Zen Gardens of Kyoto

The Painting, 20 x 30 in Color Photograph - Tree, Stone and Moss Garden at Tanju-an Temple in Kyoto

The Painting, 20 x 30 in Color Photograph – Tree, Stone and Moss Garden at Tanju-an Temple in Kyoto

 

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Green Pond, Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Green Pond, Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

A Small Pond, Kodai-ji, Kyoto

A Small Pond, Kodai-ji, Kyoto

The Zen garden of Ryōan-ji is one of the most enlightened places on earth. Pebbles and river rock in a sand pit, at first glance. Hundreds of people from all over the world and from all walks of life crowd its terraces to wash in its mystery. Its power draws from the fact that it transcends representation, meaning and ideology. A powerful idea distilled to simple ingredients, the evaporation of art as we know it.

I became interested in Japanese gardens long time ago and it was then that I realized that an object has a meaning when we put it there. I remember sitting in a public library somewhen in a distant past, reading books and looking at photographs of dry landscape gardens. There was a photograph of a dry waterfall and a poem from Hyakunin isshu that read:

“Though the sound
of the cascade
long since has seized
we still hear the murmur
of its name”

It would be several years before I saw the gardens in person. After 11 hour flight from San Francisco into Narita, Japan, I took a 1 hour train ride into Tokyo and at Tokyo station I ran for my life to catch the Shinkansen – a 3 hour bullet train ride into Kyoto. Later that night, getting off at the super modern train station in Kyoto, my backpack felt really heavy and I was quite lost. This was great because it placed me out of my comfort zone and that’s why I was there.

The next day, when I sat on the wooden floors at the temples of the Rinzai school of Zen – Ryoan-ji and Tenryu-ji, looking from the umbers and the browns of the wood and the ochres of the mats out into the saharas of the sand and the palettes of green around the ponds – I felt privileged, I took a seat among the gods and felt humbled and unknowledgeable about the refined beauty that surrounded me.

 

The Whale - Rock and Sand Dry Landscape Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto

The Whale – Rock and Sand Dry Landscape Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto

Dry landscape Zen Garden at the temple of Ryōan-ji in Kyoto, Japan. The Stones, some say, represent Tiger Cubs crossing the Water.

Dry landscape Zen Garden at the temple of Ryōan-ji in Kyoto, Japan. The Stones, some say, represent Tiger Cubs crossing the Water.

On the mats at Tenryu-ji Temple I watched the Five Mountains grow dark and my world was never the same again.

There isn’t any other place
I felt at peace
Racking my brain
for the other time
when I was in harmony
not moving too much.
The mountain is just a wooded hill
and I am very curious
to find out how
it spilt its shadow
on my feet.

 

Five Mountains, Tenryu-ji, Kyoto

Five Mountains, Tenryu-ji, Kyoto

 

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