Head priest of Zenshoan Temple of the Kokutai-ji sect of Rinzai Zen Buddhism
Zen Week was held in Paris from October 2 to 7 as part of Japonismes 2018. The Great Zen Master (Rodaishi) Nanrei Yokota, Chief Abbot of Enkaku-ji, the Head Temple of the Rinzai Sect, and nine other Zen priests from Japan as well as two French Zen priests from the Lyon area took part in Zen Week. Participants learned about Zen, which forms the basis of traditional Japanese culture, through displays, videos, lectures, group Zen meditation, and shazengo (copying Zen aphorisms with a brush).
Initially, we were rather anxious about the event. Even though the word Zen is now widely known throughout the world, we were not sure how the term was understood in France or how many people would take the leap from being familiar with the term to actually making the effort to come and experience Zen.
However, once Zen Week began, those concerns were immediately swept away due to the tremendous turnout at each event.
As we observed French participants listening intently to explanations of Zen, engaging in Zen meditation while sitting in an unfamiliar position, and struggling to write Zen words or phrases with an unfamiliar Japanese calligraphy brush, we could sense their interest not only in Zen, but also in Japanese culture itself, and felt that we ourselves could learn something from their example.
Meditation led by Nanrei Yokota, Chief Abbot of Enkaku-ji (left) French participants engaged in shazengo (right)
Some might ask what was communicated through these events, but Zen is not something that is to be “communicated” per se. Zen is found in the experience of listening intently, challenging oneself in Zen meditation, or struggling with a calligraphy brush.
In a word, Zen is harmony (chowa).
Zen meditation is about finding harmony between one’s mind and body. Listening to someone speak is about achieving harmony between that person and oneself. Writing calligraphy with a brush is about establishing harmony between oneself, the brush, and the character that is being written.
While Japan is a country endowed with the beauty brought out by the four distinct seasons, it is also a land beset by typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. In such circumstances, the Japanese people have learned to adopt a mindset that finds harmony with nature. Japanese culture is an expression of that state of mind.
We hope that the French people will able to experience this sense of harmony through Japonismes 2018. It is also our sincere wish that these events will bring Japan and France, and indeed the entire world, one step closer to harmony.
1967: Born in Tokyo
1990: Graduated from Faculty of Law at Gakushuin University
1990: Began training at special dojo at Ryutaku-ji Temple in Mishima City, Shizuoka Prefecture
2001: Completed training at the dojo
2003: Became seventh head priest of Zenshoan Temple
2016: Appointed visiting professor at College of Risk Management, Nihon University.
2018: Became specially-appointed professor at Shizenkan Graduate School of Leadership and Innovation
Shoshu Hirai is currently engaged in missionary work, leading followers in group meditation and the copying of sutras at Zenshoan Temple, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, and many other politicians and business leaders practice Zen meditation.
His numerous publications include Saigo no Samurai: Yamaoka Tesshu (“The last samurai—Yamaoka Tesshu”) (Kyoiku Hyoron Sha Co., Ltd.), Zazen no Susume (“An encouragement for Zen meditation”) (Gentosha Inc.), Hana no yo ni, Ikiru (“Living like a flower”) (Gentosha Inc.), Jusansai Kara no Bukkyo Juku (“Buddhism school from age thirteen”) (Kairyusha, Inc.), Mitsu no Doku wo Sutenasai (“Rid yourself of three poisons”) (Kadokawa Corporation), Otoko no Zengo (“Zen aphorisms for men”) (Chiteki Ikikata Bunko, Mikasa Shobo Co., Ltd.), Yamaoka Tesshu Shuyo Kun (“Yamaoka Tesshu—lessons of self-cultivation”) (Katsugaku Shinsho, Chichi Shuppansha), Wasureru Chikara (“The power to forget”) (Mikasa Shobo Co., Ltd.), Obosan ni Narau Kokoro ga Totonou Asa, Hiru, Yoru no Shukan (“A Buddhist priest’s teachings about practices for morning, afternoon, and evening that will keep your mind healthy”) (Discover 21, Inc.), and Anshin wo Eru (“Obtaining a Sense of Peace”) (Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co., Ltd.).