Several temples on the Chichibu 34 Kannon Pilgrimage provide guided experiences of zazen, and Hosho-ji (No.32) offers instruction in English and Mandarin. After a brief explanation of how meditation is performed, visitors seat themselves on small cushions called zafu. Eyes are kept half-open, to block out external distractions while remaining awake, and one’s gaze should be fixed about 1 meter ahead on the wall or floor. The back should be held straight, but not rigid, and breathing should be light. Focusing on one’s breathing can help to clear the mind, but the ideal way is sitting in quiet self-awareness without focusing on any specific thing. During the session, the priest leading the meditation may circulate with a flat wooden stick called a kyosaku. Traditionally, this stick is used to strike meditators on the shoulders to call attention to poor posture, bring a wandering mind into the present, or even provide a flash of awareness that can aid in reaching enlightenment (satori). Reservations for zazen can be made by emailing or calling the temple. Same-day bookings are often possible, but visitors should confirm in advance. A ¥2,000 donation is requested for each participant, and visitors should wear clothing that will allow them to sit comfortably and modestly.
Two temples along the Chichibu 34 Kannon Pilgrimage offer the opportunity for visitors to try copying a Buddhist sutra: Saiko-ji (No.16) and Hosho-ji (No.32). Those who prefer instruction in English or Mandarin should go to Hosho-ji. No reservation is required, but there is a requested donation of ¥1,000 per participant.
Hosho-ji offers three sutras for copying. One of them, Phrase Kannon Sutra, is ideal for beginners, and completing a copy usually takes between 30 and 60 minutes.
Visitors are led to a tatami room with the desk and materials prepared. The chosen sutra text is overlaid with a translucent sheet of copying paper. To copy the sutra, trace the characters beneath from top-to-bottom, right-to-left. While it is important to proceed slowly and carefully as a sign of reverence, the copyist’s sincerity outweighs the quality of the handwriting.
Traditionally, upon completion, the copyist reads the sutra aloud, repeating after the priest, who pronounces it a few sounds at a time. Visitors can choose to take their copied sutra home or to dedicate it to the temple. If they choose to dedicate it, the sutra will be placed on the altar with other offerings and ritually burned.