Kyoto: The Moss Temple

We are back at Daishin-in, where we stayed the first night. The lodgings here are much simpler, more traditional temple lodgings than those at Chi’on-in. No electronic chimes, no big screen television in the lobby (no lobby, for that matter) broadcasting the temple services. There is a beautiful garden, and simple but beautifully presented vegetarian meals for breakfast. I’m going to admit I prefer this to the more modern space any day.

This morning we went to the bamboo forest, an area of Kyoto with several Shinto shrines. We explored one of the shrines here looking at the differences between Buddhist architectures and Shinto spaces. This particular shrine was used by people seeking to be granted love and academic advancement, everything a Bryn Mawr woman might want! It’s hot and steamy here, so the walk up to the ridge top left us soggy, making a stop for ice cream at a small shop a welcome treat. Green tea, kiwi, brown tea and vanilla were the flavors on tap.

The Moss Temple was next on our agenda, to see its famous gardens and to try our hand at contemplative calligraphy. Hank had written to them in the summer, asking if we might visit. (You can’t visit without a written invitation in return, they check your letter at the gate!) Before touring the garden, we sat in the main hall for a short service, then copied by hand the heart sutra using a traditional ink brush and block ink. It took us about 45 minutes to copy the entire 278 characters in the sutra. (Yuxin’s work in progess is in the photo.)

The garden is an amazing place, laid out by a famous 16th century landscape artist. We walked the garden, attentive to some of the ways to “read” the garden that we had learned from our conversation with Taka at Shuko-in yesterday. What are the embedded clues as to the height should you be looking at this from, how are particular views framed both with objects and in terms of contrast between light areas and darker one, how does the composition change as you walk through the space? I walked the garden path in the reverse direction with Tiffany (who is making the trip with a broken foot and on crutches – the hike up to the small hermit’s hut at the top which the rest of the group was making seemed unwise for her foot and my knee). The garden seemed like a very different space when viewed in the other direction. It’s a quite silent space, people naturally lower their voices and the moss seems to muffle the noises.

From there we walked to Jizo-in, the very still, very silent place we washed up last year, where we sat and meditated. Even after we were done, people were reluctant to break the silence, and continued to enjoy the stillness of the spot. I had left my pilgrim’s book with the monk down at the entrance, and as we finally gathered ourselves to walk back to the bus, he appeared to be sure I would not forget it.

Each temple has its own stamp, and you can get them to stamp your book, then brush in the name of the temple, the main hall and the date of your visit – essentially a proof that you were really there. The stamp for the Moss temple is particularly beautiful.

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