Raymond was centre of Buddhism movement in Canada

Katie Mey, Lethbridge Herald: A small southern Alberta town’s early acceptance of Japanese culture helped shape Buddhism in Canada, making this region a hub of religious growth.

Raymond was the centre of the Canadian Buddhist movement after the Second World War, according to University of Lethbridge religious studies professor John Harding, whose upcoming work will focus on the modernization of Buddhism from a global perspective.

He underscored the local connection during a recent presentation to an audience of about 30 people at the Galt Museum, coinciding with the museum’s Religion in the Bible Belt exhibit.

The first Buddhists moved to Canada from Japan in 1905…

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The latest singles pick-up spot: Buddhist temples

RocketNews24, Japan: Most people go to Shinto shrines several times a year, like for New Years or to make a special wish or prayer, like before a job interview. But with Buddhist temples, it’s usually just for tourism and funerals – not that frequently, basically. But wait! Temples are transforming these days, more and more using their halls for activities such as yoga classes, group date venues (‘gou-kon‘ in Japanese – group dinners with single men and women, seeking potential mates), and even as concert venues!

The idea to use temples as group date venues came from the observation that of the people …

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How to organize Zen? Japanese Buddhists adapt to Western views of their religion

Rocket News 24 (Japan): What do you think of when you hear the word Zen? For most people, “organized religion” probably isn’t a phrase that pops up immediately. This can be a bit of a predicament for Zen Buddhist missionaries working in places like Europe and North America.

The word, which comes from a Japanese translation of the Chinese word chán, literally means meditation, and has developed a romantic sense of being purely in the moment and devoid of all thought. This concept has been focused on by various artists in Western culture like Jack Kerouac, with a diminished emphasis on the less sexy …

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How hunks, rap, and booze might save Buddhism in Japan

It can be difficult to get people excited about religion in Japan. No doubt, Japan’s culture and its religions are deeply intertwined, but the vast majority of Japanese people say that aren’t very religious.

With membership in religions across Japan in free fall, many are trying to make themselves more appealing to attract more followers. How do you get people excited about religion? Do you pull a Pope John Paul II and get some sweet-ass breakdancers to get the kids all excited about God?

Japanese Buddhists have found their weapon of choice: hunks. Not just any hunks, but hunky monks. Earlier this year …

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Meditating Buddhist monk saddles up for Olympics

He’d prefer enlightenment to a medal, but when Japan’s horse-riding Buddhist monk Kenki Sato saddles up for London 2012, he’ll be representing one of the Olympics’ more unusual families.

Shaven-headed Sato, who starts each day with a morning prayer, is following his younger brother Eiken, who also trained as a priest and rode at the Beijing Games. His sister, Tae, 24, is a five-time national showjumping champion.

And his father, Shodo, who heads a 460-year-old temple and adjacent horse-riding club, was a member of Japan’s equestrian team before the 1980 Games in Moscow — only to have his Olympic dream dashed when Japan boycotted.

Kenki Sato is …

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The real Buddha Bar, tended by Tokyo monks

Another Friday night at this tiny neighborhood watering hole in Tokyo: By 7:30, the bar stools and tables in this cozy joint are filling up; office workers settle in with their cocktails and Kirin beers. And by a little after 8, it’s time for the main act.

Vow’s Bar in the Yotsuya neighborhood has no house band, no widescreen TV, no jukebox. But it does have a chanting Buddhist monk so tipplers can get a side of sutras with their Singapore Slings or something even more exotic.

A pair of younger monks — conspicuous with their shaved heads, bare feet and religious garb — man …

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Loving Touch: An extract from “How to Train a Wild Elephant”

How to Train a Wild Elephant, by Jan Chozen Bays

The following extract from Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant is reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Shambhala Publications, Inc.

The Exercise: Use loving hands and a loving touch, even with inanimate objects.


Put something unusual on a finger of your dominant hand. Some possibilities include a different ring, a Band-aid, a dot of nail polish on one nail, or a small mark made with a colored pen. Each time you notice the marker, remember to use loving hands, loving touch.


When we do this practice, we soon become aware of when we or others are not using loving hands. We notice how groceries are thrown into the shopping cart, luggage is hurled onto a conveyor belt at the airport, and silverware is tossed into a bin.

Title: How to Train a Wild Elephant
Author: Jan Chozen Bays
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1590308172
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

We hear metal bowls singing out when stacked carelessly and doors slamming when we rush.
a particular dilemma arose at our monastery for people who were weeding the garden. how can we practice loving hands when we are pulling a living plant out of the ground by its roots? Can we keep our heart open to it, placing it in the compost with a prayer that its life (and ours) will benefit others?

As a medical student, I worked with a number of surgeons who were known for their “surgical temperament.” If any difficulty arose during an operation, they would act like two-year-olds, throwing expensive instruments and cursing at nurses. I noticed that one surgeon was different. he remained calm under stress, but more importantly, he handled the tissue of each unconscious patient as if it were precious. I resolved that if I needed surgery, I would insist he do it.

As we do this practice, mindfulness of loving touch expands to include awareness not just of how we touch things, but awareness also of how we are touched. This includes not just how we are touched by human hands, but also how we are touched by our clothing, the wind, the food and drink in our mouth, the floor under our feet, and many other things.
We know how to use loving hands and touch. We touch babies, faithful dogs, crying children, and lovers with tenderness and care. Why don’t we use loving touch all the time? This is the essential question of mindfulness. Why can’t I live like this all the time? Once we discover how much richer our life is when we are more present, why do we fall back into our old habits and space out?


We are being touched all the time, but we are largely unaware of it. Touch usually only enters our awareness when it is uncomfortable (a rock in my sandal) or associated with intense desire (when she or he kisses me for the first time). When we begin to open our awareness to all the touch sensations, both inside and outside of our bodies, we might feel frightened. It can be overwhelming.

Ordinarily we are more aware of using loving touch with people than with objects. however, when we are in a hurry or upset with someone, we turn him or her into an object. We rush out of the house without saying good-bye to someone we love, we ignore a coworker’s greeting because of a disagreement the day before.This is how other people become objectified, a nuisance, an obstacle, and ultimately, an enemy.

In Japan objects are often personified. Many things are honored and treated with loving care, things we would consider inanimate and therefore not deserving of respect, let alone love. Money is handed to cashiers with two hands, tea whisks are given personal names, broken sewing needles are given a funeral and laid to rest in a soft block of tofu, the honorific “o-” is attached to mundane things such as water (o-kane), water (o-mizu), tea (o-cha), and even chopsticks (o-hashi). This may come from the Shinto tradition of honoring the kami or spirits that reside in waterfalls, large trees, and mountains. If water, wood, and stone are seen as holy, then all things that arise from them are also holy.

My Zen teachers taught me, through example, how to handle all things as if they were alive. Zen master Maezumi Roshi opened envelopes, even junk mail, using a letter opener in order to make a clean cut, and removed the contents with careful attention. he became upset when people used their feet to drag meditation cushions around the floor or banged their plates down on the table. “I can feel it in my body,” he once said. While most modern priests use clothes hangers, Zen master harada Roshi takes time to fold his monk’s robes each night, and to “press” them under his mattress or suitcase. his everyday robe is always crisp. There are robes hundreds of years old in his care. he treats each robe as the robe of the Buddha.

Can we imagine the touch-awareness of enlightened beings? how sensitive and how wide might their field of awareness be? Jesus became immediately aware of when a sick woman had touched the hem of his garment and had been healed.

Final Words: “When you handle rice, water, or anything else, have the affectionate and caring concern of a parent raising a child.” —Zen master Dogen

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Meditation improves meetings

Ten minutes of meditation before a meeting could significantly improve its outcome, according to research by the Kyoto Convention Bureau.

A group of 20 did five separate exercises – including memory, language, comprehension and listening tests – on two separate occasions, 12 days apart.

Before the first session there was no preparation, but before the second participants each did a 10-minute meditation exercise.

The study found that after the second session delegates showed an average improvement of 12.5% in completing the tasks.

The largest individual improvement across all the tasks was 21%, while the smallest individual improvement was 2%.

Reverend Matsuyama, a Zen Buddhist priest, who…

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conducted the meditation session, said: “It is a simple principle; if your tea cup is already filled, there is no point in pouring more tea in it.

“People who come to attend seminars and meetings are often under pressure and tired either because of long journeys or work based stress. If they are to take on-board new information they must first make room for it.”

James Kent from the Kyoto Convention Bureau said future events and meetings were likely to include some form of meditiation.

“The findings of the survey are simply astonishing. Japan has traditionally been known for meditation and we are very happy to have some of the finest schools of meditation and teachers here,” he said.

Kyoto, to the south of Japan, was largely unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the north of the island last month, but the tourism industry has seen a fall in demand.

Kent said he had hoped to introduce more meditation sessions, but the upheaval has made this more difficult.

“The event industry calendar here is steadying after the recent turmoil across the country,” he said.

“Despite these challenges, we are so convinced by the research that we are starting a campaign to persuade organisers around the world to take up the use of meditation.”

These simple 10-minute meditation exercises are not meant to take time away from people’s work, but to help them be more successful at their jobs, he added.

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Dalai Lama asks Japanese priests to produce Buddhist scientists

At an informal discussion with over 200 Buddhist priests, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said Japan with its highly developed scientific knowledge combined with its ancient Buddhist tradition can produce Buddhist scientists.

He said Japanese Buddhist practitioners should engage in dialogues with scientists to explore areas where science and religion can find a common ground in understanding universal values like compassion and kindness. In the last few years, secular dialogues between Tibetan Buddhists and Western scientists have attracted attention to the role of meditation in creating balance between mind and body. Research has shown that a calm mind reduces stress and blood pressure. Quoting another scientific study, he said when one develops anger, things looks very negative and 90% of that negativity is just one’s own mental projection which is just illusion and unrealistic.

He said while modern science has made unprecedented contribution to material development, Buddhist science of training an agitated mind through meditation and warmheartedness is far more advanced than the former.

“Meditation is a healthy way to develop a calm mind. You don’t have to use injections or drugs to achieve peace of mind,” he said. Interests in Buddhist science, which has little to do with abstract and esoteric notions of religion like after-life, has grown over the past years as scientific findings increasingly point to the inherent connection between physical and emotional well-being. He said Buddhism can be divided into three

In the United States, universities of Stanford, Wisconsin, and Emory have already established programs to study the development of a peaceful life. Tibetan monks in India now study modern science in addition to regular Buddhist curriculum. All western scientists interested in Tibetan Buddhism were either Jews, Christians or non-believers, he said, but Japan with its background in Nalanda tradition of Buddhism that emphasizes logic and investigation in reaching the ultimate reality has the potential contribute a lot in such secular dialogues.

According to Ven. Yukai Shimizu, an official with Zenkoji Temple, this exchange of ideas between His Holiness and Japanese priests on Buddhism which was held at the convention hall of Kokusai Hotel is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” because not many Japanese priests get such forums to discuss and debate. “It’s a great opportunity for them to learn from His Holiness,” he said.

The event was organized by four major Buddhist associations in Japan: All Japan Buddhism Association, Nagano Prefecture Buddhist Association, Nagano City Buddhist Association, and the National Zenkoji Association. The Nagano-based Zenkoji Temple has 200 branch temples all over Japan.

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Meditation with monks

A bell tolls at first light. The old timber “nightingale” floors chirp under stockinged feet, there’s a whisper of saffron and black robes, a rumour of conversation and the monks enter the temple. Mist drifts around the eaves like incense and there’s a chill in the mountain air, yet behind the sliding paper screens it’s warm and dark. Low, golden lanterns illuminate an ornate altar, around which the monks sit perfectly still.

There are four monks, ageless, heads shaven. The head priest, seated in the middle facing the altar, lights a stick of incense. The monk to his left begins chanting softly, then the others. The words, incomprehensible to me, have a soothing monotony. The baritone sutras rise and fall, sinuous as breath, regular as heartbeat. My thoughts are lassoed by the rich ringing of a bell, the occasional collision of cymbals, but otherwise wander free no matter how I try to still them.

“Just focus on the breath,” the chief priest, Ryusho Soeda, had suggested during meditation last night, though of more immediate concern is the acute discomfort of sitting in the customary seiza position – kneeling and seated on one’s feet – for more than a few minutes. “Relax,” he reassures later, “we have practised all our lives.”

At the end of the ceremony I step outside. Before the temple is an urn holding a perfect lotus flower and a stone garden raked precisely into a swirling Sanskrit symbol. There is no trace of what I imagine to be a levitating gardener – his footsteps cannot be seen here or in the smaller pebble garden outsidemy room, framed by crepe myrtle and maple bearing the blush of autumn, which I gaze upon until the call to breakfast.

Rengejoin is one of 117 temples and more than 2000 shrines, pagodas, stupas and religious landmarks at Koyasan, a sacred mountain 1000 metres above the plains of Osaka to the north. At the beginning of time, gods descended to live in the Kii mountain range, spanning Koyasan and two other peaks that are now World Heritage listed. Its dense forests became the spiritual heartland of Shinto, the indigenous Japanese worship of nature, and Buddhism, after it came from China.

In 816, after years of study in China, a Japanese monk named Kukai climbed the holy mountain of Mount Koya and created the first temple of the Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism among its eight peaks, said to resemble a lotus. As he travelled he became known in noble circles as a great thinker and calligrapher and among commoners, with whom he worked and taught, as a man of action. Kukai was regarded as a saint by the time he fell ill at the age of 62, when his followers believe he passed into a state of eternal meditation rather than death. Along with his body, the spirit of Kobo-Daishi, as he became known, is believed to reside at the end of a forest path in Koyasan.

On my way to his resting place I walk through the town, past young robed men shod in dazzling white socks and the wooden thongs called geta. The town has the usual services – general stores, a couple of cafes, a barber (it can’t do so well, in a town where most men have shaved heads) – but the local haberdashery sells monks’ working gear, the produce shops sell bunches of umbrella pine for home altars and there are mandala paintings and prayer beads, Buddhas and religious knick-knacks sold everywhere.

Just outside town and along a two-and-a-half-kilometre path beneath centuries-old cedars is the extraordinary cemetery, Okunoin. Once Kobo-Daishi was interred here, everyone wanted to be buried close by. It’s thought half a million graves are here, the little carved stones of ordinary people beside the grand mausoleums of shoguns and emperors – all jumbled together and shrouded in moss and glowing in dappled sunlight. Mist hangs high in the cedars and all sound is muffled but the silence doesn’t feel deathly. It is called the “forest therapy walk” by locals and the effect of entering this city of spirits is powerful and calming, regardless of one’s spiritual inclination.

I pause at the third bridge. On one side is an audience of stupas ankle-deep in the gentle flow of the Tamagawa River, offered in memory of miscarried and aborted babies and people who have drowned. On the other is a line of Jizo statues (a powerful Buddhist protector) being doused with ladles of water – worshippers write the names of their dead loved ones on strips of wood, present them to the Jizo, splash water and pray for their souls. In the river beside them three women dressed in white robes are fully immersed, praying and chanting. And beyond the bridge is the mausoleum of Kobo-Daishi, surrounded by three peaks and a cluster of halls, one of them aglow with hundreds of oil lamps and flanked by two stone lanterns said to have been kept alight for 900 years.

Beyond the cemetery is a network of walks through misty forests of cedar and hinoki. I walk through a landscape as mysterious as Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films, quiet and wild, and in a country of extreme hygiene and order I understand why these mountains are sacred. Pilgrims still approach Mount Koya by the seven main paths, including the Choishimichi, or stone marker path, forged by Kukai and marked by 180 stone pagodas.

There are 52 temples in Koyasan that welcome travellers and a handful are well geared for Western visitors. I stay in two shukubo, or temple lodgings: Muryokoin, with simple rooms and a pond full of koi as large as puppies; and Rengejoin, a larger temple with rooms as well appointed as any ryokan. Both shukubo have exquisite gardens and a similar daily routine: monks and guests attend prayers at 6am in the temple, followed by breakfast at 7am, evening meditation at 5.30pm, followed by dinner at 6.30pm, bathing until 10.30pm. If there are late-night bars in town, I don’t find them.

Dinner on the tatami mats in my room at Muryokoin comes on three trays, each as perfectly composed as haiku poetry, and accompanied by a visit from Hidenori Iwawaki, who seems pleased when I address him as Masterchef.

Shojin ryori, a cuisine developed over more than 1000 years in Japanese Buddhist temples, is based on a religious commandment prohibiting the butchering of animals and is intended to encourage spiritual focus. There are no meat, fish or animal products used and no garlic, onions or strong flavourings. What I imagine might taste bland is quite the opposite. The subtle flavours and textures are a triumph of invention and refinement, based on balancing five colours, five flavours and five cooking methods.

Masterchef urges me to start with konnyaku “sashimi”, little wedges of intensely coloured green, red and white jelly made from a starchy vegetable known as devil’s tongue; its complicated preparation alone might employ a kitchen of monks. In a bowl of thick plum-flavoured miso is a square of goma dofu, a Koya specialty of ground roasted sesame seeds and arrowroot tofu, topped with a tiny autumn leaf carved from carrot as a nod to the season. A neat tangle of soypoached matsutake mushroom, which grows only under red pine trees in autumn, sits beside a plate bearing a roasted chestnut, two wedges of koya dofu, another mountain specialty of freezedried tofu, and a tiny pickled ginger root.

There’s something pickled, something raw, slightly sweet and a hint of sourness, the crunch of lotus root beside the creaminess of eggplant, both tempura-fried, and delicate dipping sauces and stocks with each dish. The tastes and textures are so engrossing that eating becomes another form of meditation.

After dinner one night at Rengejoin, served on cushions in a large room framed by fusuma (very old sliding doors painted with scenes of mountain beauty) we’re joined by Kiyomi Soeda, the head monk’s 89-year-old mother and diminutive matriarch of the 700-year-old temple. In precise English, with barely an accent, she tells of growing up on the mountain, learning English as a child in far-away Tokyo and returning to Koyasan as a young woman when English was regarded as the “enemy” language. At the end of World War II, suddenly her skill as a translator for the villagers and American troops was vital. She describes the post-war poverty – “we counted every grain of rice” – her marriage to a priest and their struggle to save Rengejoin from ruin. Faith is a great healer.

Next morning, after prayers and a perfectly composed breakfast, I ask head priest Soeda-san the difference between Zen Buddhism, well known in the West, at least superficially, and the lesser known Shingon Buddhism, which originated here on Mount Koya. “They are different paths to the top of the same mountain,” he explains over a cup of hojicha, roasted green tea. They are difficult concepts to explain in a second language but he is unflappable – “Zen”, I might have said before I knew better. Zen would deny desire, he says, but Shingon recognises it exists and “seeks to transform it”.

Evening meditation in the temple lasts exactly 40 minutes, the time it takes to burn a stick of incense – “long enough to gain some spiritual tranquillity”, Soeda-san says. An old stereotype has an exhausted Japanese salaryman returning home to his wife with only three words: Meshi! Furo! Neru! (meal, bath, bed), the words symbolic of an empty marriage. For me, the routine is deeply therapeutic: morning meditation, breakfast, walking, reading, evening meditation, meshi (three trays of shojin ryori), furo (a long, hot soak in a big wooden bath) and neru, a long, dreamless sleep. My own modest nirvana.

Helen Anderson travelled courtesy of the Japan National Tourism Organisation and Singapore Airlines.


Getting there Singapore Airlines flies to Osaka for about $1150, with an aircraft change in Singapore. Jetstar flies from Melbourne for $854 and from Sydney for $716, both with an aircraft change at the Gold Coast. (Fares are low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney, including tax.) From Kansai Airport, take a 40-minute train to Nankai Namba Station in Osaka, then a train bound for Gokurakubashi, which takes about 75 minutes, then a 10-minute cablecar ride to Koyasan.

Staying there Shukubo, or temple lodgings, usually have simple tatami-mat rooms and futons with shared toilets and a traditional communal bathhouse (separate genders). Breakfast and dinner are usually included in the tariff. Rate for each person at Muryokoin from ¥9500 ($116); book by phone via Koyasan Shukubo Temple Lodging Cooperative, +81 736 56 2616, see shukubo.jp/eng. Rooms at the more upmarket Rengejoin cost from ¥9500 a person twin share, from ¥11,550 for a single. Phone the temple on +81 736 56 2233.

– Rent bicycles and English-language audio guides at the Koyasan tourist information centre, where you can also buy a ticket covering admission to six of the major temples and museums. See shukubo.jp/eng.

Sydney Morning Herald

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