Nope, it’s not only about the Geisha, but something more in Kyoto! (Part 2 of 3)

From the Golden Pavilion, I took a 35-minute bus ride going to Ryōan-ji (竜安寺、龍安寺) or the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon. Some visitors call it the Silver Pavilion.

Going to the actual site was a bit tricky.

The bus stop was quite far from the actual site. I had to navigate a long street then I had to pass by another intersection before traversing what seemed to me a foot of the mountain. Then, I had to climb some half a mile long trail before finally getting a ticket to enter this WHS.

One of the cute stores along the way to the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon (Photo: SAPT)
A cute candy store along the way to the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon (Photo: SAPT)
The map signalling that I was near the entrance or gate of the Ryōan-ji (Photo: SAPT)

Nonetheless, the traversed paths were attractions in themselves: a series of shophouses selling souvenirs, tiny coffee and tea houses, and candy stores.

A Zen Temple located in northwest Kyoto, Ryōan-ji belongs to the Myōshin-ji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. The Ryōan-ji garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui, a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring distinctive larger rock formations arranged amidst a sweep of smooth pebbles raked into linear patterns that facilitate meditation.

A Zen Temple?! Kare-sansui, what?!

Yes, inside this WHS was calm, serene and somehow it was an experience of solidarity with nature. It was a very unusual place (at least on a personal note) compared to the Rokuon-ji where my experience was very touristy or an experience of solidarity among tourists. Inside Rokuon-ji, people would want to be photographed in front of the golden pavilion/pagoda. People would line up to be in front of the golden pagoda and use it as an amazing background.

I remember in my Oriental Philosophy class that Zen Buddhism was introduced into Japan at the end of the 12th century, and quickly achieved a wide following, particularly among the Samurai and war lords. This is because Zen Buddhism follows a doctrine of self-discipline. The gardens of the early zen temples in Japan resembled Chinese gardens of the time like the Classical Gardens in Su Zhou, a collection of nine gardens and inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in China, three of which I visited in July 2019. These gardens are beautified by the man-made lakes and islands.

But in Kyoto these gardens appeared side by side Zen Temples. Since the 14th century, these zen gardens were designed to stimulate meditation.

Zen Gardens are kare-sansui or dry landscape garden. These gardens create a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water.

A zen garden is usually relatively small, surrounded by a wall, and is usually meant to be seen while seated from a single viewpoint outside the garden, such as the porch of the hojo, the residence of the chief monk of the temple or monastery. Classical kare-sansui were intended to imitate the relaxing and calming essence of nature (not its appearance).

Like the Ryōan-ji, one of the most cited exemplars of a Japanese Zen Garden, a kare-sansui serves as an aid to meditation about the true meaning of life (as in the official dogmatic tradition of Buddhism).

A narrow path leading towards the main hall of the Ryōan-ji (Photo: SAPT)
One of the beautiful kare-sansui inside the Ryōan-ji (Photo: SAPT)
One of the meditation halls of Ryōan-ji (Photo: SAPT)
Sands and pebbles moved by a monk to create a beautiful landscape (Photo: SAPT)
These pebbles are the reason why the Temple is also called the Silver Pavilion (Photo: SAPT)
A closer view at a Meditation Hall (Photo: SAPT)

Entering Ryōan-ji is like engaging in meditation. Entering the site is like entering a sanctuary.

There was music at the entrance gate. The music was so relaxing. It was instrumental and from what I heard, there was only one instrument playing. Perhaps, it was a traditional string instrument. Then on the background was the sound of the flowing of water, the chirping of the birds, and the croak of the frogs.

I think playing this music was a way to establish that the place is a sacred ground. As I walked along, the music slowly disappeared.

Then, silence. Well, almost.

Personally, I thought I was accompanied by a group of birds as they continuously chirped. I was also accompanied by a group of insects. I could hear some buzzing sounds in my ears. There was also the sound of the of the water: the tiny drops of rain (oh yeah, there was shower when I arrived) and the relaxing sound of flowing water from a stream somewhere in the area. Then, the sound of the pebbles being moved by a monk.

In some of the halls or shrines, visitors are welcome to do meditations. But I did not push for that experience. I easily get bored. But this site was no boring at all. The cultural landscape of Zen Buddhism, Japanese garden and Japanese architecture combined with nature – overwhelmingly fantastic.

The place where I tried doing my own meditation (Photo: SAPT)

I ended my journey inside Ryōan-ji by trying to sit down on a decorated walk-way made of rocks and stones. I closed my eyes but found it difficult to concentrate. I heard a croaking sound. I knew it was from a frog. I stood up immediately remembering I was so afraid of frogs.

To be continued. . . .

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