Thursday, May 26, 2011

When Zen is Zen

Hank had written to the Saihoji temple in west Kyoto, which is more often called the Moss Temple because of its extraordinary moss gardens. The only way to get in is to request entrance ahead of time, in writing. Hank had also asked that we be allowed to see a very old tea ceremony house on the grounds (built about 400 years ago by the first disciple of the man who created the tea ceremony) for scholarly purposes. You show your letter to the man at the gate to get in, and then are offered a thin piece of paper with a sutra likely inked in (in kanji!) and shown to a room full of writing desks on the floor. For about an hour, you listen while the sutra is chanted, and copy it out with a brush and ink, then you add what you want to pray for and leave it to be burned. Then you can walk through the gardens.

The garden are amazing, softly rolling, carpeted in moss, with occasional touches of color, as in the iris on one of the small islands in the center of the pond. Because of the limits on visitors, this is a very quiet spot (except for the cell phone ringing behind me during the sutra chanting - a truly universal experience, if there is liturgy going on, there is a cell phone going off!)

The tea house was beautiful and rustic. We could only go out onto the veranda one at a time, since the boards are original and they won't support too much weight. I was kindly allowed to take photos, so we can show the students the interior in the fall, since we will not be able to bring them inside.

From there we went to our fourth temple of the day. (Yes, I know this is not sounding all that contemplative, but we're getting there.) This is another 14th century space, Jizo-In, a Zen temple sacred to the deity of children. It is surrounded by stands of enormous bamboo. There was only one other visitor there and we walked up to the abbot's quarters and sat there quietly, contemplating his garden. It was so quiet I could hear the bamboo canes (which were thirty or forty feet tall at least) clattering in the wind. It was a space soaked in stillness, more than six centuries worth, and like many other still places, draws you into that quiet. I could have sat there all night, but alas, up the hill came the elderly, nigh on ancient, caretaker to kindly turn us back out into the world

1 comment:

  1. I love the moss garden. My husband was wondering whether might do something in concert with the dark and wet reality of our back yard. Who knew?