Trying zen meditation

While I was in Kyoto I had the chance to visit Myoshinji temple to try out zen meditation. Myoshinji is a large temple complex with many sub temples within its vicinity. The meditation was held at Taizoin temple, the oldest sub temple in the vicinity, and was arranged by my university.
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We were told to leave all our belongings outside and take a seat in a large, empty room. We were told to relax and try to empty our minds by slowing our breathing and concentrating on counting numbers in our head. To my surprise, we were not asked to sit in lotus position, as the monks are well aware that it is rather painful for those not used to it. Instead, they just told us to cross our legs on a flat pillow, which was very comfortable.
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The monk walked around with a large stick, which he would use to tap/hit people on the back if they felt that they couldn’t concentrate. This looked scary, but a friend who tried it said it was rather massaging, and you had to request to be hit anyway (and then say thank you). 15 minutes of meditation actually fly by really quickly, and the experience was definitely something I will never forget!
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We then walked to the back gardens of the temple (which is accessible to the public), where he explained that zen gardens usually use evergreen plants that convey the same beauty and peaceful experience no matter when you look at it.
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We were also asked a riddle that had been preserved in a very old painting, which also had the answers from various philosophers, all of which seemed illogical. See if you can come up with an answer! (I cracked my brain trying to).

How can you capture a very slippery, large catfish in a gourd?
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We then continued on to the Ying and yang gardens which were separated by a large, old sakura tree. The monk explained how humans tend to see good and bad separately, although they exist together.
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Then we preceeded towards the beautiful koi pond (or so I thought). The monk explained how the temple came up with their own answer to the riddle- there was a catfish swimming somewhere in the pond, which was shaped like a gourd (mind blown).
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The garden of Taizoin temple is actually really pretty, and worth a visit especially in autumn when the colours are in full swing.
If you want to try out zen meditation at Taizoin temple, visit their English website for more information. Please note that a minimum of 10 people are required for a reservation.

Asha Mehta