After having the pleasure of exploring
and enjoying various zen gardens for 10 days
in and out of Kyoto,
I’ve come to the conclusion that I am most definitely a Zen Garden person.
Just look at these gardens...
Here's one of them for example:
I can palpably sense a difference in the air when I go through each type of garden.
Different gardens create different atmospheres,
they vary from temple to temple.
Some temples welcome you with a beautiful scent of incense before you even arrive.
The gardens are open and allow a lot of sunlight in.
You can sit and contemplate at whichever side of the garden you wish,
you can stay for however long you like.
Some temples do not allow photos at all?
(like the one directly below).
All the displayed items are kept very secretive,
as if they are the most special temple on the planet.
It has a small and crammed raked garden,
both garden design and rock placements had strong symbologies
Which made them poetic and meaningful.
It was pretty dark inside the temple room
and quite chilly;
the outside - especially the biggest raked garden -
the one that represents emptiness - was the nice part.
Very serene, and worthy of taking a rest
and sit down for some quiet contemplation.
What I didn't like about this place, was that
they had an old sage-looking monk sell souvenir items at a table in the corridor,
which truly takes away the sacred spiritual quality the temple is supposed to embody.
The best kind of zen garden,
in my opinion,
are the ones where there is no staff except 1 monk on site.
Like that at Enkoji 圆光寺.
He is the sole caretaker of the site,
and weaves through the garden from the start of the day doing various groundwork tasks to ensure all areas of the garden are well looked after.
His presence does not interfere with the space
but becomes a part of the serene scene.
There is often a great empty space with simply patterned, elegant raked sand
This is supposed to represent either the sky with the seven stars
or the great ocean of peace after you have gone through all the chaos and ambitions and discarded all the desires from the worldly life.
That is usually the most expansive part of the garden, with nothing but a big patch of moss, or a hump with a Buddha-representative tree, or a couple of rocks that symbolise the mountain of that heavenly realm where the enlightened can finally rest in peace.
human beings can not reach that level of enlightenment
without shedding off almost all daily life duties and responsibilities,
and that's hard to near impossible to most;
don't forget all the things we may like to do or achieve or see or experience!
That place of pure enlightenment is perhaps...
really just a place of death.
But I feel that
to experience a healthy period of peace
and momentary serenity
is already a great accomplishment and enjoyment in itself.
That is something that a zen garden definitely can provide.
I love the zen gardens for that atmosphere of peace they embody and bring out in our own being;
Not for what it forces out of you - so much so that you end up putting on the robe and become a monk.
Just sitting there
and looking at that empty space of raked sand
contemplate on the meanings and implications of each part of the garden...
that alone brings peace to our often overly busy souls.
I love the feeling of peace,
there is nothing more important to me than to feel that blissful serenity.
That alone makes me a sucker for zen gardens like these.
I have also watched too many anime where the main characters would sit by the porch
enjoy some beautifully arranged snacks on little plates and drink tea
not to want to experience the same kind of pleasure.
Enkoji was my 1st ever zen garden.
And ever since Enkoji I became a bit addicted to that enjoyment,
with some food and drinks, with that great view in front, some sunlight.
Ahhh... nothing better.
The only thing that could match with the serenity and fulfilment of sitting looking at a zen garden
can only be
sitting at the head of the dock, watching the calm sea on San Pedro...
There are always some very significant or very beautiful sites that I realised I did not know about therefore failed to visit in Kyoto, only after I came back to NZ.
平安神宫 (へいあんじんぐう) was certainly 1 of them.
And after 3.5 years of being locked-away from my favourite island country in the world,
I made this my 1st location to visit as soon as I'm back in Kyoto.
And of course, as with most places,
I didn't do any research,
therefore I did not know until I got there
that it came with an absolutely gorgeous immense garden
which was beautiful in a highly cinematic way.
I say Cinematic because
there are spots that reminded me of 新海诚's 《言葉之庭》
which unravels the journey of an often forbidden love
but grants it complete and total light and acceptance.
The two characters meet frequently in the garden,
sharing moments of peace and aloneness,
revealing the truest aspects of themselves to each other,
and without realising, unable to exist without one another.
If you haven't watched it, I really recommend it.
I'm never one about social constraints.
If two people love each other whole-heartedly, leave them be.
And this was the part of the garden that reminded me of this beautifully crafted visual story.
Here are some more photos of the garden from different angles
(clearly I love this part more than the others because of what it alludes to in my mind):
I realise I should perhaps pay more attention to the history of the jinja and the artfulness of the garden, because the garden itself is so idiosyncractic of all the beauty of a traditional Japanese garden,
and the jinja ground is enormous and palatial in scale.
But I'm truly not one for history.
Not because I'm not interested,
but because of history's very nature of ever-repeating itself,
no matter where you are,
no matter what century or millenia you look at,
I cannot but wish there wasn't all the turmoils and churnings of history...
All for the idealism and hunger for power of some individuals.
History is full of the coming and goings of those with political ambitions and failures.
Some might have brought success and peace to their people,
some brought utter chaos, death, and destruction.
Dynaties change and renew,
emperors and kings and queens rise and fall.
To be totally honest, I don't care about the micro-history side of things.
They are as changeful as the weather.
I guess I'm more into the climate of a place - the macro-history,
the cultures, the customs, the architecture and the garden artform.
What I did enjoy a lot was how much this place reminded me of China.
The imperial grandeur of the ground,
the color (albeit far more orange than China's evil-fending redness)
the air of the mid-autumn early morning,
the structure and designs of the jinja buildings.
Am I glad that I am back in East Asia?
100,000 x a million percent.
Exceedingly at peace that I am back in Japan.
My soul and my spirit belongs to East Asia.
Not any of these western so called First World Countries.
They ain't got none of what we have:
The depth and beauty and serenity and enlightened vibes Kyoto has,
nor ANY of the amazingly delicious, healthy and convenient food that I can only enjoy here.
I came out very early in the morning.
Early enough for there to be hardly any body else,
except the priestesses preparing for the day,
and old people who are early risers like I am.
If you want to beat the tourist (as I've no doubt this place would attract thousands)
come out as early as 7am,
you'll get here after sunrise,
and can see the garden in its full glory.
do not come bare legged like I did,
as in avoid short skirts and shorts,
and if you do,
spray on some insect repellent.
I got gorged on by mosquitoes by the garden pond, eh.
Wear a hat / sunscreen.
Autumn in Kyoto in November means perfect sunshine every day,
no breeze or wind,
just 25-degree perfection.
It gets hot pretty much after the sun has fully risen,
so 'round about 8:45 the temperature turns from autumn cool of early morning right to summery heat.
I find myself basking in perfect sunlight,
and just start soaking in my own perspiration.
So wear a few layers of clothes that can keep you warm in the morning, and that you can take off once it gets hot.
Wear comfortable shoes.
The place is not small.
We're not talking about a standard garden here,
the place is styled after 洛阳皇宫紫微城 - the ancient imperial palace of China from China's most prosperous time - Tang Dynasty,
it is grand in all aspects, and the garden has various divisions,
each part has its own vibe.
You want to enjoy everything without feeling pain in your feet/ankles.
always make sure to wear the most comfortable shoes to walk in in general for Japan.
You're bound to walk over 10,000 stepseveryday.
I tend to hit 10,000 at around midday, and reach over 25,000 at the end of the evening.
And last but not least,
just take deep breaths and enjoy.
This place is for healing and serenity.
Every peaceful step you take is a prayer in itself.
listen to the sound of the small waterfalls and birds waking up to get on with their day,
watch the koi glide gently through the pond,
feel the warmth of the sunlight,
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