Zen meditation center near Kodaikanal – Bodhi Zendo

Bodhi Zendo, located in Perumal Malai (a few kilometers before Kodaikanal), is a Zen meditation center. Interestingly it was founded by Fr. AMA Samy, a Jesuit priest.

Bodhi means Awakening, and Sangha in a traditional sense means a community of followers of Buddha. Bodhi Zendo is a place for Bodhi Sangha to gather and practice Zen. The center is open to all religions, castes, and genders. It doesn’t discriminate and welcomes people from all walks of life to come and dabble in Zen meditation.

Bodhi describes the realisation of emptiness as the true nature of the universe and of the non-duality of world and Self, nirvana and samsara.”

HISTORY OF BODHI ZENDO

Fr. AMA Samy’s spiritual quests took him to Japan where he received training with Yamada Ko-Un Roshi of Sanbo Kyodan. In 1982 Fr. AMA Samy received authorization to teach. 

Fr AMA Samy’s beliefs stand in between Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. But at the center, there are no religious teachings.

In January 1996, Bodhi Zendo opened gates to welcome people interested in practicing Zen.

Also Read: Faces of Kodaikanal
Japanese style garden with a tree in the center
Inner Courtyard

ABOUT THE MEDITATION ROUTINE AND CENTER

1. Schedule

The schedule is different on a regular day and during Sesshin times.

Mini Sesshin:

Mini Sesshins happen beginning of every month for 3 days, starting at 6:30 pm on a Thursday and ending with lunch on Sunday. The Sesshin periods are days of complete silence.

Schedule:

  • 5:30 am             –   Morning call
  • 6:00 – 7:00 am   –   Zazen with Dokusan
  • 7:00 am             –   Breakfast
  • 8:00 – 9:00 am   –   Samu/Seva
  • 9:15 am             –   Tea/Coffee
  • 10:30 – 11:30      –   Zazen
  • 11:30 am            –   Teisho (Talk with the Master)
  • 12:30 pm            –   Lunch
  • 3:00 – 4:00 pm    –   Zazen
  • 4:00 pm              –   Tea/Coffee
  • 6:00 – 7:00 pm    –   Zazen with Dokusan
  • 7:00 pm              –   Supper
  • 8:00 – 8:30 pm    –   Zazen

Guests are encouraged to practice Zazen on their own, rest of the time

Regular day schedule:

  • 5:30 am                 –   Morning call
  • 6:00 – 7:00 am       –   Zazen with Dokusan
  • 7:00 am                 –   Breakfast
  • 8:00 – 9:30 am       –   Samu/Seva
  • 9:30 am                 –   Tea/Coffee
  • 10:30 – 12:00         –   Silence (Personal Work)
  • 12:00 – 12:30 pm   –   Zazen
  • 12:30 pm               –   Lunch
  • 01:30 – 04:00         –   Silence (Personal Work)
  • 4:00 pm                 –   Tea/Coffee
  • 6:00 – 7:00 pm.      –   Zazen
  • 7:00 pm                 –   Supper
  • 8:00 – 8:15 pm.      –   Zazen

Wednesday: Full day of silence (except 7 pm to 8:30 pm)

Occasionally Movie screening happens at 7:45 pm.

Thursday: Free day (No Samu, no scheduled Zazen, no silent hours). Zazen at 6:30 om and 8:00 pm

2. Lodging

A bed against a wall with white linen, side table and study table with a chair in left corner
My sacred sanctum

The center can accommodate 38 people at a time.

Most rooms are single rooms with attached toilets but the hot water is to be taken from outside in a bucket. There are some double rooms too and some rooms without a toilet (priced slightly lower).

The rooms are minimalist in nature. There’s a bed, side table, study table with a chair, and a wardrobe.

  • What is included: Bedding
  • What is not included: Toiletries

Guests are expected to keep their rooms clean. Cleaning supplies are provided.

3. Food

A white plate with rice, lentils, and curries
That is not the complete plate, I reached late on Day 1

The food is included in the cost of stay and is a yummy spread of the South Indian vegetarian diet. Most things come from the Bodhi Zendo garden.

Breakfast: Breakfast is generally Upma (savory preparation of semolina), corn flakes, Ragi, homemade bread, milk, tea, coffee

Lunch: Lunch has the biggest spread of all meals. generally includes white rice, brown rice, lentils, legumes, dry curry, green leafy vegetables, Salad, curd, papad, and seasonal fruit like watermelon or avocado.

Dinner: Dinner is generally light with either idly or dosa along with Chutney, Sam

Tea/Coffee: Along with tea and coffee there are generally cookies or cake.

A woman walking through a farm with greens growing
I used to call it ‘the salad farm’

4. Cost

People living in India: Rs. 500 per day

People coming from outside India: Rs. 700 per day

Note: The cost includes food and stay

*  If you can, please consider donating more money towards their other causes.

5. Flora and Fauna

A bird stuck in branches
A bird stuck in the bushes of the inner courtyard

Bodhi Zendo is located on a hill in perfect harmony with nature. This makes it a perfect place for bird watching.

Sighting of birds like white-breasted kingfisher, Indian white-eye, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Woodpecker, Scarlet minivets (male and female), common tailorbird, etc. are commonplace. 

Bodhi Zendo is also a lovely place to appreciate the various flowers in and around the center from wild roses to lilies in various colors.

6. How to make a reservation

The capacity of 38 people is a rather small number compared to the people who express interest in staying there, so it gets booked out well in advance. Some people stay on for months which makes getting a place rather challenging.

It’s best to send in an email with your request at mail@bodhizendo.org

7. How to reach Bodhi Zendo

a man and a woman walking on tar road with a sign 'Bodhi Zendo'

Bodhi Zendo is located 15 km before the hill-station town of Kodaikanal. The nearest village is Perumalmalai and the nearest international airports are Chennai and Trivandrum.

By Flight:

The nearest airport from Bodhi Zendo is Madurai which is 108 km from the center. From Madurai one can either take a taxi (costs Rs. 3000) or a bus that is headed for Kodaikanal and alight at Perumalmali (the government buses have a stop here). Taxi from Perumalmali village to Bodhi Zendo charges Rs. 150.

By Train: 

The nearest railway station is Kodai Road, 70 km away.

By Bus:

Any bus headed towards Kodaikanal passes by Perumalmalai. The private buses may not have a stop at the village though. If the bus doesn’t stop at Perumalmalai one can either take a cab from Kodaikanal or a local bus. From Perumalmalai, cabs are easily accessible for Rs. 150.

By Cab: 

If you’re around. (in Madurai or Kodaikanal), you could ask the manager at Bodhi Zendo to arrange for a cab. They are cheaper and safer.

8. Dos and Don’ts

  • Mobile Phone: Mobile phones are not allowed in meditation and dining halls. Guests are advised to keep them in the rooms and take calls outside the Zendo gates during silent hours.
  • Dress Code: One has to sit on the floor for long hours, loose clothing is advised.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited inside Bodhi Zendo
  • Smoking: There’s a gazebo in the outside garden where one is permitted to smoke. This is the only smoking zone inside the premises.
  • Lighting candles/lamps: It’s not permitted to light candles or lamps inside the room.

9. Silent hours

  • 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • 01:30 pm to 04:00 pm
  • 05:30 pm to 07:10 am

In case there’s a need to talk or take a call during silent hours, guests can go outside the center premises to do so.

A building against night sky with stars
Night view

OTHER SOCIAL PROJECTS

  • Little flower foundation

What started as a project to educate kids from poor or ostracized backgrounds has grown into an initiative that supports seven projects in the southern part of India including a Montessori school.

Read more - http://www.little-flower.de/
  • Education of children of Staff and workers

DONATION

The cost of food and stay just about covers the cost of running the center.

The center undertakes many other social projects that one can make a donation towards. The donation can be made using the details here – https://www.bodhisangha.net/index.php/en/home/contact

A DAY AT BODHI ZENDO

A typical day at Bodhi Zendo starts with an alarm at 5:30 am, Zazen (group meditation) at 6 am, followed by sumptuous breakfast.

Post breakfast, one can start with their assigned Samu (Service), this varies from cutting vegetables to cleaning the garden to cleaning toilets. Once done with your service, one is encouraged to help others with their service.

9:30 am is the tea break. Some personal hours later, it’s time for Zazen which is followed by an elaborate lunch. A few more hours of personal work/silence later, it’s evening tea time.

Another Zazen is scheduled in the evening which is followed by dinner. Last Zazen is scheduled from 8-8:30 am. The doors to the center are closed by this time so most people retire to their rooms. I would generally go to the terrace for some stargazing.

Silence hours start at 5:30 pm every day to 7:10 in the morning.

Some exceptions to this schedule are Wednesday, which is a full day of silence, and Thursdays that are free days but one is recommended to do the morning Zazen by themselves (many people do follow this to remain in the habit).

an empty meditation hall with two rows of mats on each side
Meditation hall

Mini Sesshin: Mini Sesshins happen at the beginning of every month for 3 days. These three days are completely silent days. During this time Fr. AMA Samy gives a lecture (on Day 2 or 3) on Zen.

Sesshin: A full Sesshin is a 5-day Zen retreat. This happens every 4-5 weeks. Like mini Sesshins, they are completely silent days. One is advised to get some exposure to Zen practice before committing to the Sesshin.

Apart from the Zazen, every day there is an opportunity to have a private interview with the Zen masters called Dokusan. During mini Sesshin time Dokusan happens twice a day.

MY EXPERIENCE

On my visit to Kodaikanal in 2018, I had tried several times to attend a session at Bodhi Zendo but either I could anticipate my schedule (I was at work), or the center was booked out. The desire to attend the session remained so this time I tried my luck again and it worked out.

Also Read: Kodaikanal: History | Attractions | Food | Stay | Treks

My three-day session ended up being a 9-day retreat and I do see myself returning often.

I dreaded waking up in the cold of Palani hills at 5:30 am but it was made easy with the wake-up ring where a person goes around the corridors ringing a bell. It’s loud enough to wake you up. One only needs to be at the meditation room by 6 am which is not a hard task when you don’t have to make coffee for yourself.

The meditation sessions are 25 minutes long followed by a 5-minute walking meditation (kinhin) which makes Zazen much more doable than I had imagined. They also permit books, journals, talking (during non-silent hours) which makes the experience very wholesome. I met some really diverse and interesting people at the Zendo.

I had not gone with any questions, I just wanted to start with guided meditation and it worked beautifully for me. I have been able to bring back the practice into my everyday life where I begin my day with a 25 minute Zazen.

a woman with a book in her hands looking into distance

I made good use of the library and read two really good books. Being able to lie down on the grass, reading a book, while a lily blooms in a pond next to you, coupled with various birds chirping, itself is a meditative experience. I was amazed at how good it felt to do your own thing knowing no one is going to approach you and start a conversation (Mini Sesshins are 3 complete silent days). It felt liberating and I was overjoyed.

I would often go to the terrace post last Zazen for stargazing where I may or may not have flouted the silent hour rules with friends I made at Bodhi Zendo.

There are few places in the world I have such a compelling desire to return to, Bodhi Zendo is one of them.

At the entrance, it reads the following that beautifully summates the experience –

I know only sufficiency

In other words, I dwell in fullness.

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