Serenity on the mountain

by Michelle Magnan, Calgary Herald, Sept 14, 2007

On one of Japan's holiest mountains you can meditate with monks and find solitude far from the buzz of the cities

Koyasan, Japan -- As the train left Osaka and headed toward the lush hills south of the Japanese city, I felt very far from home. The small train stopped every once in a while, letting people off on diminutive, deserted platforms. When it eventually slowed and pulled into the last stop, I was one of three people to switch to an even smaller train. Winding its way up the mountain, it finally dropped us at a cable car station.

<<  Guest rooms at the Koyasan, a Buddhist religious retreat, overlook this beautiful garden. Photograph by: Michelle Magnan, Calgary Herald

The final leg of the journey was harrowing -- a five-minute cable car ride that felt completely vertical. At the end of the climb, I arrived at my destination: Koyasan, a mountaintop town brimming with Buddhist temples.

I had read about Koyasan, one of Japan's holiest sites, in a book called The Rough Guide to Japan (Rough Guides, 2005, $39.99). Fifty-three of the 117 temples there take in visitors and invite them to participate in the monks' prayer ceremonies. It sounded intriguing.

I am not a religious fanatic by any stretch, but something about the retreat appealed to me. So, in mid-May, after a week of vacationing in bright and bustling Tokyo, I decided to visit Koyasan for a unique look at Japanese culture

Koyasan is 50 kilometres south of Osaka and about 1,000 metres above sea level. It has a long history, starting with a monk named Kukai, who went to China to study Shingon ("true words") Buddhism in 804. The monastery he founded in Koyasan in 816 became the head of the sect.

When I arrived at Rengejoin, the temple I had booked, I wasn't sure what to expect.

According to the Rough Guide, "foreigners are assured a warm welcome at this lovely old temple, founded in 1190." The book was correct.

The monk who greeted me was kind and spoke English. He explained that I was welcome to join the daily meditation session at 5:30 p.m. and was also invited to join the monks' prayer ceremony (called "otsutome") at dawn. My dinner and breakfast would be provided.

Another young monk led me to my traditional Japanese-style room, complete with sliding doors, tatami mats and a small, low table where hot green tea and a small wrapped snack greeted me.

As I settled in, I could hear birds singing and water trickling in the beautiful Japanese garden facing my room. I could also hear people talking a few rooms down -- the walls were paper-thin.

I read about the upcoming meditation, called "ajikan," from a booklet on the table.

"Through meditation, one may wash off the dust and dirt from one's heart, awakening to the same pure heart as Buddha," it said.

At 5:30, I went to the main temple, a small, dark and ornate room that smelled of incense. I was joined by about a dozen other tourists, none of them Japanese. The mountain air was cool, so it was a pleasure to discover the mats we sat cross-legged on were heated.

We remained in silence for 40 minutes with two monks, one of them the chief priest of the temple. Even though my ankles were numb and my legs were sore from being in the same position the entire time (a common feeling among the tourists, I later learned), the time flew by.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: