Kyoto: Sitting Zen

The bus dropped us off the first night in a dark parking lot adjacent to a temple complex. A young lady from the temptle where we were staying came out to fetch us, and led us through a series of narrow lantern lit walks running between cloister walls. It was a relief to walk through the gate of the temple where we were staying, crossing a small bridge through a garden. We piled into the entry way, trading our shoes for slippers.

Our rooms were above the abbot’s garden (the abbot’s quarters are now on the other side of the temple, but the room below us is the tradtiional 10 square foot room that the abbot woudl have occupied). It’s a beautiful dry garden, and I sat there to meditate last night.

We returned to the Zen temple we visited in the spring, Zuiho’in  where the abbot talked to us about meditation and then led us in a short zazen sitting. We then explored the gardens and saw the tea room (one of the very first tea rooms created). The rock garden at Zuiho’in is as magnificent in many ways as the iconic one at Ryoan-ji, the rocks piled up to represent tall waves.

From Zuiho-in we went to Ryona-ji, to sit in front of what is probably the most famous of the Zen dry gardens (if you have a Mac, the garden wall is one of the choices for a background screen). It’s not a quiet spot, the parking lot is generally packed with buses of school children and tourists, but the garden itself is a very stilling sight.

We had lunch in a tiny restaraunt, 14 seats for the 14 of us. We managed to order, the cook careful be sure that we had a plate each. Udon and donburi (rice bowls topped with meat and egg, the one I had was called “mother and child” — chicken and egg, while Yuxin enjoyed “strangers” — beef and egg. The food was good and quick, and the cook made us a bowl of curry to share.

From there it was back to the Daitoko-ji complex, to Daisen-in for another round of conversation about Zen meditation and a chance to sit. We sat zazen for 30 minutes, the abbot complimented us on our ability to sit silent and still for that length of time, most visitors can’t manage that. Those who chose had the opportunity to try the methods of correction employed in training Zen monks, a stick that can be used to strike the back to remind you of the correct position, or held behind you to help find the correct position. It makes a loud noise when used in the former way! Our time there finished with a tour of the rock gardens that surrounds the shrine to the founder, which features a garden with no large rocks at all and two cones of stones amid the raked waves, and another garden with waterfalls of stones and 100 placed rocks. We stopped for a cup of matcha (whished green tea) and sweet cinnamon cookies.

Now we are for dinner and a bath.