Different Paths to Enlightenment
Though all schools of Zen Buddhism practice zazen, they take different approaches to the specific details. Eiheiji, a Soto Zen temple, practices a type of zazen called shikantaza: practitioners single-mindedly sit in the lotus position, with no specific thoughts or goals. Rather than focusing on breathing or trying to clear the mind, the most important thing in shikantaza is not to concentrate on anything in particular. When thoughts come, practitioners let them simply leave on their own, instead of thinking about them or trying to stop thinking about them. Dogen’s teachings state that zazen is not a means to achieve enlightenment—the practice is, itself, enlightenment. Visitors to the temple can try shikantaza, led by a monk, on limited dates.
However, temples that follow the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, such as Daianzenji , practice a different type of zazen. The Rinzai school’s most distinctive feature is its use of koans: paradoxical or nonsensical ideas presented as stories or questions such as “The sound of clapping takes two hands, but what is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” Practitioners of Rinzai Zen focus on these koans as a part of meditation. Thinking about and considering these ideas serves as a way to arrive at insights and enlightenment.
In addition to these Zen styles, Myotsuji Temple practices a non-zazen form of meditation, known as ajikan. These meditation sessions are open only to overnight guests of the nearby Matsunaga Rokkan. Participants begin by focusing on a candle’s flame, then move their attention to a Sanskrit character that is lit by the candle. Next, participants aim to calm their minds, and focus on their breathing, as they imagine themselves becoming one with nature. While ajikan is practiced in a seated position, there is less of a focus on the lotus position in particular: participants are allowed to sit in chairs if they need to.
Go Deeper with Overnight Zen Stays
For visitors interested in firsthand Zen encounters, but with less commitment, there are boutique hotels in Fukui with connections to temples. Matsunaga Rokkan, in Obama, has ties to Myotsuji Temple, for ajikan meditation sessions at the temple and shojin ryori breakfasts. Matsunaga Rokkan aims to provide a Zen-influenced retreat from busy everyday life, giving guests a valuable chance to look inward, and to connect with nature. To this end, the hotel offers unique experiences like meditative traditional woodworking, or picking herbs and vegetables to use for that evening’s dinner.