Kyoto: Stone spaces

We were out early again this morning, to see Daitoku-in, a complex of independent Zen monasteries. Arriving well before official opening time, we were nevertheless able to walk into the complex. It’s a virtual sea of peaked roofs, some of the monasteries here date to the 14th and 15th centuries.

Our first stop was a famous stone garden, this one representing waves battering islands, which remain unmoved. It made me think of the spiritual, “No storm can shake my inmost calm, when to the Lord I’m clinging…” The wave look high, battering the land but the rock islands are unmoved.

The abbot appeared as we came in and sat with us on the steps of the garden, having an animated conversation with Hank, which he translated for Marc and I. Advice for us: The breath matters, sit up straight so that the oxygen can really get in. That and good breathing makes you beautiful.

I found the garden both more striking than the iconic garden at Ryoanji we saw yesterday, that least quiet of Zen gardens, and more still. Perhaps it’s the contrast between the flash frozen stones and the soft moss in which the stones are set that enhances the sense of stillness.

We looked at another old tea house. Outside this one were three stones perched on another, tied with ropes. The stones are placed on the stepping stones leading up to the tea house entrance when it is occupied, to discretely signal that the tea house is in use and other visitors should stay away.

We saw several other stone gardens of various sorts, perhaps the most Zen of them all is this one, set into the floor of the cloister, rather than outside the abbot’s quarters as most of the rest were placed. It was hard to photograph, and hard to imagine where you might sit to meditate in front of it. but I liked it very much. All these cloister spaces were still and silent, no hordes of teenagers trooping through. Despite their stony nature, these small enclosed landscapes seemed aglow with life.

For the next two nights we are staying at a temple on Mount Koya, arrived at by train, then cable car. It reminds me very much of Wernersville in many ways, though less silent. We had to sign in by 5 pm, gates close by around 8. Our room has a lovely view out onto one of the temple gardens. I’m on the third floor (where I often stay at Wernersville). There are reminder of meal times in your rooms and not to leave your valuables in your rooms, since these do not lock. These rooms do have a TV (!) and wi-fi (!!). And there are Japanese style baths.

I sat on the veranda outside our room for my evening meditation. The air was cool, it felt like water on my face, the rain fell on the pond below, and the sound of the cistern overflowing was like a litany.