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Zen Moments with a Buddhist Priest

It’s a rare occurrence when a room full of energetic college students becomes completely silent for an extended period of time. However, it happened recently during a meditation session in Professor Bill von Hippel’s field lab with his Introduction to Social Psychology students. Their task was to examine the

Buddhist approach to happiness, along with their host, Reverend Takafumi Kawakami, at the Shunkoin Temple & Zen Center in Kyoto, Japan.

Reverend Takafumi, a fifth generation Buddhist priest, taught the students how to sit comfortably on their meditation cushions, where to place their hands, and how to breathe slowly through their noses while quieting their minds. For the next fifteen or twenty minutes the 400-year-old room in the historic temple was wonderfully silent. “My first breath was hard,” Erika Shaid of the University of Michigan admitted. “But by my second breath I smelled the incense, and I began to fall into a meditative state. I felt very relaxed and at peace.” For Shaid, the experience was completely new to her. “I never knew anything about Buddhism before coming on this trip, and it was good to be able to put into action what I’ve been learning.”

Throughout the day, students had the chance to interact with their host as he gave them a tour of the temple, shared his experiences, and participated in a question and answer session. As they delved into the topics of self-regulation and the art of happiness‚Äîtwo subjects that the students are covering in Professor von Hippel’s course‚ÄîReverend Takafumi revealed that, for him, true happiness comes from doing things for others and living in the present moment.

Annie Wilkins, a student who participated in the field lab, found Reverend Takafumi’s views on presence and happiness to not only be relevant to the course content, but also to the voyage itself. “Every moment of this trip is such a whirlwind, and trying to hold onto any second of it can distract you from the next thing that might happen. You just need to take it for what it is, because as soon as you try to hold onto it, it will go away.”

Topics
  • Life on Land

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