“Hi, am Zen”, she said. And she went on to be my bestest friend in the island country. She named herself she said, mainly to remind herself of the philosophy of lightness. Though largely believed to be Japanese, the Zen way of thinking finds its roots in the Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the rule of the Tang dynasty. The school of Buddhism asserts that enlightenment could be attained through meditation, self-contemplation and intuition rather than faith or devotion, celebrating clearly the self. When the Japanese began to embrace Buddhism hugely they did not completely shun the traditional Shintoism, moulding Buddhism into vastly their likely. The Zen philosophy too they took and built a phenomenon that popularly embraced the school of thought that encouraged deliberate action, thought and contemplation. To house the philosophy, and reflecting the times many a temples were built, that focussed on worship Zen-style, one that promoted reflection, mainly.
The Ryoanji temple in Kyoto is one such example, a temple wherein the self is more lauded than a deity, where intuition trumps faith and refection trumps devotion. Zenness therefore is also being one-hundred percent in the moment. When the mind does not wander and is not clearly lost. It belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. It also is by far the finest example of kare-sansui or dry landscape, the finest surviving example of the refined type of the Japanese style Zen Garden. After a quick look at the golden shrine of Kinkakuji, the Ryoanji temple is a short bus ride away. From the entrance one is guided by landscaped pathways into the main temple building. The hike up is a reflective prelude of what lays ahead, as an old structure, the weathered wood of the temple is warm and welcoming. Taking off shoes as a mark of respect and also to facilitate clean and noiseless interiors one is welcomed to witness the most beautiful dry-landscape that also challenges one to meditate and contemplate.
Subjected to a vast array of tiny pebbles laid our in a rectangular base, the Ryoanji temple has 15 boulders arranged such that one can only see the 15th one from any angle only after immense concentration and therein lies the challenge. If architecture can persuade deep meditation, then the Ryoanji temple is one such temple. The main temple next to the dry landscape is furnished with bare tatami mats and sliding doors, without any of the fixtures and fittings, solely sliding on neatly crafted wood, light in weight and easily moving. Dressed in finely weathered wood, white and dull yellow mats, the Ryoanji is located in lush green gardens with trellised roofs and growing vines. Over time the stillness of the garden could be unnerving but strangely it is not, unnerving or startling, it is very soothing and the stillness is pleasantly calming. The temple is stark and quiet much like the traditional temples but here the landscape takes centre-stage, rightly so as after all, nature is God.