Someone once told me that you should not steal other people’s opportunities to learn by themselves. Perhaps there is no point in saying how I felt walking around at Saiho-ji temple in Kyoto, also called kokedera or moss temple. But it is unforgettable and I hope you will be able to experience it yourself. Looking at pictures would also most likely be counter productive, this is not an experience that can be translated into words or pictures.
The entire temple and process are of the highest quality. There is no explicit message, yet you leave feeling differently, a non-verbal experience typical of zen Buddhism. Signing the sutra (most people just listen) lasts 9 minutes. I asked how many people live at the temple and I was told that 5 people live there, and 4 people come from the outside to help. This was surprising given the size and wealth of this temple.
Three shodo calligraphy were on display at the entrance. Because it is not easy for non-Japanese speakers to know what they mean, I want to write here what they said. The first one was "本来無一物" (hon rai mu ichi motsu), meaning “All the things are originally nothing, so there’s nothing you have to be attached to in this world.” The second one was "雪月花" (snow, moon, flower) pronounced "setsugekka" and refers to the beauty of nature. I saw the same one at Ryoan-ji, where a note said "This prose is written and named 'true nature' by Dogen, the Zen Buddhist teacher. Dogen taught that only an empty mind which is free from all other thoughts can perceive the beauty in the nature, the true nature." The last calligraphy said: "日々是好日" which means "every day is a good day".
If you had a simple message, like "I only learn to be satisfied", what would be the best way to convey it? By explaining it in a book? By simply saying it over and over? Simple ideas are often not easy to receive, oftentimes because we are not ready. I think that delivering the most simple of messages is what Zen gardens are best able to do.
Reservation: Please ask your concierge two months in advance to send a return postcard (往復, ofuku hagaki) for you, especially in the summer or in autumn. This website can also make a reservation for a fee of 2,200円.
Entrance fee: 3,000円.
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