Monday, May 1, 2006

afternoon stroll

As of today, I officially have one month of teaching left. I celebrated by doing hardly any teaching at all. I was unusually free of classes today, and so I took the opportunity to do something I haven’t done in quite some time - wander. I started off weaving my way through unknown neighborhoods until I ended up at Murin-an, a garden I had often passed but never entered. I particularly like the name, which means “a hermitage with no neighbors,” which was the case when it was constructed a hundred years ago, but not so now. Nevertheless, the garden was quiet and had few visitors to spoil the scenery. Unlike most gardens in Japan, this one was not meticulously groomed; the fallen leaves and uncut grass gave it a much more natural feel than the perfect moss beds of most Kyoto temples.

From there I wandered along until I saw a sign advertising special flower viewing at a temple of which I had never heard. And so I followed the winding streets to a small temple tucked in the shadow of a middle school. As I wandered around the blue, purple, and yellow iris beds I was treated to the choir club’s afternoon rehearsal.

Tokujomyo-in temple was not only showing off its beautiful flowers, but it also opened its main hall for tours. Specifically, it opened up the area beneath the main hall so that visitors could participate in the kaidan meguri, a pilgrimage of sorts. At the bottom of the stairs I stepped into a pair of straw sandals. As I ducked through the doorway I lost sight of the guide and the two other visitors in front of me as they disappeared into the darkness. The kanji for this area are “true (as in truth) or sheer (complete)” and “darkness,” and it was just as they described.

We were instructed to place our right hand along the wall and follow it around. The wooden panels under our fingertips were the outer wall of the area beneath the altar in the main sanctuary. We were told that at one point we would feel the old fashioned lock that opens up the area, and it is here that we would be directly underneath the image of the Buddha and therefore in the best place to offer up one wish. After completing the circuit I could understand how the monks and nuns feel closer to the Buddha while circumabulating through the darkness. You can see nothing and must trust that the wall your fingers are following, or the grace of Amida Buddha, will once again lead you out to daylight.

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