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Visiting Taka Kawakami at Shunkoin Temple

On a scorchingly hot and humid day, I visited Shunkoin Temple inside the Myoshinji temple complex in Kyoto at the invitation of Takafumi Kawakami, the deputy head priest. Previously just Facebook friends, he had come to my talk at Kyoto University and I looked forward to meeting the man who gives many talks about the Zen & mindfulness. I stumbled into the air-conditioned room and cried out in relief when I felt the cool air. Cold mugi-cha never tasted better. After a while, we ventured out of the room and Kawakami graciously showed me around the beautiful temple, explaining its rich history that reveals how different belief systems were a major part of religious practice in pre-modern society. Shunkoin Temple possesses many artistic and cultural properties related to Zen Buddhism, and also has a deep connection with Shinto and Christianity.

The short tour included a visit to the tea house. There Kawakami explained about the the way the samurai participated in the tea ceremony. The narrow door made them remove their swords to be able to squeeze through. The door was also short, forcing them to lower their heads and get down on their hands and knees to get into the room. The small room forced them into close quarters, near to others, with whom they were equal in that situation. There were no windows and everyone faced inward toward the master.

Today, Shunkoin offers meditation classes in English, as well as tea ceremony experiences, retreat programs, and well-being courses. Kawakami often host groups of students from U.S colleges. Shunkoin is also home to Kawakami's charming daughter Juna 寿菜 and his lovely wife Hillary, who I was surprised to learn was reading my book, When Half is Whole. I look forward to bringing students there to study with Kawakami and experience Zen and mindfulness in a beautiful rich environment.

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