Monday, November 28, 2005

Lunch and a meditation session with a Buddhist Monk

Pretty damn cool day... met up with Alex at Tully's before his photo shoot with plans to head over to the Tochigi Dhammakaya Temple for lunch. Alex has Japanese language classes with the head monk at the Temple, who is from Thailand and has been in Japan for 3 and a half years. While sitting around having coffee, I took a couple of shots of these two busy policemen outside their Koban... I swear to god they stood there talking for a half hour while I was sitting there and they were still there when we walked by 3 hours later... of course they may have gone inside at some point... but there's proof that Japan is a safe nation for ya.

So we did the photo shoot thing, then headed to the Temple to meet up with Saychon-san and his followers. It turned out to be an interesting experience to say the least. We were greeted at the door by one of the temple's members who was busy preparing lunch. We were welcomed warmly into what is essentially an apartment building with one floor serving as living\dining area, one floor serving as the Temple and the top floor serving as living quarters for the monks. Quite an interesting setup they have, nice, comfortable, casual kind of place... I was actually surprised to see a monk in full Buddhist dress sitting on a small elevated platform doing his Japanese homework while watching his mentor being beemed in from Thailand via satellite.

Shortly after we arrived and introductions were made, lunch started being served and a few people dropped by to join in the feast. The diners were Alex and I, the 2 monks, and 4 of the Temple's followers... after initial prayers, we proceeded to perform a small ceremony where we offered dishes up to the monk who were seated at a seperate table in an elevated section of the room. While Alex and I could hand the dishes directly to the monks, their followers had to place them onto a small sash, I guess they are not allowed to have direct contact with the monks. It was an interesting way to start out the meal as Saychon-san explained to us that he cannot eat unless the dishes are offered to him... and he's not allowed to cook, so he is totally reliant on his followers to sustain him. All of the food was donated to the Temple, or bought with money which is donated to the Temple... quite a neat little system. And what a donation this was!!!

This was a sashimi set which must have cost a pretty penny... it was quite fresh but I couldn't bring myself to eat a part of an animal which was still staring at me... lol Seriously, I can eat sashimi if I have to, or out of respect when visiting someone's home... but if given the choice, I'll avoid it. You can also see an amazing Japanese style soup as well as some tofu with shrimp and vegetables...

This is the kichen, where the ladies and one gentleman were busy creating the feast... they refused our help and treated us like kings... dishes just kept on coming out for us and they wouldn't sit down!!! By the time they sat down for lunch, Alex and I were already stuffed...

Here are some of the dishes... I think a few more came out after I took this picture and the monks' table was also filled to capacity. The fruit tart which Alex and I brought went over quite well... next time Alex says he'll bring steak... I may make up the Moose Pasta I got from Sean and some pasta sauce...

Throughout the lunch, we learned about the life the monks lead, quite interesting. As Saychon-san put it he eats, sleeps and meditates... simply put of course... he also has a Temple to run, a website or 12 to keep updated and plenty of other work to do.

After the fabulous lunch, our offer to help with the cleaning up was turned down and Saychon-san took us up to the second floor to check out the Temple and give us a beginner's lesson on meditation. It turned out to be quite relaxing and interesting. First he went into a back room, plugged in the big screen TV to their web site, clicked on the link to the "Meditation for Beginners" and started playing a video in the main Temple room. How cool is that? A monk from a 2500 year old religion who holds a degree in Computer Science teaching two white boys (one Jewish, one Catholic) to meditate by surfing to his web site and piping in a video! So after getting a little help with the technique of getting into position, we sat for what amazingly ended up being over 20 minutes in silence (interspersed with the sound of the monk's contacts logging in to MSN Messenger... lol) listening to the voice on the video explaining the steps and what to envision as you meditate. It was totally relaxing... Afterwards, we sat with our monk friend and talked for a bit. He explained about their vision of the Mind, which he says is not located in your brain but at your body's center. He explained to us that your brain is merely the CPU (computer jargon) while the mind is something greater, encompassing all of our thoughts, experiences and previous lives. Meditation allows you to gain access to your Mind, as one would log into a Mainframe, where you can gain access to vast knowledge. Pretty cool that he was explaining basic Buddhist principles using computer jargon. In fact, his use of these analogies and the fact that he is totally wired and hip to new technology makes this quote I found quite relevant.
The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.
Albert Einstein
Pretty interesting that old Albert (we are on a first name basis, just as I call Mr. Gates "Bill" in discussions on the subject) presents Buddhism as able to embrace the search for scientific knowledge... it makes sense since buddhism is essentially a search for knowledge.

So I've done a little reading on the subject and here is a quick comment on Dhammakaya. Before the following comment begins, please take into account that before today I have never studied buddhism, and that I have yet to take the time to research it in depth... and I'm hungry and want to finish this post before getting started on dinner so I've only done perfunctory research. If I offend some with my layman's-totally-web-research-based interpretation of Dhammakaya, I apologize. From the little I've read about the Dhammakaya sect of Buddhism it is a relatively new (1970s) and increasingly popular branch of the Theravada school of Buddhism and has received recognition of it's work by the Thai monarchy. It seems to appeal to the current middle-class in Thailand which is reeling from years of amazing economic growth which has lef the youth of the nation trying to find it's place and identity. Dhammakaya seems to be trying to make a bridge between a 2500 year old religion and society's current needs. Quite an interesting challenge. Their main focus seems to be on meditation, through which it is believed anything is possible through the expansion of one's mind. They have brought meditation to the masses in the hopes that by achieving inner peace, peace can spread through the world, a lofty goal to say the least. Dhammakaya seems to also be the place to go for some people disilusioned with the current Buddhist establishment which has been racked with scandals (much as the Catholic Church has) recently. Unfortunately, it seems that Dhammakaya itself is currently taking hits from a scandal involving the building of a new massive Temple in Bangkok as well as it's rather aggressive methods of seeking donations from followers.

On the way out, Saychon-san showed us the dozens of bottles of wine which they are saving for a big New Year's shindig. However, don't be fooled into thinking there'll be any drinking at this party... the wine as well as cigarettes will be destroyed in a ceremony shedding light on the problems caused by alcohol and smoking. Sad to see all that wine go to waste... I could never be a Dhammakaya Buddhist, maybe because of my French blood???

Here be the big man himself, wearing a tuque since it is rather cold out when you have no hair...

Anywho, off to make dinner, I won't even try to compete with the food I had for lunch... simple pasta and meat sauce for dinner tonight... lol

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Blogger A Christian Prophet said...

For fun! It seems this Buddhist is a perfect Christian. Over on the Holy Inheritance blog today there is a post from the Holy Spirit on perfect peace. It pretty much says the same thing.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Michel Lafleur said...

Well I've always said that when you break any religion down to the basics, they all say the same thing... live a good life, be nice to people, try to make the world a little better than when you got here....

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Sherry Bobbins said...

What was this photo shoot you were in? Are you famous again?

I am surpised you were allowed in a temple. They dont know you quite obviously. No lightening struck you when you walked in??? Did you dodge it or something?

11:19 PM  
Blogger Michel Lafleur said...

Photo shoot was just Alex getting pics done up..... I took some extra pictures with my digital camera so he could get some prints done without paying the ridiculously high developping fee from the photographer.

As for my entrance into a temple, what's with the lightening comment? I have never done anything the least bit uninnocent...

8:31 AM  

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