Zazenkai is a weekly prayer and sutra recitation meeting that is held at Okayama City’s Sogenji Temple and Monastery on Sunday’s at 8:00 am. It opens to the general public, allowing for beginners and skilled practitioners alike to experience Zazen Buddhist meditation in an inspirational setting.
Located in Miyoshi near Tomiyama Elementary School, the temple is tucked away in a pine-covered wooded area at the base of a mountain. It is accessible from Route 28, which runs from central Okayama City to Ushimado. From Okayama Station you can take a Saidaiji bound Ryobi bus and get off at the Sogenji bus stop. From there it is a five minute walk to the entrance. As you walk, you’ll notice that the sounds and sights of the outside world start to fade away and by the time you reach the temple it will seem like the only place in the world.
It’s best to arrive a little early because the meeting starts promptly. In my experience, people started to arrive around 7:45 am. There was a mix of foreign and local Japanese visitors scattered around the entrance to the monastery waiting for the chance to enter. When we received the signal, we all started to flow into the large temple hall reserved for Sunday Zazen.
On the day I went there were about fifty visitors to the spacious hall which had the solemn smell of wood and tatami. We sat on the floor in lotus position as the lead monk and two foreign-born pupils entered, beginning the meeting. The lead monk said a few words and initiated some breathing exercises. After this, he started to chant one of the prescribed sutras.
As we chanted, the pupils began to walk between us, each carrying a long bamboo stick. Suddenly a few of the participants lowered their heads, which invited a swift strike on the back with the stick. This practice is designed to focus the mediation but also reinforces a feeling of intensity.
At the end of the meditation the lead monk said some closing words and bid us on our way, inviting visitors to return next Sunday.