Monday, October 29, 2012

In Ryoan-ji, Buddha made me cry

Ever since I first read about Ryoan-ji, I knew I wanted to see it someday.  If there ever was a place that I wanted to see on this first visit to Kyoto, it was this symbol of Zen Buddhism in Japan.
It is also perhaps the most famous and photographed Japanese rock garden and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. 

We reserved Ryoan-ji for our last afternoon in Kyoto.  Since it would be our final destination for the day,  we could linger and stay as long as we could.  The minute we entered the temple grounds, we were greeted by this serene pond.  Branches green with late summer's foliage dipped into the waters.  Lotus and water lily pods floated languidly.

Even if there were tourists around that afternoon, a peaceful quiet seemed to descend on everyone. As we walked towards the rock garden, we could only hear the crunch of our footsteps on the gravel.  Each step unfolded scenes of quiet beauty such as this small bridge with a vermillion torii peeping from behind the trees.

Ryoanji's rock garden is meant to be viewed from the wooden viewing deck of the Hojo pavilion.  Since the floorboards are centuries old, everyone has to remove footwear before entering the building.

And finally, here it was.  Ryoan-ji's treasure.  A rock garden of fifteen stones, of varying sizes and shapes, all laid out amidst swirls of finely raked sand.  Only the green moss that grow on the stones breaks the color of slate and gray.
The artist who designed this garden skillfully placed the stones so that from any vantage point that you sit on the viewing deck, you will never see all fifteen at once.  There will always be one or a few that are hidden from view.

Scholars have attached different meanings and interpretations to its puzzle -- why can we not see the fifteen stones? What did the artist want to convey?

As I sat there on the deck, all the people around me seemed to slowly disappear.  I found myself in a space, all by myself and amazingly, I felt the tears well and slowly fall.
I distinctly heard a voice -- "Nothing is ever completely attainable, as long as you keep searching, it will be elusive. Perhaps, stop. And it will come."
It felt like like a gentle rebuke but a rebuke nonetheless -- impatience, stress, desire -- all these stand in the way of attaining real and lasting happiness.
Buddha reminded me.  Buddha made me cry.

As a postscript -- for those who will perhaps say that the garden does not have fifteen stones anyway, for the unbelievers -- here is the lay out, in miniature.  From the top view, count them -- there are indeed fifteen stones.

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