No blog on Japan would be complete without writing about a certain aspect of Japan. The Japanese temple is one of the most ubiquitous symbols of Japanese culture in the world. There are thousands of temples in this country, far too many for one soul to visit in a lifetime. A life of searching and growing, yet as impermanent as we are as human beings, timelessness never ceases to escape our dreams, wishes, and fantasies. We remember timelessness through impermanence, through the finite lens of our own mind, so in essence nothing truly dies if it lives on in our own minds.
In my essays I have extolled the beauty of impermanence through my exposition of Jukujo, onsen, and analects. Here in Japan the term for such temporal beauty is called “Wabi-sabi” a sort of timeless ephemerality through natural decomposition, a natural order of life and death. Though the Jukujo ages she maintains an air of righteous dignity. Her hair may lose its luster, but it shines on in grey. Her step may lose its bounce, but she walks with a sense purpose. That old Japanese sake cup, as small as it is, may have the scars of time smitten over its surface, yet it imbues the mastery of its craftsman. Temporality and eternity.
In Kyoto, a place I have been to numerous times, and back again just recently, I knew exactly where I wanted to go this time round. Uji City, the land of the Tale of Genji and the home of Byodoin Temple. The temple of Fujiwara no Yorimichi, the pure land heaven of the floating buddhas and the great Phoenix Hall. Typically in my essays I do not go into a great deal on the temple’s history because that information can easily be sourced through Wikipedia. I am merely relaying my personal observations and opinions.
The significance for me visiting this temple was to first see the garden and the general layout of the temple. First, Byodoin is rare for me because the garden, as simple as it is, is designed according to how Lord Yorimichi envisioned heaven would be in the after-life. Wide open space with very simple parameters that flow and create a simple bucolic setting along a mote with a red temple in the backdrop. Above that temple is a gold phoenix which represents rebirth, makes me sort of wonder what Osamu Tazuka was thinking when he used a similar theme in some of his works.
Another reason for visiting is because it is the only temple in the world where you can see floating buddhas on clouds. In the museum you will be pleasantly amazed at the number of beautifully hand-crafted buddhas. All of them are floating on clouds and are exquisitely beautiful. They are all in their original form, aged and well cared for. The natural decay of metal is what gives them a timeless beauty. According to Lord Fujiwara, when you die, you are pleasantly awoken by the floating buddhas of Amida’s Heaven. Some buddhas float on clouds shaped in the form of a lotus. There is a sense of peace and serenity that is evoked instantly as you walk through the main hall area of the museum. The ten yen coin seen on Japanese currency has an image of Byodoin printed on one side.
I have been to many great temples all over the world, but for me, Byodoin was the most heavenly inspiring and otherworldly. I was no longer afraid to transition to the other side of this world. In the Judeo-Christian world you awaken to be judged by a cold and unforgiving god who sends you straight to hell. Buddhist concepts of heaven and hell vary quite differently from Western religions. In Buddhist, both hell and heaven are temporary. In hell you experience more suffering and in heaven you experience more pleasure. You can move beyond hell in Buddhism through educating yourself. And then there’s hell that already exists in our daily life.
Byodoin takes you on a journey through the physical realm and the spiritual realm in just 30 minutes. You can really get a sense of the spiritual maturity of Lord Yorimichi and the people of that time. Japan embellishes the charms of the after-life. A country that has created a world unto itself.