Morning Blessings Received Years Ago, Not Forgotten

(This is a recently found account of a tour to a morning service at a Zen temple in Kyoto.)

It was still a dark and cold early spring morning when we arrived a bit nervously at the impressive Zen temple in Kyoto. A young monk greeted us pleasantly. His obvious assignment was to instruct us on the proper way to walk, sit and light incense during our planned participation in the upcoming morning service. A more important but less obvious charge was to make certain that we did not exhibit any offensive behavior and that no one in our tourist group strayed to parts unknown. We were not allowed to disgrace ourselves.

We were quickly taught and mastered three hand positions for use during the service.

  1. Palms together, fingertips as high as the nose, elbows out from our sides and hands about a fist’s distance from the face. To be used when walking to light incense. I liked this position best.
  2. Fold left thumb inwards and loosely wrap the fingers of the left hand over the thumb. Cover left fist with right hand. To be used when walking into the service. This position hurt my arthritic thumb. I did not complain.
  3. While sitting in zazen, make cup shape with left hand on lap. Line up fingers of right hand under fingers of left hand. Tips of thumbs should be touching, creating an oval shape. Imagine the light of Buddha in this space. This is the classic,” I not only feel holy, but look holy too”position.

With those instructions under our belts, a loud reverberating gong resonated through every cell in my body, announcing the time for the service to begin. A solemn procession of 200 shaved headed monks filed into the temple, two by two. The senior monks, wearing slightly more elaborate robes, were at the front of line with the novitiates at the end. They took places, in perfect rows on either side of the altar. Continue reading “Morning Blessings Received Years Ago, Not Forgotten”