Teamwork, meditation and discovery: experiencing Buddhism in Kyoto
Studying Buddhism in a temple in Kyoto, Japan, was called an "immersive experience" when Kitty Kendall, a junior religious studies student from Durham, signed up for the study abroad program earlier this year.
Kendall had no idea just how immersive it would be, and how it would change her college experience.
"On my first night in the temple, six other girls and I were taken to the ofuro—the bath house," remembers Kendall. "The thing about bathing in Japan is it's generally communal but separated by sex."
"So there I was, bathing with six women I had just met that day. We didn't even know each other's names and here we were in the bathtub together. We were exhausted, confused and naked—and we just laughed. It was possibly the most awkward experience, but the ultimate icebreaker."
Over the remaining three months in the Antioch Education Abroad program, the Durham student experienced many more life-changing lessons: living, working and sleeping communally; waking up at 4:15 in the morning to meditate and do chores before having a simple breakfast; and sleeping on a traditional thin tatami mat with a buckwheat pillow.
In addition to taking three classes on Buddhism, a key focus for Kendall was practicing meditation. She traveled to a number of temples in Japan to experience different meditative forms.
I had never felt comfortable talking about religion, which I know is odd for a religious studies major. I came back from Japan more confident."
"When it was hot, we'd be meditating, and I'd be covered in sweat," said Kendall. "But then we went to another temple where it was 20 degrees. The heat was distracting, but it's really hard to center yourself when your body is shaking because it's freezing."
They also worked to incorporate meditation in everyday life—remaining silent, for example, during meals and chores.
"It was particularly hard during chores—we had to work creatively to get things done as a team," remembers Kendall.Kendall returned to the States with a depth of education but, most important, a confidence in her knowledge that she had never quite had before.
"I had never felt comfortable talking about religion, which I know is odd for a religious studies major," Kendall said. "I came back from Japan more confident. I had lived in Japan. I had practiced Buddhism. I had a right to talk about Buddhism with some level of authority."
Kendall also gained a deep respect for the religion.
"Maybe that's the best way to acquire an appreciation for a religion—to actually experience it," she said. Kendall pauses, then continues: "This is part of me now. I hope it's going to be with me for a long time."