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Zen Means Simplicity

10-01-2010

Zen Means Simplicity

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IHCSA Café asked Mr. Daiko Matsuyama, the deputy chief priest of Taizoin temple in the precincts of Myoshinji, the head temple of the Myoshinji branch of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in Kyoto, about Zen and its meaning in the modern world. Mr. Matsuyama is also an ambassador of the “Yokoso! Japan” tourist campaign.

Did you decide to become a Zen priest from your childhood days?
The clear decision came when I was a university student. My father, who is also a priest, insisted that I shouldn’t become a “frog at the bottom of a well” [ignorant of the outside world], so I entered university in Tokyo. In the first two years I lived at a temple in Tokyo and helped there while attending school. I didn’t have much chance to enjoy campus life! [Laughs] Around that time it was decided that I would succeed my father at the temple. But I wanted to do a little more before then [Laughs], so I got permission to go on to graduate school. At university I studied Japanese sake in the Faculty of Agriculture, and at graduate school I studied about the multiple functions of agriculture—in other words, the multifunctional role of agriculture not only as an industry but also in preserving the natural environment, preventing natural disasters, forming a scenic landscape, and so on. After completing graduate school, I entered practice at Heirin-ji temple in Niiza, Saitama Prefecture.

What kinds of things did you do in Zen practice?
We got up at 3 o’ clock in the morning, and after reading sutras for an hour and eating a humble breakfast [porridge with 10-20 grains of rice and a pickled plum], we did Zen meditation for an hour and a half and then engaged in chores around the temple, such as chopping wood and cutting grass, until lunch. After a short lunch, we did more outdoor work until 5 o’ clock and then more meditation from 6. Usually the meditation lasts until 9, but sometimes at the beginning we did overtime [Laughs] and didn’t go to bed until about midnight. For the first half year we were forbidden to go out of the temple, and after that we were allowed to go out for only one or two half-days a month. We were not allowed to read any newspapers or books.

You couldn’t do any reading even though you had gone on to graduate school?
That’s right. Zen practice means casting aside everything that you have accumulated thus far.

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