Monastic experience in Japan
From 17 September to 12 October 2011 brother Matteo was in Japan, where he was invited with four other monks and nuns from Europe and the United States to participate in the 12th East-West spiritual exchanges between Christian monks and Japanese Zen Buddhist monks. For several years now these have been organized by the Monastic Inter-religious Dialogue (MID) and by the Institute of Zen Studies of the Buddhist University Hanazano of Kyoto. This experience of inter-monastic exchange gave br Matteo the opportunity to live as a guest in several Zen monasteries, as places fruitful in knowledge and spiritual enrichment.
The organization of the visit was faultless under every aspect, and the welcome received everywhere was astounding. The schedule provided for a first introductory stay at S?genji , a Zen monastery of the Rinzai school at Okayama. Here the group was initiated into the various dimensions of Zen monastic life: intense and lengthy sessions of zazen (seated “meditation”) in the zend? (the room for Zen), the hard discipline of work, the complex ritual of the meals, the profound instructions of the abbot. Br Matteo was able to have fruitful exchanges with the many outside presences in the community and with some had also the joy of sharing some moments of prayer, as he wrote in a letter to the community.
A particularly good moment is the prayer that we hold ourselves at the end of the morning, in which participate a good number of monks and students, who impress me by the determination with which they are seeking. An exchange with them on the basis of the Gospel reading is especially deep and fruitful. They give many ideas and ask for many explanations. We feel that we are on the same path of emptying and dispossessing ourselves, in a struggle against the ego that alone can liberate us.
Thanks to this warm reception, there was no lack of occasions for meaningful encounters with many r?shi, spiritual masters and abbots. Stimulating comparisons arose concerning the nature, goals, and forms of Christian and Zen monasticism. From the abbot of S?genji, the master Harada Sh?d?, br Matteo was able to gather penetrating intuitions on the monastic life:
"The more rules there are in the monastery, the more the monastic life becomes profound and interesting… Whatever kind of monastic life you live, not even a minute should be lost… In monastic life things need a long period of development, since the monastic life is not only an enthusiasm of the beginnings, but is to be carried forward to the end of one’s life".