Saturday, October 1, 2011

Koya-San: Buddhists Unite!

After many days of a fully packed itinerary, it was time to slow the pace a bit and get in touch with our spiritual side.  Koya-San is the place to go to get your Buddha on.  It is a mystical place in the mountains surrounded by eight peaks.  It is home to the headquarters for the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism.  Buddhism was brought to Japan in 816 when a young priest named Kobo Daishi returned from a trip to China with the new teachings.  Every since Koya-San has been the place to find your enlightenment.

Adding to the mystique is the fact that when you arrive on the train platform you actually then transfer to a cable car which then hoists you to the top of the mountain where you are engulfed by mist.  I half expected Yoda to be levitating at the summit!

We spent the night at Shojoshin-in a working Buddhist temple in order to get the authentic experience.  We woke up at 5:00 to join the monks in their daybreak chanting, and indulged in the strict Buddhist cuisine, shojin-ryori.  It was a great experience, and we left feeling peaceful (abeit craving a little Hida beef)!

The main attraction is Oku-no-in.  Any Buddhist worth their salt has a portion of their remains here.  It's a fantastically lush and gorgeous place set amongst huge old trees and stone pathways.  It's a great time to walk through and ponder on your thoughts this life and the next.
These deities are for the protection of children and pregnant mothers.  People often make sure that they are dressed and fed in order to keep them happy!
The path of cedars creates a dense canopy of trees that blocks most sunlight and drops the temperature a few degrees from outside the cemetery - it definitely has the feeling of a lot of souls milling about.
We happened upon a grooved tree stump where people had made small offerings.  Matt found the one coin that was not like the others.
Worshippers ladle water from the nearby river and pour it on the Jizo statues as an offering for the dead.

The size of the trees and the shines are huge and can make you feel very small, it's a good time to think about your place in the world.  (I was also sure that his one was an ent).  There is a neighboring, more modern part of the cemetery where companies place very interesting monuments based on souls loss in their industry, or at their jobs.  This rocket ship was for those perished in the space program.  One of the most entertaining monuments is the White Ant Memorial, which was build by a pesticide company to expiate its guilt for the murder of legions of little critters!

Our temple's central zen garden made for a great view.

East Asian "Buddhist" cuisine differ from Western vegetarian cuisine in one aspect, that is avoidance of killing plant life. Buddhist vinaya for monks and nuns prohibit harming of plants. Therefore, strictly speaking, root vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots or onion) are not to be used as this will result in death of vegetables.

The meditation area in the temple was certainly a place where you could find some peace.
This was our temple room, we slept on the tatami mats with small futons.  There were no locks in the temple and the rooms can be adjusted just by moving the paper screens.  Slide that door in the corner and we would be in our neighbor's room.
I told Matt that I did not think that creating an electrical fire in a temple would bode well for us.  He insisted that this was perfect safe.  As if I was not worried enough about being a future arsonist, I also encounter a few unwelcome guests in a our room.  These monks are worried about murdering vegetables, so I did not think that squashing this intruder would bode well for my reincarnation.  Matt thankfully delivered it to much more comfortable surroundings outside.

Not a bad view to wake up to if you have to be up at 5:00am!
One hour of monotone chanting in Japanese, was not the most stimulating time of my life, but at least I had a front row seat!
Who needs a pet rock?  This is a herd!  This is the largest rock garden in the world.  It is located in Kongobu-Ji the headquarters of the Shingon school.  According to the artist  it is supposed to give the effect of a throng of worshipers eagerly listening to a monks sermon.
These are probably the only pets we are qualified to keep!
We said goodbye to Koya-San by visiting the Dai-to or Great Pagoda.

1 comment:

jimdad said...

If non-stop monotone chanting is all it takes to get you to church, we Lutherans will be happy to accommodate.