Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Twelve and Counting

October 26, 2015

Today is going to be a long and full day. If yesterday we saw three temples, today we’re going to double that number.

Chion-in, founded by Honen, greets us with his Sanmon, a huge entrance gate, where we are supposed to part with hatred, greed and foolishness. The trunks that uphold it were already old 400 years ago when they were used to built it. They are so thick, we seem ants next to them. 

We climb a long flight of stairs and we look around a modern building, trying to find the main hall. Eventually it dawns on us that it is IN the modern building, as they do improvements on it, and that is why they have those tiles inscribed, to be put on the roof. Would you like your prayers to imbue the rain water and fly on the wind? 

As we enter it we find there is a service, a priest drums and chants and people sit. We don’t want to intrude, so we go to see the garden and the massive bell that requires 25 men to sound it.

Short break for a quick lesson in Japanese Buddhism: as I told you before, Buddhism came in waves, took root and branched. One of the branches is called esoteric, and this one has two schools. Sometime in the 9th century there was Kōbō Daishi  who traveled to China to study Buddhism. When he returned to Japan he found out that the monk Saichō had already gained favor from the emperor for the Tendai School. Still, he persevered and he is considered now the founder of Shingon or the True Word Esoteric Buddhism. Saichō asked Kōbō to give him the introductory initiation in the Shingon school. Kōbō did, and when time came he gave also the second initiation, but because Saichō did not finish the required studies, he refused to give the third one, which would have made him master of the esoteric Buddhism. And since then all the followers, on Tendai and Shingon sides are still sore. 

In the 12th century, the Buddhism came to be almost an aristocratic religion. “Enlightenment” was viewed as eliminating one’s attachments through understanding the scriptures from an academic standpoint and engaging in austere practices, so Buddhism had no connection to the common people. Honen, a monk in the Tendai sect, went back to the scriptures and read again Buddha’s vows. Number eighteen pulled hard on the strings of his heart: salvation could be attained by simply chanting “Namu Amida Butsu”, the name of Buddha. It had great appeal to all the people who felt excluded from worshipping Buddha because of the numerous rules. And that is how Jōdo Shū or Pure Land came to be in Japan. And the place where he taught was right here, at Chion-in. His disciple built later the temple, It became the head temple of the Pure Land Buddhism in the Tokugawa era, each shogun improving and enlarging it.

From Chion-in we go just a little bit North, to visit Shoren-in, a Tendai sect and a Monzeki temple (meaning: the head priest was part of the imperial family). We pass five enormous camphor trees and enter through the Kachoden, a drawing room with portraits on the walls and paintings on the fusuma (sliding doors), to admire the garden with the pond. 

On the tatami there is a red carpeted place on which I enjoy macha (green tea) with a cookie. 

After we visit other important parts of the temple, we stroll the garden, and Ioan rings the bell. It resonates long and low.

Nanzen-ji  greets us with it San-mon, that is so huge, that could be a temple in itself. 

Behind the gate is the Hatto, a large lecture hall in which the public cannot enter. We visit the Hojo, a rock garden, its rocks are said to resemble tigers and cubs crossing through water. Though we look very attentive, we can’t imagine them, but we can see tigers and leopards on the fusuma, painted over gold leaf. 

On the temple’s grounds there is an aqueduct built during the Meiji period (end of 19th century) to transport water and goods between Kyoto and Lake Biwa. It seems so out of place and so European, yet people here love it and consider it worthy for the wedding pictures.

From here we walk on the Philosopher’s Walk, a cherry tree lined street and stop to visit Eikan-do, a temple named after one of its monks. It is said that one frosty morning, while he was walking and chanting a prayer to Buddha, the main Buddhist image of the temple came to join him. Eikan stopped, wondering if he was dreaming. It is then when Amitabha looked back over his left shoulder and said “Eikan, you are late”. That is why the monk ordered a statue of the Buddha with its head turned, to remind us to be good one with each other, to wait for each other, to call those who did not come yet. What is special for me here is a room in which there are beautiful paintings, through their simplicity and ease, of Buddha and bodhisattvas, all praying.

Honen-in: we have visited it first time in 2011, and it was too beautiful to pass it. Now it had a new roof over the entrance gate, but the fountain was still dripping water from the tip of a real leaf. It has a moss garden.

Returning to the Philosopher’s way we buy roasted chestnuts and enjoy them on our way to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. It was built as a place of solitude and rest for an artistic shogun, who intended to cover it in silver foil, like the Golden Pavilion, only war got in the way. But sometimes the intention is just enough. Its sand garden represents Mt. Fuji and the sea with waves. We walk the grounds and remember our first visit and the students who were floating one yen coins on water.

Happy and tired, we take the bus, dine out and count: three temples the first day, three the second, plus six today, that makes twelve…What will tomorrow bring?

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