Monday, March 10, 2014

Temple Retreat

I was lucky enough to be able to spend a night in a temple during my short visit to Nara, Japan. We stayed at Konen-ji, a temple about 20 minutes from the downtown area. It is located in a fairly rural area, surrounded by farmland, bamboo forests, and winding mountain roads. 

We arrived around 5PM and immediately set about exploring our home for the night. Temples, with their light wooden frames, are not built to be well insulated, though thankfully our host was thoughtful enough to provide us with heaters and thick sleeping pads.  

At 5:30 sharp, dinner was served! We sat around low, long wooden tables, and enjoyed delicious but simple vegetarian fare. Each person had their own set of small dishes to enjoy. 

There aren't many technological diversions available, which thankfully meant that people weren't checking their phones every minute. It was a strange feeling though, to know that we had four or five hours after dinner to just relax, chat, or read - no set plans, no connection with the outside world. 

We all went to bed relatively early, and woke up with the sun for a session of morning meditation. Unfortunately the monk who hosted us only spoke Japanese, so I couldn't understand all of the religious aspects of the practice, but basically we sat on our knees in a peaceful silence, broken only by the reverberating sound of a gong. 

We were fairly chilled after sitting in outdoor temperatures for about half an hour, and glad to head back to our dining area for some breakfast! Again, we were served simple and light Japanese fare. Each person got a sunny side up egg, some mock chicken with seaweed, and there was a communal pot of rice and kettle of tea. 

Before our departure, we had about an hour to wander around the area surrounding the temple. It was absolutely stunning to walk around the Japanese countryside in the early light - so peaceful and idyllic, stunningly minimalist in the winter.

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