Reverend Taka Kawakami is a venerated priest in Kyoto who teaches Zen Buddhism classes inside Shunkoin Temple, a national monument established in 1590. Kyoto is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism, and up until 1869, it was the cultural and political capital of Japan.
We corresponded via email with Reverend Taka about “being present” in both our careers and our personal lives. His answers transcend time and place.
Mosaic: Can you tell us a little about Shunkoin Temple?
Rev. Taka: Shunkoin Temple is one of 46 sub-temples in the Myoshinji temple complex. The temple houses historical artifacts from the 16th-19th centuries that are related to Zen Buddhism, Shinto and Christianity. Also, in the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. D.T. Suzuki, who was a famous Zen philosopher, was a frequent visitor of this temple.
Mosaic: What are a few of your main talking points during your Buddhism class? Can they be translated in a business sense to help people in their careers?
Rev. Taka: “Being present” and “understanding the impermanence” are the main contexts of Zen Buddhism. In a business sense, it is important to know the reality and changing situation of your business. You also need to keep adjusting yourself to the change. You cannot use the same business strategy again and again.
Meditation helps keep you efficient and accurate. Using meditation on a regular basis helps to keep your stress levels low. The high level of stress slows down your neurotransmitter activities and makes you more aggressive. Your body then starts releasing stress hormones that can weaken your immune system. In a sense, stress can create more stress. But meditation can cut this negative spiral. The meditation helps you create a less stressful environment which leads to a more productive and efficient environment.
Mosaic: How can Buddhism help balance a person’s quest for economic success and personal contentment?
Rev. Taka: Economics and religion can go side by side. Economics can show us the truths in the world in numbers, and religion can teach us how to deal with those truths as human beings. Also, many great business leaders say that we need to put a maximum effort into each moment to create the best result. We should not attach ourselves to the results in the past.
Mosaic: Are there any examples where something extraordinary has occurred during a class?
Rev. Taka: I don’t know about any “extraordinary experiences” because Zen is not mysticism. But many people start having a new view of the world after my class. I explain that every event is neutral and has no meaning. You are providers of meanings and values to the events. However, the meanings and values are only relative and temporal.
Mosaic: What have past participants said they enjoy most during one of your classes?
Rev. Taka: Many participants said that they enjoyed learning how to use Zen philosophy and meditation in their everyday lives. They said that the class is great because they can learn not only the tradition but also the reason why meditation is useful in their lives.
For more information, visit Rev. Taka’s blog.