The word “Zen” may conjure different images for different people. In the west, Zen has acquired a sort of mystical intrigue (where the word “Zen” is frequently used as a marketing tool), but the true practice of Zen is very simple as explained by Tokozenji東光禅寺 Head Abbot Daigo Ozawa: it directly points out your true self, and zazen (seated meditation) is training to face your true nature. In addition to meditation, Zen is being focused on the here and now, connected to daily chores and actions wholeheartedly. The concept of mindfulness has also caught on in the west, with conferences such as Wisdom 2.0 and Mindfulness in America.
On September 21 and 22, Japan’s oldest Rinzai Zen training monastery Kenchoji, founded in 1253 in Kita-Kamakura, hosted the third annual Zen 2.0 Global Mindfulness Forum. Bringing together nearly 30 guest speakers from a wide range of fields including IT, science, education, religious studies, and traditional arts, speakers and participants were connected by the spirit of Zen. New friends quickly became old friends. Language and nationality disappeared. Over 20 corporate sponsors including ANA, Ito EN, Dandelion Chocolate, ca ca o Kamakura, and local businesses, IT firms, and others gave their support.
I joined the Zen 2.0 team this March; I have many friends who are Zen priests in Japan as well as overseas. Prior to volunteering at this year’s event, I had assisted with proofreading and promotion in English, including assisting with the Zen 2.0 English press release and distribution on English-language SNS, print and online media such as Tokyo Weekender and Stars and Stripes Japan.
As I approached Kenchoji on foot from Kita-Kamakura station, the temples were just waking up for the morning, with the sound of chanted sutras from morning prayers echoing. There was a palpable energy in the air as I approached the meetup point for Zen 2.0 volunteers, who numbered around 100.
After we were issued T-shirts designed by Koshu Daiki and staff badges, Zen 2.0 cofounders Koji Miki and Mikio Shishido gave an opening speech, and then we did a series of opening stretches and mindfulness activities to give gratitude to our bodies for their support before volunteers dispersed to their various posts (I was part of the media pool for the day).
The 2019 theme of Zen 2.0 was “Connectedness”. We live in a digital age where we are constantly bombarded by social media and overwhelmed with information, and we tend to lose focus on the important connections we have with the people that matter to us, including the connection to ourselves.
Thus, the sessions at this year’s Zen 2.0 focused on incorporating mindfulness into everyday activities and on finding and restoring connections in our lives. Zen 2.0 opened with Kenchoji monk and general manager Seitetsu Murata leading participants through several short sittings of zazen, wshich is the core of Zen practice. Stanford Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, professor/psychologist of Wellness Education, Koji Miki and Mikio Shishido led the opening panel.
Dr. Murphy-Shigematsu’s speech recalled how the traumatic event of a house fire that claimed nearly everything he owned led him to a spiritual awakening and the need to restore lost and broken connections in his life. Maryknoll Sister Kathleen Reiley, a longterm resident of Japan who is a counselor on the children’s ward of the National Cancer Center Hospital in Tokyo, gave a profound talk about the power of zazen to ease the suffering of terminally ill patients and their families.
Other guest speakers included author and mindfulness facilitator Keisuke Shimada, my shojin ryori mentor Kakuho Aoe (head monk of Ryokusenji Temple and chef of temple cuisine who has authored several bestselling shojin ryori cookbooks), Gengo Akiba, head priest at Ryu-unji Temple and Tenpyozan in North California, Phra Yuki Naradevo, deputy Chief Priest at Watpa Sukato in Thailand, and Dr. Jeffery A. Martin, Co-founder of Transformative Technology Lab in Sillicon Valley. In addition, a traditional Odissi dancer, yoga instructors, tea masters, and chocolatiers shared their respective crafts with participants.
Concurrent workshops enabled participants to explore the connection of mind and body through experiencing the tea ceremony, mindful eating, the ties between chocolate, mindfulness and sustainability, and more. Real-time translation via the Zoom smartphone application enabled international participants and media to fully participate and engage with the various speakers, events, and demonstrations.
Although I was only able to volunteer at the first day of the event, witnessing the ability of zazen and mindfulness to help us better connect with ourselves and those around us was a powerful experience, as well as the precious opportunity to connect with like-minded Zen practitioners from around the world. I offer my deepest gratitude to all of the speakers, volunteers and corporate sponsors who made this year’s Zen 2.0 event possible and I look forward to volunteering at next year’s event!
For more information on Zen 2.0 and the Zen 2.0 Foundation, please visit https://zen20.jp/