Students in World Prayer class visited Kamakura, a former seat of power in the Shogun Era, to spend an afternoon understanding the essentials of Zen meditation at the 676-year-old Ch≈çju-ji Temple. The World Prayer class is actually an English class, wherein students collect prayers from around the world and comparatively analyze them from a context of religious tradition and structure. The prayers can come from anywhere–conversations on a train, carvings at a cathedral, or graffiti on a fencepost–and provide an insight into the religious backbone of each country on the itinerary, including Japan.
‚ÄúWe took the train to a little town with hundreds of ancient, beautiful temples in a very small area,‚Äù described Annie Jonhston, from Vanderbilt University. ‚ÄúIt was perfect‚Äîcherry blossoms were full in bloom. We walked a little ways away to a temple where we had a tea ceremony, then walked into this big room with cushions all around and met a Buddhist priest. None of us really knew what we were about to do.‚Äù
‚ÄúHe didn‚Äôt give us any instructions except he had a very specific way that he wanted us to sit,‚Äù explained Lara Trikha, from St. Mary‚Äôs College of California. ‚ÄúWe crossed our legs, clasped our left hand with our right hand and put it on our lap, and kept our eyes open. He said to stay awake and stare at one spot and to let your thoughts flow. Breathing was the main thing. Really just notice your breath‚Äî5 seconds in, 10 seconds out, 5 seconds in, 10 seconds out.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe folded our pillow in half when we sat on it so our back was straighter and we were able to breathe from our diaphragm,‚Äù Becca Cummings, a religious studies student at Elon University, continued. ‚ÄúLong deep breaths. They told us not to close our eyes, because our mind wanders, but to close them partially to limit on blinking, but to pick a spot in space to stare at.‚Äù