Demeure Sans Limites: A path of simplicity and silence

- through Fabrice Groult

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Staying at the Demeure sans Limites, a Zen temple of the Sôtô school located in the Ardèche, means embarking on a path of simplicity and experiencing “the joy of lightness and of not having”. Report in Saint-Agrève.

It is reached by a small paved road that zigzags between mid-mountain fields, where cows, horses and sheep graze, and forests of beech, fir and Scots pine. At the end of the route, the road turns into a shady gravel path which suddenly dips in the direction of the Zen temple. At the end of the path, a pretty little farmhouse with walls yellowed by the sun. On the left, in a field below the path, two horses sheltered under a thicket of trees welcome us, shaking their heads and gently waving their manes.

Why this name of La Demeure sans Limites? “The name of the temple is hôkai-ji. "Ji" means temple, "hô" open and "kai" the ten directions. Our temple is open in the ten directions, therefore without Limits”, explains Sensei Joshin Bachoux, the founder of the place she opened in 1991.

At the end of July, on this granite plateau, planted on the borders of the Ardèche and the Haute-Loire, the heat is not stifling as it was an hour earlier in the Drôme valley, on the outskirts of Valence. But the temperature exceeds 34 degrees, a rare occurrence in Saint-Agrève, the village planted at a thousand meters above sea level.

All smiles, wrapped in her black kimono, Jôkei-Ni Lambert, welcomes us, next to the drinking trough brightened up by a bed of flowers, offering us a glass of fresh water. While the abbess of the Demeure Sans Limites toured the owner, inside the temple, in an old stable converted into a zendo, half a dozen people practiced zazen. From the meadows that gently curl around the temple, you can see three farms on the hillside a few hundred meters away. The fields are topped by a forest which is home to deer, foxes and squirrels. Above the temple, a permaculture vegetable garden fights against the heat. On a height, away from the temple, a hermitage dedicated to solitary and silent retreats. Inside the temple, in this typical Ardèche dry-stone farmhouse, simply fitted out, we discover, upstairs, two dormitory rooms each designed to accommodate four people, a library-reading room which also houses the teachings of the Dharma and an altar flanked by a bookstore where Buddhist books and pamphlets are sold. On the ground floor: the Holy of Holies, the zendo, which adjoins the kitchen.

On the zafus, morning, afternoon and evening

"Meditation, zazen practice, strict schedules and attention to daily tasks: Joshin Sensei has retained the main features of the practice of Zen from Japanese temples such as Zuigakuin where she trained with Master Moriyama who ordered her in 1986”, explains Jôkei-Ni.

“Zen is not made to obtain something in particular. It is living breath by breath, step by step following the law of the universe, endlessly throwing off the individual self, returning to the true universal self of life. » Aoyama Roshi

Here, silence and simplicity are two of the golden rules. Silence and mindfulness are not unique to zendo. We practice mindfulness in the temple on the zafus, morning, afternoon and evening, but also in the kitchen, in the vegetable garden, while walking, while washing, and while eating. Meals are taken in silence, in the kitchen or on the terrace, in traditional bowls wrapped in scarves and towels. In order to cultivate attention and give time to time, they are carefully unfolded one after the other before folding them up, at the end of the meal, once the bowls have been cleaned by each of the guests.

"Zen is not made to obtain something in particular", writes Aoyama Roshi (the abbess of the training temple for nuns of the Sôtô Zen school in Nagoya from which Jôkei-Ni received the seal of transmission) in A zen nun's life (Le Prunier, Sully, 2017). It is to live breath after breath, step by step following the law of the universe, endlessly rejecting the individual self, returning to the true universal self of life”, continues this woman who is one of the Zen masters most respected in Asia and the West.

It's 16 p.m. Time for a walk in silence. Ten people take, one behind the other, slowly, with small steps, in conscience, a stony path which climbs towards the top of a wooded hill. Toen-Ni, a nun of Madrid origin, ordained in 2018, leads the procession which progresses in meditation. The silence is pierced, from time to time, by the crunching of the stones under the soles, the murmur of the wind in the pines and the song of a few birds. Danièle, a laywoman from Geneva, brings up the rear.

It's like stepping into the ocean

“What do I like about Abode Without Limits? The intense and sometimes restrictive rhythm that is proposed there (both in terms of daily activities and long and regular sitting, as well as the requirement of almost continuous attention in order to be able to follow the rules and practices) asks me to surpass myself -even. It restricts the opportunities to run away from me or cheat on my reality, while inviting me to internalize,” says Danièle, who has been visiting the place for twelve years. She comes there for retreats at least twice a year and stays there, most often, between three and seven days. “These stays allow me to reconnect with my essence, with an aspect of myself that I do not contact anywhere else. If I had to define this place with one word, it would be 'purity', she continues.

It is 19 p.m., the hour of zazen followed by great silence. “The moment you enter the meditation hall, it's like entering the ocean. You are washed, you are carried, you are finished”, enthuses Joshin Bachoux Sensei. Lights out at 21:30 p.m. A schedule to which we agree without complaining when we have been up since 5:30 a.m.

At the Demeure sans Limites, we relearn how to live in contact with nature (work in the vegetable garden, preparing the kindling, walks in the countryside) and to the rhythm of the seasons, aware of its interdependence with all living things. In this temple where each day is punctuated by strict schedules, there is no place or time to give free rein to one's most ingrained habits. In this place where the visitor does not have an individual room, and where he chooses neither the activities nor what he eats, he can experience "the joy of lightness and of not having", in the words of the founder of the place. “Yes, we put limits on a lot of things here, adds Jôkei-Ni. But, it is within these limitations that one finds freedom and can reconnect. »

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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