Zen – Buddhism

The person on the photo is D.T. Suzuki. He is very well known for his work in the field of Zen Buddhism. If you ever got acquainted with the Zen, you might have heard from him. This man often visited -the also famous man – Dr. Hoseki  Shin’ichi Hisamatsu in the place where I got introduced into the meditation of Zen Buddhism in Japan.  I am very fortunate I could be able to see this beautiful space in the Myoshinji temple complex. To be precise, we enjoyed the class in the Shunkoin Temple of Rev. Takafumi Kawakami.

Getting into the meditation was quite ‘getting down to business’. There weren’t any images to worship (which I very much enjoyed) in the room. It was clear, clean and basic. Yet the room was still in Japan and thus gracefully and stylish with perfect wooden and bamboo elements (which I very much enjoyed too).

Gathered on the ground before Rev. Takafumi Kawakami I found my place in the space. Together with my Japanese friend and 6 other international students we waited for him to start.
I was very happy that the stretching at the Kung Fu school paid off, as I crossed my legs in half lotus pose easily !
When Kawakami took place I saw a man with a very vital appearance; smooth skin – clear eyes. I secretly hoped this is the gift of mindfulness so there is a gain from it , haha. I know, I know, not a very ‘enlightened’ thought huh?! haha

Kawakami is a man – that I understand – travels the world and works, gives talks (including a Ted-one) about the zen & mindfulness and informs on how these practices can improve life in modern and hectic times. The man is also a researcher at Keio University and approaches Zen- Buddhism as a science. And as he clarifies ; at both we look at  ‘what is’ and look at the cause and its effect. As he explained; ‘tv-people asked me to comment on the event of the earthquake in Japan. They asked me if I wanted to say something about it from Zen-Buddhism perspective. I asked this tv-people if they really wanted to hear it, because it might not be something people want to hear”. Then Kawakami added: “Because the way I see it; there was an earthquake and people died. That’s it. No cause other then the earthquake itself”. He explained that people have a concept on Buddhism that it means something. But Kawakami says, it does not. It is only cause and effect and seeing just that.

So – one of the first things I got from the first part of the class is that Zen-Buddhism is all about seeing the reality as it is – which is always in the moment. But also I understand from him that every human has cognitive borders and that every human being has a bias on how we see or look at a concept. We “all” look  in a way to the reality through a window. And that reality is then – there is never a right way for ‘something’.  There might be suggestions – but there is no right answer. There is only right now.


When going into the meditation he also explained the difference about the concept of Vipassana and the way he teaches the meditation. Vipassana is a technique from India that is normally given in a 10-day silence retreat –  also focussed on the breathing, but then to detect sensations in the body . And as Kawakami explains; in Vipassana one of the purposes is to separate the physical pain from the psychological pain. Going from ‘my pain’ into this is ‘pain’ and by this, seeing what is the reality as it is.
In Vipassana they use Anapana – a technique to observe the natural breath coming in and going out.  And by using this you observe the bodily sensations. But in the teaching of Kawakami we focussed on the breath and body in a different way. Breathing out way longer than breathing in. As heart rate goes up when breathing in, and heart rate goes down when breathing out, calming the mind.

He explained that if we really want to change something one should start with 30 minutes a day, building it to about 2 hours. To calm the mind, he uses the breath, as breath appears to have a close correlation to emotions. As he says – one cannot control thoughts and feelings, but we can control our breath.
Going into the meditation I got invited to observe what resides in my consciousness/body. I was asked to observe what my feelings were and when I acknowledged this feeling, what is it where my attention went. And to not reflect on what I feel but how I feel.

I found this remark very funny, giving a glimpse on the window I am looking through when I see reality.

And by this making steps in seeing the reality as it is – being here, now.
I love it, it is so simple and yet so,so,so hard work – requiring focus and for me – compassion.

The awareness of my compassion would have been really useful in the first minutes of the meditation; When I was sitting there meditating for 10 minutes in half lotus pose, my mind became agitated.  I was repeating the sentence with one question on how it could be that I did all this meditation, even those 10 days of Vipassana – and I could not relax my mind now. And then it hit me, like a branch of a tree, falling down on my head;
My meditation is not about relaxing or being more productive or being okay with my feelings. It is not meant for me to realise a certain state. It is to create a space – my space – to allow all to be in the present moment, to become. And with this everything became more calm.

When I re-read the last two sentences I really have to laugh again.. ” and everything became more calm” … But you know, it really became more calm. It was still windy in my mind, but see – it went from a tropical storm to a light summer breeze..

After the 30 minutes of meditation – we were shown the garden of the temple and got to speak with Kawakami about Zen meditation.

Again it hit me the extremely practical way of looking at things.

I asked him if there are any techniques to meditate just in daily life – when not ‘sitting’. When working and travelling. He said that when it is unpleasant that I could change my mind by handling from another emotion. He advised the compassion-one as this is close to neutral/centered sensation and then to picture the person I can embrace this feeling with.
Breathing in and out and then look at the same situation. He also made the suggestions that I could sit/meditate more in my daily practice.

He also indeed confirmed my newly defined insights and on the same time he tackled my final hope for a quick win from meditation and mindfulness.  He explained that if you use a technique to be more productive or more happy, you’ll come in a state. But a state is fed by habits  – and that state will never be good enough. You will get bored and want to go for more and more.
But – so he said –  when you find your meaning/your purpose in life, this is where it starts.
I really (really!) wanted to ask how he thinks one can find this meaning/purpose and I went into my mind searching for the answer. But then I remembered what Zen-Buddhism is about :).


If I am asked then, what Zen teaches, I would answer, Zen teaches nothing. Whatever teachings there are in Zen, they come out of one’s own mind. We teach ourselves; Zen merely points the way.

– D.T.Suzuki


12 dec, 2017 original version