Experience: Meditation at Shunko-in (Kyoto)

Back in my university years, one of my roommates convinced me one summer that we should enroll in a yoga class. At that time, yoga was not the massive lifestyle craze that it’s since become and I’d never personally taken the plunge.

Our instructor was a 6 foot tall man with a soothing voice and bright yellow bike shorts. He walked us through downward dog and the myriad other poses whose names I’ve now forgotten, before ending every class with a quiet meditation session.

All I can remember thinking as I laid on my yoga mat after every session was “Oh my word. Is this over? I’m hungry. What’s for lunch?”

I never really took to the concept of meditation, even as I got older. Stillness, patience, contemplation … these are not necessarily qualities that are ascribed to me. Still, on my visit to Kyoto in July, I decided to check out the daily English meditation session at Shunko-in, a subtemple of Myoshin-ji in northwestern Kyoto.

The exterior of Shunko-in

Rev Taka runs the meditation at Shunko-in. Fluent in English and a consultant for Google, he dispels a few notions about what  a Buddhist priest should be or look like. He also dispels alot of notions about meditation. To our group of about 25 participants, he explained the general practice behind meditation, the specific poses that meditation often requires …. and then told us it’s okay to throw all of that out the window to find what truly works for us. If meditating for a minute at a time works, go ahead. If meditating while lying sprawled out on the floor works, go ahead. His message was simple: There is no wrong way to meditate.

The room where we practiced our meditation

He did lead us through some timed meditation sessions – the first one about 20 minutes and the second one lasting 5 minutes.

Have you ever meditated for 20 minutes?

That’s a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnngggggggggggggg time, y’all.

I spent that time cataloging the many places in Kyoto I still wanted to eat at. I’m clearly no better at meditation than before.

But I appreciated the message that Rev Taka was trying to impart. I don’t HAVE to sit there for 20 minutes to get the benefits of meditation. It is in my power to find what works for me, and there’s no need to subscribe to a certain manner of meditation.

The rock garden at Shunko-in

The meditation session also includes a brief temple tour, a peek at the temple’s raked stone garden, and a cup of matcha tea and a sweet. The entire experience lasts around 90 minutes and costs ¥2500.

You can also spend the night at Shunko-in, in their friendly guesthouse. For more details on all the temple’s programs, check out their English webpage. I highly recommend checking their website before you head there for a meditation, as the times are not always the same every day.


10 thoughts on “Experience: Meditation at Shunko-in (Kyoto)

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  1. Enjoyed your post! I completely agree that especially when trying to get into meditation, it’s so important to try to develop a joy for it. 20 minutes can definitely feel like a long time, but if you keep trying even with five minutes at a time, you often begin to enjoy it and yearn for it to last longer.

    As a volunteer meditation instructor, I have also seen all sorts of people come in with so many different expectations of what it’ll be like, but at the core of it, it’s simple (which can often be the hard part of getting into it).

    1. Thank you, Suraj! And how fascinating to hear you are a volunteer meditation instructor! What I have learned over time is that “traditional” meditation, at least sitting in a spot and focusing on the actual process of meditation, isn’t for me. But activities and scenarios where I allow myself to be still, relaxed and present are what I actively seek out. I find myself most calmed in a Japanese garden. I’ll sit for quite a while in a tea house or on the porch, and to me, it’s as good an exercise in mindfulness and peace as any other. Now, without a garden nearby, it’s back to work on “traditional” meditation – wish me luck! 😉

      1. Good luck! Haha, I’ve definitely felt that it’s so much easier to meditate or be present in calm places or beautiful zen gardens, but the true test is really being able to be present and still amidst chaos.

        One of my favorite places to just take two minutes to relax is in a conference room, right before a meeting! It’s just one way of finding stillness during our busy lives.

  2. I took a Yoga class at our Church in Rockville. Father White took it also. It was taught by a nun who had serious arthritis in the past. She was about 65, which seemed old to me then. She could twist and bend any way she wanted. Yoga had bee her cure. We did meditations with the different positions we learned. The only one I remember (by name, not how to do it) was called Sunrise. I remember that it felt like Sunrise when you did it. I’m wondering if Yoga would help me now? Actually, I would love to do Tai Chi.

  3. I did an hour long solo session at home a couple of weeks ago. I spent 50 minutes of it in dreamland (because I started it lying down on the mattress!) hahahaha~ 😀

    1. Lol! My mind wanders ALOT when I try to meditate … and it usually ends up thinking about food. Which makes my stomach rumble. Which sounds REALLY loud when everyone else is so quiet! 😀

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