Throughout our life, our sense of identity changes and grows with our life experiences, adventures, and the time we spend with people around us. However, who we really are is a question which might require a lifetime to seek for an answer, whether we are as unique as every snowflake in the winter sky; a dew, pure and simple, quietly reflecting the whole world around it; or just no one (Valar Morghulis!). Spending three days in Eiheiji, one of the most important monasteries in Japan, is likely a once in a lifetime experience. This experience has the kind of impact that can help us to deepen our understanding of who we are.
At 4 am, the jarring sound of bells unforgivingly interrupts our sweet dreams of buffalo chicken wings and Pulpit Rock drinks. Our days always start with a zazen session, or sitting meditation. The session is usually 40 minutes, or sometimes 80 minutes with a short break in between. Despite the calming and enlightening goal of meditation, our first session of meditation was full of pain, in which time seemed to go by slower than when you are doing a plank. But like everything else, meditating requires a lot of practice. Its like an experience of detachment while your body is a mountain and your thoughts are like clouds that fly by. With zazen, you learn how to be at the present, to focus on just the thing you are doing.
Zazen is usually followed by a morning service which lasts around a half hour, in which we follow along and chant from the Eiheiji sutras. The experience is magical with more than 100 monks gathering to pray and chant. The flawless cohesion of the chants was magical, even when we were freezing in the unheated hall and not wearing any socks. However, like how any Buddhist monk would teach you, nothing is permanent, even our sufferings. This was definitely true, because after the morning service ended, we were rewarded with breakfast. Such is the way of learning.
The time at Eiheiju was challenging, but the lessons we learned are what we will remember for life. We learned about the things we already knew but had not realized, since “knowing” and “understanding” are two different things. We learned to cherish our food, for it is the cure to our hunger, and there is effort put in by others to prepare our meals. We learned how to appreciate the present and to prepare for nothing but expect anything. We learned to live without the things we thought to be valuable such as internet, phones, makeup, music, etc. Many times we may be distracted by the material world. This prevents us from reflecting on our true self, observing our own thoughts, and finding our inner beauty. However, the experience at Eiheiji has given us clarity to better understand and realize our own selves.