Zazen-kai at Engakuji, Head Rinzai Temple in Kamakura

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During my recent business trip to Tokyo, I joined zazen-kai at Engakuji, a Rinzai temple in Kamakura located southwest of Tokyo. 

I have traveled to Tokyo for business several times a year for over a decade.  I tried to join Zazen-kai in Tokyo but couldn’t find any Zazen-kai that fit my schedule. So this time, I decided to stay in Yokohama, between Tokyo and Kamakura, to join Zazen-Kai at one of Rinzai’s head temples in Kamakura. Kamakura is a city in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, known for its historical significance and numerous Zen temples. During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), it served as the political center of Japan and witnessed the rise and influence of Zen Buddhism.


Rinzai Zen, one of the major Zen sects in Japan, originated in China and was introduced to Kamakura during the late 12th century. The founder of Rinzai Zen in Kamakura was a Chinese Zen master named Eisai, also known as Zen Master Daitō Kokushi. 

Zen Buddhism, also known as Chan Buddhism in China, was introduced to Japan from China during the 12th century. The Kamakura period was marked by social and political unrest, and the teachings of Zen Buddhism resonated with the samurai class and gained popularity among the ruling elite.

Engakuji was established in 1282 and is in front of Kita Kamakura station.  Engakuji was established by the eighth Kamakura regent Hojo Tokimune (1251–1284), who wished both to spread the Zen teachings and to bring peace to the spirits of all those, both Japanese and Mongol, who had perished during the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281.

The teachings of Zen Buddhism resonated with the samurai ethos, as it emphasized discipline, mindfulness, and the ability to act decisively in the face of challenges. In addition, Zen meditation, known as zazen, offered the samurai a way to cultivate mental clarity, focus, and a sense of presence.

Engakuji’s association with the samurai class extended beyond spiritual practice. Engaku-ji also served as a place for the training and education of samurai warriors. In addition, the temple’s grounds included facilities for martial arts training, such as archery and swordsmanship, providing a holistic approach to developing the samurai’s mind and body.

Zazen-kai at Engakuji

Engakuji offers a daily morning zazen-kai starting at 6 am. People who wanted to join the Zazen-kai lined up by the Butsu den. I joined for two days during this trip, and we had about ten people each day. When I lined up, I vowed to the person in front of me and then vowed to the butsu-den. We waited for the monk’s arrival in silence.

Once the monk arrived, we said “good morning” and were then ushered into the butsudan silently. People who were not familiar with Zazen gathered for a quick tutorial while everyone else settled wherever they wanted to sit.

The monk hit the taku and bell, which echoed in the butsu-den, signaling the start of zazen. Soon, I started to hear birds chirping and the sound of motorcycles, very familiar sounds for me at Hakone Gardens. After 20 minutes, the monk hit the taku and bell, indicating the end of the first session. After a short silent break, the second session started. The monk began walking with the keisaku. People who wanted to receive the keisaku vowed when the monk was passing in front of them. I vowed and received the keisaku. Since there was no tatami, I was told to hold both elbows and keep my head down. As expected, the keisaku was given harder (not tapping) than what we offered at our Zendo. It was loud as it echoed in the butsu-den, but it didn’t hurt.

After the zazen-kai was over, I took the rush-hour train back and reflected on my experience. Over 750 years ago, samurai warriors meditated at this temple to quiet their minds. It is amazing that we practice the same meditation today in our zendo, located 5,000 miles away from the temple, and speaking a different language.

I am thankful to have joined the zazen-kai at Engakuji and will definitely come back.

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