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Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  251 ratings  ·  40 reviews
At the age of thirty, Kaoru Nonomura left his family, his girlfriend, and his job as a designer to undertake a year of ascetic training at Eiheiji, one of the most rigorous Zen training temples in Japan. This book is Nonomura's account of his experiences. He skillfully describes every aspect of training, including how to meditate, how to eat, how to wash, and even how to u ...more
Hardcover, 324 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Kodansha USA (first published 1996)
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4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  251 ratings  ·  40 reviews


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Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A year learning to be a Zen monk? What do you imagine that would be like?

I thought it would be a year of quiet meditation. Service to others. Gentle walks in the forest. Perhaps an occasional conversation with a wise old monk.

Think again. Imagine sitting until your legs collapse when you try to stand. Imagine meager amounts of food, so little that you develop beriberi. Imagine being allowed to sleep only a couple of hours a night. Imagine being struck with sticks or slapped or kicked each time y
...more
Powersamurai
Sometimes it was painful to read about what ascetics have to endure during their training. I would often stop and wonder if I could turn my back on the world and endure the same. Never did come up with an answer. Maybe the fact that I'm not packing some meager belongings and heading to the nearest temple may be the answer. After reading about Nonomura's first year, it's hard not to get emotional at the end of the book. Carpenter's translation is excellent, as always. Especially the writings of D ...more
Jason Crane
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This gorgeous book is less about the philosophy of Zen and more a recounting of the author's year at Eheiji, a Zen training monastery that was once the home of Dogen. It's a book brimming with love and respect for his time there, but also with a clear-eyed view of its impact on his life. Recommended.
Bill Krieger
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book is about a man's journey through the trials and tribulations required to become a Zen Buddhist monk. You read, and it quickly becomes apparent that the book itself was a kind a Zen Buddhist test. Make sense? More on this in a second.

I love the title of the book. It's "Eat Sleep Sit", not "Pray Meditate Enlighten". Let me see if I can explain myself. In the monks' training, proper eating, sleeping and sitting is necessary and sufficient to attain monk-dom (?) and enlightenment. You do n
...more
Hudson Gardner
Apr 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"Accept each moment as it comes."
-Nonomura. Eat, Sleep, Sit.

As the river flows, so does life. This is the message that is given to us by Nonomura (age 30 at the time) in this short book of his year long stay at Eihei-ji, Japan's most rigorous Soto-Zen temple. With every page, the message 'without suffering and hardship in this moment, there cannot be peace and happiness in subsequent moments' flows out. The message, however, is very subtle, and if you don't look closely, and really consider it,
...more
Robert
Jun 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read this book after spending nearly two years living and working in Nagoya Japan. The book helped to complete my quest for insight into what constitutes genuine "Japanese" culture - in the traditional sense. Nonomura-san could not have imagined the subtle doors that he opened for those who sympathize with his quest for real meaning in the cultural slurry of modern living, but lack the opportunity to commit, as he did, the time, the resources, or the fortitude to making the bold move to do it. ...more
Ruby
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autobiography
Wow. The book is not the most beautiful piece of writing you will ever read (or it lost it's grace in translation). But the content is electrifying, fascinating, horrifying, confounding and unique.

I actually can't guarantee it's unique. Maybe somebody else has written a Tell all book about being a trainee monk at the most prestigious monastery in the Soto Zen tradition in Japan.

In it's simple, blunt way, the pain and exhilaration of training to be a Soto Zen monk is perfectly captured and commu
...more
Rod
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First, my thanks to the author, Mr. Nonomura, for sharing this intimate portrait of his year at Eiheiji monastery. It took courage to enter the Dragon's Gate, and even more courage to tell everyone about it with such honesty. For anyone curious about life inside Eiheiji, this book tells it like it is. What thought kept coming to me as I was reading it was, "Why would anyone put themselves through this willingly?" When one usually thinks of Buddha, one doesn't think of starvation, beatings, yelli ...more
Kris
Sep 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very accessible and well written account of what it is like to go to Eiheiji and try to be a monk. I learned a lot from this book!
rosamund
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I found this account of a year spent in monastic training at a Zen temple compulsive reading, although I tried to slow down to fully appreciate the philosophy and images that were unfolding. This is a detailed account of daily live at an extremely rigorous monastery, but it gives very little insight into the emotions and thoughts of the monks. The narrator doesn't seem to understand himself why he has entered the monastery, and doesn't give much account of the effects it has on his mental state. ...more
Maya Man
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Given that I’ve often though the only way to live a truly ~pure~life is by doing something like becoming a recluse/buddhist monk figured this would be an educational look into what it is actually like. Also being in Japan I wanted to learn more about Zen Buddhism and WOW there’s a lot I didn’t expect. The rigor! physical abuse! starvation! stress! It’s not the leisurely zen experience I imagined at all it is very UNCHILL. But, the author clearly took away a lot from his experience there and does ...more
Laurel
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brutally honest account of one man's year training at Eihei-Ji, a temple at the pinnacle of the Zen world. Westerners tend to have a ridiculously idealised view of what Zen is. Nonomura, or Rosan as he was known as a monk, will put all that to rest. Zen puts the Spartans to shame. Trainees tied into place to ensure proper posture while meditating. Food so restricted monks contract beriberi. Beatings with canes for each infraction. And that's the beginning of training so intense trainees would ...more
Alex
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was first introduced to this book while staying at a benedictine monastery where it was the suppertime reading for the month. The book is - as described - a glimpse into the life of those undergoing training at Eiheiji. While much of the books is very bare bones descriptive narration, we get more of a glimpse of Kaoru's thoughts and feelings in the later chapters as he moves up the ranks and his decision to leave. It was these last chapters that left me wondering about monastic virtue and whet ...more
Kay
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read
Having been to Eiheiji Temple and having sat meditation in the mountains elsewhere, this book had a great appeal! What life was like physically, but also what it felt like comes through so clearly. I did wonder, though, if anyone ever got sick--or did I miss that. A lot to think about in this book and I look forward to re-reading it!
Stephan
Aug 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Very much about the ins and outs of life at Eiheiji, with not as much about the author's growth in Buddhism and Zen as I was expecting. Or, maybe that was the point, as he very succinctly sums up how he's changed towards the end. Still worth a read.
Evan Cordes
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Many details of one year at Eiheiji. Touches deeply into Zen practice from the samu/day-to-day work practice. Not much of an account of sitting nor meditating 🙏🏻
Robin Friedman
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A Year Of Asceticism At Eiheji

This book offers a view of Zen Buddhist practice that will come as a surprise to many Americans with an interest in Buddhism. The book tells of the rigorous, harsh, and all-consuming training that young male recruits undergo at Eiheji. Located in the mountains in a remote area of Japan, Eiheji Monastery was founded by Dogen (1200 -1253) in 1244. A Buddhist monk, Dogen travelled to China and brought back to Japan what became known as the Soto school of Zen Buddhism.
...more
Sam Woodward
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
here are several autobiographies of westerners who have stayed in Japanese temples but 'Eat Sleep Sit' is the first I have found which was written by a Japanese person. This gives us more of an insider's point of view from someone who understands the culture within which they have been immersed.

The regime at Eiheiji is extremely tough - the monks are woken at 3:30 AM, except for initiates who have to get up at 1:30 AM to get through their additional daily chores. All the monks are required to wo
...more
Velvetea
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I love to read about Zen thought and way of life, but this was my first look with a strong emphasis on suffering within the lifestyle. Suffering plays a crucial role in understanding Zen, so it would seem.

I imagined, like most setting off with this book might, a community of highly spiritual, compassionate, and genuinely happy people leading a life of peace. While that is precisely what they are doing, their idea of a "peaceful life" simply means being cut off from the rest of society. Not all
...more
Christian Layow
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The value of Zen stories are sometimes hard to express to the average reader. The profound realizations that might be born out of the repetition of the mundane activities in a very strict but ritualized manner are usually impossible to describe. An account of the actual activities themselves would likely be a bore to all but the most keenly interested in Zen Buddhism. And yet I did enjoy this book. I suppose there is some excitement at discovering the harsh treatment the novice monks experience ...more
Kristen
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
very interesting book, but i think you need to be in the right mindset to read it. i was coming off of a yoga retreat, and was ill so had a good chunk of time to delve in - this isn't the kind of book you want to read in random pieces, though it does go rather quickly.
the author is headed to a Japanese zen temple, so that is interesting in that it is two stages removed from the original zen founding (India, then China, then Japan). i wish i knew a little bit more about the distinction before i r
...more
Abhishek
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I was 35 when I embarked on a journey similar to the author's. I can relate to the meaninglessness that drives us to endeavors, which to those not compelled by such lack of meaning, seem senseless at best. In the author's pursuits I see my own reflection. I also relate to not being able to put a finger on how today is different because of yesterday and yet knowing it in one's bones that it somehow is, and significantly so.

To those not possessed by the desire to desperately and sincerely seek Tr
...more
Jesse
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This books was fascinating to me. I got to learn about a life completely different from my own, experience one man's year of transformation. I was incredibly surprised by the level of violence and harshness experienced by the monks. Although in one passage Nonomura explains that the purpose of the violence isn't to inflict pain, the result is nonetheless unpleasant. I also found I was ignorant as to the cultural drivers that lead some men to find themselves at Eiheiji. I think the most important ...more
Scott
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book gives a good feel of life in a Zen Buddhist monastery - specifically, in Eiheiji, the home monastery for Japanese Soto Zen and famous for the strictness of its regimen for trainees. The author's experience there is really something of an ordeal - months of sleeping a few hours a day, living on a diet barely enough to fend off starvation, and spending hours a day sitting in a full lotus position. While the experience has overtones of basic training for a really tough military unit, the ...more
Karl
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jayney
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read a review that said this book was really boring because there were pages and pages of a description of menial tasks such as going to the toilet. I can't deny that is not true however I found such beauty in the writing and was encaptured in the Zen. The precision and perfection in every task takes spirituality beyond ceremony into every moment. This is key to the path of a buddhist or a yogi.

Every simple task from eating to bathing was ritualised which I found fascinating. If you don't thi
...more
Lauren
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
A really fascinating look inside a Zen monastery and all the harsh training the monks go through. Full of interesting details such as the three pages of instructions on how to use the toilet properly, including the appropriate prayers for the occasion. My two complaints are that I would have enjoyed hearing more about the mistakes the author made (assuming he did make them), and I would have liked to find out what happened to the other year-mates he mentions the most, especially Daikan.
Michael
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
While there is a bit of the listing of things going on there are some wonderful descriptions of the day to day life that I found quite fascinating. I knew the daily routine of the monks could be quite difficult at times but this really brought it all into focus for me. Could I make it through such a trial. I'm not so sure. Very happy to have run across this book. Was sad when I reached the end of it.
Arda
I liked it. The book was a little drier and more factual than I thought it would be, I expected more of his own experience coming through in the book. Towards the end it became easier to read and more about his experience and I enjoyed it more probably also because less harm was being done to the guy.
Laurel Amberdine
Apr 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Interesting look at the life of training to be a Zen Buddhist priest in Japan. No startling revelations or life-changing insights, but not at all what I (or apparently, the author!) expected. Nice, elegant translation. Good looking book.
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