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Kontaiji Temple Retreat

Ty Burhoe


Welcome back my friends, This year's Kontaiji Temple Retreat was fantastic. It was perfect weather and we had an amazing group of people come up to join us. Here is an over view of our time together.
There are certain places in the world where the land itself aids in the unlocking of your awareness and the fresh air of hope in our lives. I feel that Kontaiji Temple and the mountain area on which it sits is such a place for me. So to be able to host retreats there every year is an honor and a dream come true.
この世界にはその土地自体が、私たちの感性を研ぎ澄まし、新鮮な風と希望を感じさせてくれるところがあります。 金胎寺はその一つだと思います。なのでそのような場所でリトリートを開催させて頂くことは、本当に光栄であり夢のようなことです。
When you first arrive in the country around Kontaiji, you find your self in the beautiful tea farming areas from which the Kyoto green teas are grown. The tea fields are so lush and beautifully kept, it totally renews ones craving for green tea. And as you might know, the partner I have in doing these retreats is Obubu Tea run by Matsumoto and Kaori Yasuharu. You must order some of their amazing teas! My favorite is the ceremony tea called Macha, which is the green powdered tea. WOW!

Green tea fields on the way to Kontaiji Temple


Then as you reach higher into the mountain, the road narrows and begins to look like a 12th century horse trail. Of course the tiny cars in Japan (which are awesome) are about the right size for these roads. And as you no longer see power lines and your cell phones stop working and the road ways look hand made, you begin to realize that you are basically going back in time.

The road to Kontaiji Temple


Kontaiji was a temple built nearly 1800 years ago and was most likely used as a sacred gathering place before that. It went through many transformations over the centuries, but was considered the protector of Kyoto city and the royalty there. The mountain itself was used as a training ground for the mountain monks and for the samurai warriors from all over Japan. There are sacred waterfalls which have pure and cold waters coming right out of the side of the mountain. These waterfalls and steep cliffs and wild forests were perfect training grounds for the warrior of the battle field and the warrior of the heart. And these monks still live out there, using these sites for their training to this day. There is even a shrine on the property where some of the Buddha's bones are kept - this is one of a very few sites where this was allowed world wide.

Entrance to Kontaiji Temple

As you walk up to the temple through the beautiful gardens

The view from the temple brings a deep peace to ones heart


This year I was blessed to be joined by Noriko Takei, a Shivananda Yoga instructor in the Kyoto area. She lead the group in some wonderful yoga classes several times during the retreat. She is graceful and deeply devoted to the path of yoga. It was inspiring to be able to accompany her classes with my tabla and get some bending in myself (which I really needed!!!). She was sensitive to the quality of our surroundings and the sacred nature of Kontaiji, and she worked very well with the topic of sound and music, which made it easy to toss the ball back and forth between our classes.

Ty and Noriko-sensei in the courtyard of Kontaiji Temple


Our orientation for all the participants took place under the great ceremonial tree growing above the temple grounds. We did some yoga and tuning in with the land and surrounding nature. A very special way to begin the retreat.

The group in meditation under the sacred tree

Matsumoto Yasuharu (manager of Obubu Tea) 
in sitting meditation


Then, following our orientation, we came down to find our dinner ready. Oishi-so (Yummy). The food prepared at the temple is considered temple style food. Very simple and healthy, yet very delicious. Preparation and presentation are both very important since it is their belief that how one perceives and honors food is as important as what is in it.
そしてオリエンテーションの後は、私たちの夕食が用意されていました。とても美味しそうでしょ?このリトリートで用意された食べ物は、シンプルでとても健康に良いもので、そして美味しいものでした。 用意する過程とそれをお皿に盛る過程は大切にされています。実際に口に運ぶものの内容(質)と同様に、それまでのプロセスは同じくらい大事なことだからです。

The temple style meal at Kontaiji Temple

We ate traditional style the first night in the entry room of the temple
on the tatami mats (soft bamboo tiles which create the floor)


The next morning we took a long hike down the mountain lead by the head Priest of the temple, Kanji Okada. He took us down through the upper tea fields and around the river springs to the sacred training water falls that these mountains are famed for.
翌朝はお寺の住職である岡田さんに先導してもらい、山中をしばらくの間歩いて行きました。茶畑の中を通り、 川の湧水地を回りこみ、神聖な滝水の修行場所へたどりつきました。

Hiking down the mountain side, tea fields in the distance

Kanji-san giving us lessons on the spiritual significance
of certain sites along the way


When we arrived at the waterfall, it was obvious that this was an ancient and very sacred place. There were old carvings and statues in the waterfall rocks and prayer ropes and flags amongst the trees. But more stunning, was the vibration of the place. It had a feeling of purity and freedom while also demanding a certain serious presence of mind - I could see why it was used for training all these centuries.
The head Priest Kanji-san went first and chanted some very intense mantra for a couple of minutes under the cold falls. It was so inspiring to see the lineage of training in action. He is an amazing and powerful being, truly in tune with the mountain spirits and the lineage which he carries.

Head Priest Kanji-san chanting in the waterfall


Then he had us do the training ourselves using a special chant which he gave us. The water was chilly and to do hour long chants while maintaining complete focus would indeed be a challenge, but to do this on January 1st when there is snow and ice covering the rocks and trees would be a different matter. That is when this training begins to get serious.

Three of us doing the practice - I'm the big one :)
三人のリトリート参加者が滝水に打たれているところ (私は一番大きい人です)



We made the long hike back to the temple and had an amazing lunch and a bit of a rest. Then had a great yoga class with Noriko-sensei where we worked out any tightness from the hike and then transitioned into my class on sound and meditation.

Having a great time in Yoga class


In my class, we focused on looking at our perception of the world and what it is made of. We looked at the particles of sound that weave together the physical matter of which we are made as are the beings surrounding us. We looked at the process of letting go and trusting when in meditation and even did some falling exercises to clarify that feeling. The topic of Nada Yoga and sound are so vast, that we really need a several years course to bring the whole topic to light. But a few days at Kontaiji Temple is a good start!!


Catching a trusting participant


And of course, I could not connect to the group and communicate the deeper meanings of what I wish to share without a good translator. I have come to realize, that just because I have a translator, does not mean my message is getting across. If the translator does not have a real understanding of what I am talking about, then they cannot process the real meaning and then translate it into Japanese in a way in which people will get it. It is extra critical when discussing more poetic, spiritual topics. Thus, my heart felt thanks goes off to Kaori Mizuno who was my translator for this years retreat and also happens to be my assistant for Tala Records up in Tokyo. She was nice enough to come down and help me. Thank you Kaori-san!!


Kaori Mizuno


Later that night we had a bit of a tabla class and I got those talented minds practicing some basic tabla strokes. As I have said before, I have never seen minds as focused and ready to learn as the Japanese; young, old, middle, male, female - everyone has been raised with such courtesy, manners, respect and honor and focus, that it appears in all aspects of their lives.

Teaching tabla to a few participants


Then we prepared for the evening musical event in one of the beautiful back rooms of the temple. We decided to hold a kirtan chanting evening and invited a singer up from Kyoto named Miyuki-san who had a lovely voice and very devoted spirit.
そしてその晩のコンサートの準備を、お寺のある美しいお部屋にてしました。 今年のリトリートではキルタンをすることにし、京都在住のみゆきさんをお招きしました。美しい声を持ち、キルタンを心から愛している方でした。

Miyuki-san and Ty


The evening went wonderfully and many of the participants had never sung at a kirtan before. So it was a new and fun experience for all. We sang by candle light and talked about sound and spiritual practice throughout the evening. It was a wonderful end to our second night at Kontaiji.

Preparing some material for the nights kirtan chant

The following day was packed with special events. A couple of my favorite foods on the planet are umeboshi plums and macha tea. I am one of those weird non-Japanese guys who like those type of things :) So we made some special sweets from scratch in the morning which involved crushing raisans with nuts and butter etc... and then creating little balls and rolling them in Macha tea powder or coconut. WOW, those were quite the power house punch for those of us who have a sweet tooth.

その翌日は特別なイベントで詰まった日となりました。私の、この惑星に存在する食べ物の中でも(大げさですが)大好きなのが、梅干しと抹茶です。私、ちょっと変わった「外人」ですね。 (英語では書かれていませんが、タイは納豆も好きです。)特別なお菓子を最初から手作りしましたよ。レーズンやナッツをまずは砕きまして・・・。そして団子にして。ワーオ!甘いものが好きな人にはかなりパンチの効くお菓子です(とても満足する甘さです)。

Beautiful Obubu Matcha Tea Powder

They gave me the hard job of crushing stuff -
See that big smile she is giving once I started sweating!!

Ready for eating !!!!


Our final lunch together was out doors and we prepared it together and served it together. We were like a bunch of kids on summer camp by this point and as you know, food made with love and joy simply tastes better.

Serving lunch with some of the crew

Eating lunch in the court yard


Now, I want to give a special thank you to Kaori Matsumoto (Obubu Tea Manager) who was the main force behind making this retreat run smoothly. Last year it was Matsumoto-san running the show and this year it was Kaori-san. Those of you who have produced events before, know how difficult it is to hold together a tight event when many people and schedules are involved. Well, she did an amazing job and everything flowed so smoothly. It is the sign of a successful management when you don't notice all the work holding together an event or business (which we all know is a lot). So thank you to Kaori-san, we appreciate you very much !!!!!

Kaori-san enjoying some lunch, finally - 
It is often the hardest workers who eat last


Following lunch, we had a closing ceremony which had many of us in tears of joy to have spent such time together.  In three short days we had become such a loving family and connected in ways that seem much deeper than the amount of time might allow. So much gratitude to Kontaiji Temple and Obubu Tea for welcoming us all and providing such a rich and intimate time together.

Giving thanks for our time together and
the gift of being alive


Our lives go on and on during these busy times where finances are tight and time seems short. When do we get a break to just take time for our "ease of heart" and for our minds to wonder into greater horizons? It is simply not built into the jobs we have and the lives we lead. So these types of retreats mean a great deal in a deeper sense. The teachings and the place are important to consider, but even more important, is the gift to oneself to take a moment, put down the heavy load, and stand up straight to view our lives, our hearts and realize that we are being loved into existence every moment.

金銭的に厳しい状況であろうと、時間が足りないように思えようと、時は流れ続けます。いつ私たちの内に平安の時と、目に見えるもの以上の存在に想いを馳せますか?そういった時間は残念ながら私たちの普段の生活に自動的には用意されていません。なのでこのようなリトリートに意図的に参加出来ることは貴重なことと思います。 受ける教えや場所は大切ですが、それよりも大切なのは、胸につかえているものを一旦下ろし、私たちの人生と心を改めて見つめ直し、いついかなるときも私たちは愛されているのだということを感じる時間を、自分自身にプレゼントすることではないでしょうか。


Now I'm off to meet up with Shubhendra in Kyoto to begin our Japan tour.  Can't wait!!!

Much love and new horizons to you,