Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ryōan-ji Temple

"When the mind is at peace, the world too is at peace".  P'ang Yun

The Rock Garden

The Ryoan-ji Temple was once the country estate of the Tokudaiji Clan. In 1450 it was bought by Hosokawa Katsumoto who converted it into a Zen training temple. Neither the origin nor the meaning of the rock garden is definitively known though according to the brochure, Tokuho Zenketsu, a Zen monk, may have created it around 1500. The rectangular garden has 15 rocks (both large and small) sitting on moss and look like islets amidst white gravel. It can be viewed from the portico of the Hojo which was the former residence of the head priest. There are stairs leading down to the stone garden where you can sit awhile and meditate on the significance of this creation. But at midday the intimate portico becomes too crowded and meditating or taking an unobstructed photo may present a challenge.

Tatami room

The Hojo has several tatami rooms divided by sliding doors called fusuma. These doors and walls are painted in the traditional style. The rooms are spacious and airy and are surrounded by two small gardens. At the back of the Hojo is a stone wash basin called tsukubai. You wash your hands here before entering the tea room (which is not open to the public). It has an inscription in Kanji that says, "I learn only to be contented".  This is an important belief in Zen Buddhism because the person who is content is considered spiritually rich.

Kyoyochi Pond

There are benches around the pond where you can sit and contemplate on the beauty of these water lilies. Or eat your sushi in peace. I think of Monet when I see water lilies. He painted so many of them. It's easier to appreciate his fascination with nymphéas when you read what he had to say about them: "Water lilies are an extension of my life. Without water, the lilies will not live, as I without my art".

Take Bus 50 from Kyoto Station. It's a long 35 minute ride. The fare as of this writing is 220 yen. It's best to buy a bus pass if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing during the day. A one day pass is 500 yen. Bus passes are sold at the bus ticket counter across from Kyoto Station. Or have your coins ready and pay the driver as you leave the bus. Signs and announcements inside the bus are both in English and Japanese. Enter the bus from the side and exit through the front door.

There is an entrance fee to the temple. Shoes will have to be left in the Kuri building which serves as the main entrance to the rock garden. Ryoan-ji is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except from December to February when it opens later at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m.

Ryoan-ji (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) was declared a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1994.

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Images by Charie


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