" are not made of stone, nor are found only outside us. In learning to master, in detail, arcane and precisely performed ceremonies to perfection (Oryoki eating is one that many Westerners may be familiar with, although even then, usually undertaken by lay folks in a simplified, less rigorous form) ... one learns something beyond ideas of "perfection" or "imperfection" in the very striving for "perfection".

    On the other hand, the training in a place like Eiheiji or Sojiji, these days, is very much focused on training young novice priests in the mastery of form and ceremony necessary to function as local parish priests performing funeral services and such, and this also is not of real interest to most foreigners who go there. My teacher, Nishijima, is known in Japan as a critic of what the system has become, a kind of assembly line to turn out young priests who will inherit their father's temple.

    Here is a good review of a book which (although I have not had a chance to read it yet) rings true with the usual description ...

    So, in reading this book I was actively placing myself along side Nonomura, imagining how I would feel were I in his position. He's thirty, with a pretty ordinary Japanese lifestyle, a girlfriend, a career as a designer, he comes from a good family background. But something he knows is not right, everything he does appears to lack meaning. He perpetually feels discontent with what he's doing, or not doing with his life. Then one day comes a turning point, he suddenly decides to enter a Zen Monastery. Not just any old monastery, but one with the reputation for being the most fearsome and rigorous in Japan. From the very start of his stay he lives in a state of constant fear, of simply getting things wrong. Monastic rituals at Eihei-ji are extremely formalised, and must be learnt by rote.

    To us this could seem unduly harsh, soulless and robbed of integrity. There is no room for spontaneity at all here. Spontaneity is seen as part of individual self-determination, a declaration of our presence and identity, it is the Self at play. This is not to be encouraged. All actions and practices have correct formal procedures attached to them. These prove horrifically difficult to remember, let alone get right first time. Making mistakes becomes a regular humbling experience for Nonomura, even the punishments meted out for minor infringements have a precisely delineated ritual to be followed to the letter. The novice's trainers are unforgiving and frequently brutal in their responses, after all, they acquiesced and submitted themselves to this regime themselves too.

    To Western eyes this could all seem like an unwarranted abuse of individual human rights. This would be, however, to miss the point entirely. But still one has to ask why they are doing this? Some clues come from a sign Nonomura reads soon after arriving:-

    'the gate has no door or chain, but is always open;
    any person of true faith can walk through it at any time'

    Everyone comes willingly and one would assume could leave whenever they like. But this isn't actually the case. Most of the new recruits are first born, and come from families whose fathers are abbots of Zen temples. These novices are rarely here out of a burning sense of vocation, its more a predestined part of their family inheritance. Learning about the rigours of monastic life is an essential element in the ancestral privilege about to be handed on to them. Nonomura was unusual in choosing this life out of free will. There is precious little 'true faith' in evidence from some of these novices. Their year in Eihei-ji is often irksome, they don't have much choice in the matter. They can choose to leave after they've been at Eihei-Ji for a year, but not before. Anyone who runs away before then is pursued and brought back, if they can be found that is. So the gate does have a door, but it has a chain on it. People with little or no faith walk through it all the time. At least at the start, this appears to be the case. By the time they leave most of them have noticeable matured and have found something deeper in themselves.

    The purpose of the excessive discipline, a bit like army drill, is to break down your individuality, to constrict the room for selfishness. It makes you conform, sometimes literally beats it into you. to act as one, abandon your likes and dislikes, your worldly viewpoints, and to compel you to submit to its often punishing spiritual routines. The mere act of ringing a bell is to be timed and coordinated with almost theatrical precision, washing your face, going to the toilet, and how to use a toothpick are likewise acted out. Dogen's instructions systematically take you through them stage by stage, showing exactly how things should be done. This does develop its own simple beauty, an elegantly sparse aesthetic, as every minute daily act becomes embroidered with intricate ritual and significance. The purpose of this everyday ritualisation is to take you beyond your selfish concerns, to practise fully in the moment, and for the benefit of all beings.

    To us this might all seem far too austere, obsessive even, and could make Dogen seem like some 12th Century version of a control freak. Yet submitting oneself to a monastic rule does inevitable mean you've chosen to remove your freedom to choose. Though Nonomura found it hard initially, he finds he adapts to this new regime, it becomes second nature. Even though he does in the end decide to leave after the year is up, he does so with a deeply heartfelt appreciation for what he has gained, and what he is taking forward his life post- Eihei-ji. Throughout his year at Eihei-ji, Nonomura frankly acknowledges his doubts, his faith, and often contradictory responses to his being there at all. By the time he leaves he knows that what he most learnt was simply how to enjoy being alive.

    The final paragraphs are most moving, describing his breaking into convulsive tears as he feels something is emotionally torn from him, of his sense of loss, as the taxi pulls away from the Main Gate. The female taxi driver, having seen this so many times before, takes him up to the top of the mountains, to see the valley as spring begins to fully burgeon.

    'At that moment I understood the meaning of spring for the very first time. I had been alive for thirty years, and all that time I'd been caught up in an urgent search for meaning. Now, here, finally, I knew the meaning of spring. That was enough. I didn't need anything else.' ... -sleep-sit

    Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple
    Published by Kodansha International Ltd

    Author: Nonomura, Kaoru
    ISBN: 978 4 7700 3075 7
    Format: Hardback
    Pages: 328
    Publication date: 28 February 2009

  4. #4

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I found a sample chapter online from that book, if anyone has interest ... Some folks may be surprised, but this is Japan ... boot camp, much like the army ... ... ?PID=19318

    Daikan wasn’t the only one to earn the instructors’ wrath. “No! No, no, no! Come on!” As the meal progressed, the yells grew steadily louder and more menacing. The sound of slaps rang out ceaselessly

    “What’s this? You don’t want to eat? Fine, then don’t!” Tenshin had mistakenly laid his chopsticks across his still-empty bowl. The servers passed him by without stopping.

    Enkai had the opposite problem: miso soup being poured into his bowl spilled over the edge and ran down onto the tatami while he watched aghast, not knowing what to do.

    Doryu got punched in the stomach and dropped his bowl.

    Daikan finally managed to lay out his bowls properly by copying his neighbor, but from then on his every move earned him another slap or punch. In the end, he was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and dragged down off the platform. As he lay on the floor in fright, the instructors kicked him.

    Yuho, Kijun, and Choshu somehow managed to keep up with the servers, but their bodies were rigid with effort, their eyes wide open and unblinking as they hurriedly crammed food into their mouths and gulped it down without chewing.

    For all of us, the acts of eating and drinking were carried out in a state of abject terror. The least mistake brought an instant cuff from one of the eagle-eyed senior trainees standing watch. The food had no taste; there was no sense of enjoying a meal. The pace was fast and it took intense concentration to keep up. Now the chopsticks. Next the lap cloth. You had to confirm each step mentally before you could act.

    If you paused to savor the food, before you knew it, second helpings were being served and you had to rush to get your share. If you took time eating that, next thing you knew the servers were coming around with tea, then hot water. Even after we’d memorized exactly what to do and the routine grew familiar, there was never any time to linger over our food.

  5. #5

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I did read the book, Jundo, and it is very much what we think it is. One point that really stood out was the respect the writer had for Niwa, our ancestor, sitting and being the abbot of Eiheiji. He really liked him. When I read this book, I think that both Niwa and this ex-young salaryman were trapped. And I will always remember the words of Sawaki roshi being offered the abbotship of Eiheiji: "Why should I accept it? Even a dog would not take it". Pretty rough. Very true. We are very lucky.

  6. #6

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Thank you both very much! I was just curious about it because it seemed a bit odd. Both places look so beautiful, Eiheiji in the winter made my mouth drop open, and that was only by seeing it on a video. I cannot imagine what it would be in person. Yet something so beautiful, might have a darker side I guess.

    The book does sounds good, and I might have to pick it up sometime.


  7. #7

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Quote Originally Posted by Myoshin
    Yet something so beautiful, might have a darker side I guess.
    I don't know if "darker side" is the best way to put it. Just "tough", like marine boot camp. Dharma marines.

  8. #8

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Dharma marines.
    I can see that on a t-shirt

  9. #9

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I can't lie. I can see being strict and even "rough" in conversation. But. The physical part (slapping, punching) does disturb me. Even if old Sakyamuni himself did that to his monks, I am still disturbed.

  10. #10

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I agree these stories of physical violence make me feel uncomfortable & certainly in the UK every attempt is being made to stamp out bullying in the armed forces. This aspect of Zen monasticism appears to be too macho for my liking, almost medieval.

    kind regards


  11. #11

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Anyone know what the purpose is of the violent aspects at these monasteries?

  12. #12

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    It is very Japanese ... Samurai mentality ...

    The self must be broken ... thus much like boot camp. One transcends hell to find heaven, freedom.

    I do not justify that approach, or say it is the only way to go to provide medicine for the self. It is just one way, and a very Japanese way.

    It is just one face of the Soto way which (fortunately, or I myself might not be here) is not the main way of training..

    Gassho, Jundo

  13. #13

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I totally agree with Jundo.Whatever the purpose, it is totally unacceptable. Some guys might tell you it is to let go of your boundaries, some might put forward the nature of the rite de passage, others may say it is more cultural than anything else. In my eyes, it is not okay. And I suppose that when you put together a big bunch of young guys in a very closed environment with harsh discipline, you get someting like that. Just like the army. And I am not an army fan. Even in the West, some pople can have a very military-like approach to Zen, I met a few monks that were more or less acting violently. This is the shadow of our tradition. Fortunately, they are a lot of sitters that are not bullies. They are great genuine guys, wonderful women. In Japan, Antaiji was difficult because of the intensive sitting but people were treated with great respect and gentleness. You will find also Soto temples and small communities with great spirit, compassion and understanding.



  14. #14

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Good - thank you Taigu & Jundo.
    Kind regards

  15. #15

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I just wanted to add a few more words on this ...

    There have always been a couple of tendencies in Zen:

    One is the aggressive, warrior, hard pushing and berating, slap one into enlightenment flavor ... The point is to make a frontal assault on the ego. There are countless stories of Masters slapping and kicking Students (and the same returned) ...

    Hyakujo went out one day attending his master Baso
    when they saw a flock of wild geese flying. Baso asked.
    "What are they?"

    "They are wild geese, sir."

    "Whither are they flying?"

    "They have flown away."

    Baso, abruptly, taking hold of Hyakujo's nose gave it
    a twist. Overcome with pain, Hyakujo cried out, "Oh!

    Said Baso, "You say they have flown away, but all the
    same they have been here from the very first."


    The master gave him a slap in the face, whereupon
    the disciple said, "How rude you are!"

    "Do you know where you are?" exclaimed the master.
    "Here I have no time to consider for your sake what
    rudeness or politeness means." With this another slap
    was given.


    Ummon suddenly raised his voice and said, "I spare you thirty
    blows. You may now retire." Tokusan used to swing
    his big stick whenever he came out to preach in the
    hall, saying, "If you utter a word I will give you thirty
    blows; if you utter not a word, just the same, thirty
    blows on your head." This was all he would say.
    That flavor is mostly associated with the "hard" style of some Rinzai lineages, but also some people in the Soto school. The Harada-Yasutani Lineage, for example, is known for traditionally being "tough".

    Others in Zen Buddhism ... seek the way of non-violence, gentleness, peace. The ego is tamed and transcended, not by a frontal assault, but by removing the fuel which fires it. This is perhaps the majority view now. I am of that school (Nishijima even refuses to use the Kyosaku stick, and I do too). As I sometimes say ...

    A trickle of water and easy wind can pierce a stone wall or a mountain, as can dynamite. But the latter often ends up making a broken mess of things, and pieces hard to put back together.

    Couple the foregoing with a cultural tendency in Japan (until recently, socially accepted and encouraged ... found in any group, from schools to playgrounds to companies to even social and sports clubs) for"seniors" to bully and tease "juniors". That can run anywhere from mild "hazing" to, unfortunately, incidents of physical violence and true abuse. The Japanese have reflected on this part of their culture more and more over recent years, but it is still present. Unfortunately, it is also present quite often in Japanese Zen. The Japanese are generally a gentle, peaceful people ... but they do have a sometimes cruel and militaristic side in extreme cases ... as seen in that whole WW2 thing, not to mention any of those sadistic Japanese TV Game shows popular in the West. It is a problem of Japanese culture as a whole.

    Fortunately, that is the very infrequent exception to Japanese behavior ... not the rule.

    As Zen Buddhism moves to the west, the gentle style has tended to be more common than the hard style ... but there are exceptions here too. In any event, it is not necessary.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-27-2012 at 02:02 AM.

  16. #16

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Kyosaku (kyousaku?) is used at the Atlanta zendo and in the same manner as well. It is helpful when the shoulders are tight.


  17. #17

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple


    As long as they don't hit you with the shiketsu, it's all good.
    I've seen both spellings, but i leave it up to the masters to clear out the spelling...


  18. #18

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen

    As long as they don't hit you with the shiketsu, it's all good.
    I've seen both spellings, but i leave it up to the masters to clear out the spelling...

    OH YES! :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

    For those who do not know, "shiketsu" is the "shit stick", formally used in Zen temples of centuries past to clean the butt in place of toilet tissue. It is most famous for its appearance in this Koan ...

    Momonkan Case 21 Unmon's "Kanshiketsu" ????????

    A monk asked Unmon, "What is Buddha?" Unmon replied, "Kanshiketsu!" [A dry shit-stick.]

    Listen, for those folks new here ... and connecting with another thread today in which Fugen made an appearance ... let me say again what an invaluable service Fugen has performed around here for the last couple of years. He is the fellow who, usually out of great wisdom and compassion, tosses a bucket of water or a pie in the face on all of us when we get too serious or caught up in words. THANK YOU FUGEN!

    At first, I thought he was just joking around ... but, after a couple of months, I realized how much we often need that bucket of water, and thus need and depend on him around here. The above is a perfect example. Often the jester can convey more truth than all the King's messengers with their serious opinions and advice. Fugen is, in fact, our living Kyosaku stick!

    As to the Kyosaku (the Rinzai folks call it the "Keisaku") ... I am not completely against it either. Often, when I visit Sojiji or another Sangha, I ask to receive a swipe on the shoulders. I have often been asked to carry and administer the Kyosaku when sitting retreats at other Sangha, and I have done so with Bodhisattva spirit and happily ... except for the couple of times I missed and accidentely clipped someone's ear.

    Why does my lineage not use it? Nishijima and others in the lineage (not sure this applies to all teachers in the lineage) are not into the superficial violence of the thing (it is like spanking your child ... yes, it is done with love and the noise is worse than the pain itself, but still ...) , not into the sudden slapping noise during the middle of Zazen. There are other ways to wake someone up or the like during Zazen. In Rinzai Zen (as was discussed on another thread from a few days ago show ... and with many exceptions), generally more punching and yelling and kicking than in Soto practice. I have been beaten semi-silly with a Keisaku during a Rinzai sitting in Japan.

    Anyway, I go either way on the issue. At the Maezumi lineage group where I teach, it is used for "Special" times (like retreats), and used pretty gently. At Soji-ji, where I sat for about 10 years before I was ordained, it was used at the Start of EVERY sitting for everybody in the room, then upon request.

    If you want, I could work up a machine where, with a click of the mouse, I can Kyosaku folks over the internet. Or, doing our retreats, people can Kyosaku themselves! :-)

    Gassho, Jundo

    ADDENDUM: I once found this, in which Nishijima Roshi once spoke about the subject during a radio interview ...

    While on the subject of Zazen practice I would like to say something about the use of the kyosaku, the
    wooden stick used by some people to strike participants on the shoulders during practice to stop them
    dozing off. I once watched a documentary on the TV about new company employees straight out of school
    who were sent to a Zazen retreat as part of their induction course. During the retreat, someone was using
    the kyosaku while they practiced. Later in the program, one of the participants was telling of his
    experiences on the retreat, and he said that he never wants to join a retreat again because of the indignity of
    receiving the kyosaku. I think that teaching people Zazen in this way is utterly wrong. Although the
    kyosaku is much used in Zazen practice today, I never use it. My reason is that Master Dogen never once
    mentioned the use of the kyosaku in any of his writings. He was meticulous in his descriptions of all the
    Buddhist customs and traditions. If he had approved of its use, he would have written about it, describing in
    detail its form and the way it is used. There is no such description in any of his works. This convinces me
    that the kyosaku was not used at all in his time. It is likely that people started to use it at a much later
    Another reason against using the kyosaku is that it disturbs our practice. It is essential that we
    individually take responsibility for our own posture during Zazen as far as possible. Practice in which an
    authority figure makes us do it has little value. We must make ourselves practice. It is up to us to make
    sure that we are sitting straight. To use the kyosaku to wake practitioners up so that they will not
    embarrass themselves before the others is not useful.

  19. #19

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    LOL! This is what happens when Zen is left to the Japanese.

    I'm surprised it's lasted as long as it has. The Dharma is not a means by which to terrorize people. I shudder to think of the karma these idiots have incurred.


  20. #20

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Indeed, Padre. I usually ask for it when I visit groups or temples. Nevertheless, I have met a very offensive and abusive use ot it called rensaku that I disagree with. Generally, japanese kyosaku is light and more noisy than painful, but the oak kyosaku used by Deshimaru and his disciples is another ball game altogether...very effective in balancing your body-mind for a few minutes, and painful too.



  21. #21

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Quote Originally Posted by padre
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    I shudder to think of the karma these idiots have incurred.
    Well, for one thing, it's led to this shuddering problem of yours. :twisted:
    An appropriate response is hardly a 'problem'.

    Don't make me ask Will to come onto this thread to explain how there are no problems. /kidding


  22. #22

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Too late. I'm already here.

    What's going on?

    A problem? Uh oh. Oh no!


  23. #23

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Too late. I'm already here.

    What's going on?

    A problem? Uh oh. Oh no!



  24. #24

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Quote Originally Posted by padre
    Here locally, the kyosaku stick is used (on some days of longer practice), but only when requested. And it is administered in a manner that really does seem to help out with relatively intense physical discomfort and mental fatigue.

    It looks and sounds ungodly cruel from a third person perspective, but the tradition is carried forward here in a real spirit of generosity and kindness.

    So even some of the forms associated with harsh discipline seem to transform when executed skillfully and thoughtfully.

    Um, I think I am the only one here who has ever been hit with a kyosaku. Again, it does not hurt. It could not be used as physical abuse because it is so big you would really seriously damage someone (as in put them in the hospital).

    Zen teachers traditionally have LITTLE sticks (maybe 12 to 14 inches long), also fly whisks (not vegetarian since the whisk part is horse hair). This is what they were going around hitting people with. NOT a 4 foot long solid wood bat.


  25. #25

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    For those who have never seen, here is a film of Deshimaru Roshi administering the Kyosaku ... the sound is rather stronger than the actual sensation ...[/video]]

  26. #26

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Hi Padre,

    This kyosaku is nothing special. You will find similar ones in most temples of Japan. I was involved with Deshimaru sangha for about 20 years. My experience of this lineage is much like everything else, I did meet great people, full of understanding and compassion but also a few control freaks with martial and military attitudes. You are lucky to have a group to sit with. The thing that kind of worries more than anything else is the rigidity, the stiffness and the stress put on out-breath. Zazen experienced like a competition with strong macho style sometimes. So far away from what shikantaza is. But there again it varies from poeple to people.

    Take care



  27. #27

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Hello all,

    I'm new here.

    My first experience of zazen was with Matsuoka-Roshi. I walked into his temple and ask to be taught how to sit. He welcomed me, pointed me to gasho at the altar of the Buddha, offered incense, pointed me to the cushion and I sat for forty minutes followed by kinhin. Another sitting for 40 minutes and it was then that I was administered the Kyosaku. Whack! It wasn't the only time. I came to respect the Kyosaku for I think somehow the one who administers it must know the exact timing and the right spot to administer it to awaken the receiver.

    That was twenty years ago and Rev. Matsuoka has passed on. His lineage is maintained at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center where the Abbot there has written a book on Matsuoka's teachings. The title of the book: The Kyosaku.

    A profound bow to all,

    Fr. James

  28. #28

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    I have never been touch so lightly and gently, or spoken to with such care, as when the monk at Sojiji adjusted my position before applying the Kyosaku (spoken in Japanese by the way, which I don't speak). Not two. This is also mirrored in posture adjustment in some places.

    I don't know about everyone else, but I had to ask for it.

    Sometimes it sounds like there's a crazy Samurai wailing on the Sitters (Eiheiji and Ru jing aside). Hopefully their practice has taught them that such things are handled with great care. Just like handling and folding the Kesa.

    Common sense says not to hit someone too hard, otherwise you could end up causing serious damage. I have yet to come across it, but if that happens to you here's here's a comic: ... gesli1.jpg ... nd4ue0.jpg



  29. #29

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    thanks for the comic Will!!

    Gassho Shohei

  30. #30

    Re: Question about Eiheiji Temple

    Jundo wrote:
    A trickle of water and easy wind can pierce a stone wall, as can dynamite. But the latter often ends up making a broken mess of things, and pieces hard to put back together.
    Beautiful! _/_

  31. #31

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