“Sit on the cushion,” the monk said, “and put your left foot on your right thigh, then cross your right foot over your left leg.”
We sat in a dim hall at the magnificent Zen Buddhist temple of Eihei-ji, and I did as instructed. He was beautiful, bald, ethereal, dressed in flowing black robes.
“Relax your shoulders, form a circle with your hands, then look at the floor in front of you. When I ring my bell, we will not move or speak for five minutes.”
He rang his bell again after a minute, possibly unable to imagine a Westerner who could shut up for longer.
“Was it hard?”
It was wonderful, not unlike the 10 hours I walk every day.
“We wake up at 3 AM, and start out first hour of meditation ten minutes later.”
He had arrived in February, when deep snow covers the buildings, which hug the contours of the mountainside.
“It was very cold. But I can fold my robe over my hands, like this.”
The only sound was the creak of footsteps in the centuries-old hallways, and the rustle of the cedar grove which concealed the temple.
“I really liked The Grand Budapest Hotel”, he said. “It’s a great movie.”
I left Eihei-ji up the mountainside, on a steep, wet path humming with insects, and when I stepped out of the forest, 500 meters above the temple, I saw the valley of the Kuzuryū River snaking inland, checked by the white wall of Hakusan, its famous snows impervious to the fierce June sun. “I could write forever about Hakusan,” Fukada Kyūya wrote in One Hundred Mountains of Japan, and I walked towards its snowy heights, drawn like a moth to a flame.