- Anthony talks to Reverend Takafumi Kawakami, a Zen Buddhist Priest in Kyoto. They discuss the practice of meditation and how it can be used as an effective stress management tool. They also tackle the role of Buddhism in modern-day Japan and what Reverend Takafumi is doing to revitalize his temple as a center for learning in his community.
- Anthony also introduces a brand new podcast on cycling. Hosted by two avid cyclers in Japan, Pedal Asia Podcast brings the latest cycling news coming out of Asia.
Science meets Zen
Although the temple has been with his family for years, Reverend Takafumi Kawakami didn’t originally think of becoming a priest. Having studied psychology and economics in the U.S. as opposed to their background in religion, Reverend Takafumi was more into science and management. What changed his mind was when he started taking religious studies. It was then that he realized that religion was more than just superstitions and services. Far from its academic side, he became interested to practice it in real life.
Zen meditation is often misunderstood to be a mystic experience. Rather than an out-of-body experience, it is a condition of mind to live in the moment. Reverend Takafumi worked with neuropsychologists and taught his classes with a scientific approach. Because meditation focuses one’s thoughts and quiets the mind down, it works great as a tool in stress management. Zen Buddhism’s common techniques are focusing on one’s breathing and counting. But rather than just emptying and resting one’s mind, meditation allows the mind to digest information slowly. This includes feeling the air inhale and exhale out of one’s nose; it can also mean taking in stimulations in the environment one at a time. Thus, while it might look like a challenge to find a quiet time and place to meditate, one can practice it anywhere with the right mindset.
Doing the Meditations
To begin the habit of meditation may not be easy. It is recommended that people find a place that is safe, simple, and stable to have fewer stimulations from the environment. This prepares the brain to simply focus on the activity of breathing as a start. It does not result in drastic changes within though. But when practiced habitually, the mind can be bothered less by the environment and can be relied on to create its stimulation. Unlike when it is awake and receiving so much information, the mind works similarly to when it is in deep sleep. It categorizes important information and stores it in long-term memory. Having this high level of brain activity allows people to control their thoughts and lower their stress. Stress can trigger the body to release hormones that weaken the immune system and make people act aggressively towards others. Meditation helps people deal with it and live a more balanced life.
The Role of Religion in Modern Japan
The role of religion in Japanese society may have changed over time as people shy away from being fanatically religious. Still, people are attached to it in superstitious ways. People carry with them amulets to ward off bad spirits, attend temple services, and visit shrines in fear that something bad may happen. History has made people feel that the priest has some divine power or that these traditions have something special – yet they do not go deep into religion’s teachings. The original idea of religion talks about everyday issues and not just methodologies.
In the wake of the earthquake that struck Japan in the previous year, Reverend Takafumi would advise living in the moment. Harsh as it might be, mourning will not bring people back. But talking about them for future generations keep them alive. What people can control at the moment and what they choose to focus on will determine the future. What happened in the past is done but the question remains on what people can do to go forward.
To learn more about the mediation classes and the history of Zen Buddhism, visit the temple’s website at Shunkoin Temple. They also have a Twitter account and email where Reverend Takafumi can answer your questions or send advice on how one can practice meditations.