Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ryoanji –  竜安寺 or Rocking Enlightenment

Japanese shrines are famous for being ancient, tranquil and philosophical. Most likely, you are well aware of the concept of the rock garden. In concept, the Rock Garden is very simple – some monks place a bunch of rocks in a garden and contemplate them. Of course, there are 1001 cliches that one can use to justify the trip up to see one. In short – they are peaceful. This is something that you can gather from any stereotype, wikipedia entry and guidebook. What you can’t grasp without checking one out is the fact that the clichés are right. It *is* peaceful, and it does make you want to contemplate your place in the world.

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And by "contemplate your place in the world", I definitely mean "strike stupid poses in front of thousand year old scenery"

One of the places that we visited in Kyoto is called “Ryoanji”. It's famous. And popular.

Amazingly, despite the crowd, it's somehow actually easy to find peaceful spots throughout the shrine.

Most famous, and probably most peaceful is the famous rock garden that Ryoanji boasts. Rock gardens are sculpted out of .... well... rocks. But they are sculpted to represent waves, water and the motion that goes with them. Somewhere in the representation of chaos and movement in a static field of rock is a scene that actually makes you want to sit and think. I actually did sit and think for about twenty minutes. The garden was calming, relaxing and rather amazing. Although a good ten minutes of my twenty minute think was focused on the potential enlightenment potential of the word "cannonball", I did manage to restrain myself from following that spiritual path.

But man, it would have been ugly if I was better at zen.

In any case, this garden is actually a well known signpost on the path to enlightenment. Legend has it that anyone who can see the 14 stones in this garden at the same time has truly reached enlightenment.

Let's try to get 14.

Three...or maybe four, depending on how you count that cracked one.

Seven rocks and seven tourists that are still looking at PICTURES OF THE ROCK GARDEN! GAH! IT'S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! (pant pant pant....sort of fourteen....)


Two! Gar. Getting farther from zen peace with each picture.

Six! This is about as well as I'll do.

A 90 degree rotation yields.... three.

One ... and a cross? Interesting.

In any case, I did find enlightenment there. Maybe it’s because the “bu” in “burento” or “無連斗” also happens to translate as “zen”, but I figured it out.

All you need to do is look at the Rock Garden from the TOP.

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Ha! Instant enlightenment. Leave your 100 yen coin in the box at the door and don't forget to tip your waiter, ladies and gentlemen. The above is a picture of a scale model of the garden. I wouldn't want to post instant enlightenment here on my blog. I'd rather you read at least a few articles and find enlightenment. If you *really* want to understand enlightenment, you should start with the penis festival.

Now that we're somewhat enlightened, anyway, we can move on to the second amazing thing about Ryoanji.

This fountain is actually contains a symbol that consists of four different kanji, all of which use the centre box as part of their shape.

吾 唯 足 知

These can be translated in several ways.

According to Google, they mean “Our (something) foot knowledge”.

This is very deep, but my friend Dave had a better translation:

“Learn only to be contented”.

Or, in other words, you should educate yourself, but your goal should be contentment. Don't worry as much about competing with others or achieving certain targets. You should study things that make you content.

Pretty cool. In fact, the next time you are bummed out because you failed a test, you can bust out some zen philosophy to rationalize away those “C” marks to your heart’s content!

In an even more brilliant melding of zen philosophy and Japanese ingenuity, this very same symbol is available at the gift shop. You can get it as a key chain, paper weight, or best of all, with the centre hole re-purposed as a beer bottle opener.

Now that’s spiritual enlightenment I can work with!