The temple was founded in 1509 by Kogaku Soko. A single autumn coloured tree stood at the entrance. The temple has one of the best Zen gardens in Japan. Large rock had been arranged to represent mountains and rivers in a very confined space. It is torrent and passage- way narrow. Eventually, the river of sand opened out into “middle sea” where the sea is calm but with a few obstacles. As we continued the walk round the “Hojo”, the ‘river’ widened and emptied into the ‘Ocean’. Here, two cone-shaped hills of gravel, suggesting mountains hinder the final path and eventually lead to enlightenment. A lone Bodhi trees lay at the end of the ‘Ocean’. This design is a metaphor on the journey of life and the rocks – trials and tribulation in life. Like paintings, the scripture is depicted in abstract form in a myriad of rocks, stones and gravel. It is somber with no immediate awakenings but thought provoking. Paintings and rustic architecture further enhanced the wonder of Zen – Buddhism. A time here is a time well spent. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside.
Ryōgen-in, the head temple of the South School of Rinzai-shu Daitoku-ji sect was constructed by Priest “Tokei” in Muromachi Period in 1502. We walked through a heavy wooden Omote- mon, gate which is an original feature of this temple. A winding stone pavement past an “ishidoro”, stone lantern led us towards the “Hojo”, Meditation Hall. The first of the four “karesansui”, dry landscape garden, Koda-tei, is set in a narrow path. Sometimes referred as Aun no Sekitei or A- Un Stone Garden which means inhale and exhale; heaven and earth; positive and negative; yin and yang or male and female. This garden expresses the universal truth of inseparable pairs. The original gardens here were created by Saomi.
We entered a large uncluttered dry stone garden, the Isshidan, in front of the “Hojo”. Three main features are a moss covered mount, Kama- jima, Turtle Island; two stone features, Tsuru- jima, Crane Island and the two large upright stones , said to represent Horai-san, Mt Horai a mythical and scared mountain that will bring about awakening to the living. A sea of white gravel of varying shades encompassed all the features – a symbol of the universe. Sitting on the wooden steps of the “Hojo”, one cannot help but to reflect and contemplate on the mere sight of this simple raked gravel and strategically placed stone garden. A simple dressed priest sat quietly in a corner of the “Hojo”. Perhaps meditating or merely observing. Painting of dragons and other images added a little colour to the interior walls.
The next garden is the oldest garden in Daitoku-ji, Ryogin-tei garden. The moss covered garden represent the ocean or universe. The tallest stone, Shumisen-seki at the back represented the centre of the universe and a round stone in front of it is called Yohai-seki. These are representation from a Buddhist perspective. For some, it is time to reflect, for some it is time for relaxation and for some it is just being here. The simple things in life! In another corner is an inner rock garden, Totekiko, said to be the smallest “karesansui” in Japan! It is said the stronger the power of the stone (truth) thrown into water, the higher the ripples on the surface. We left with a deeper appreciation of the simple things.
“Ryogen-in also featured the smallest garden in Japan, but still maintained simplicity, elegance and most importantly a story to tell” – Navindd
“Visualize the famous landscape of our country and come to understand their most interesting points.Recreate the essence of these scenes in the garden, but do so interpretatively, not strictly” – Sakutei-ki, Records of Garden making, 11th century
Gardens had existed since Nara Period (710-794). During the Heian Period (794- 1185), it evolved with the pond, being the centre of the design. This element had continued till today. The Japanese religions, Shinto and Buddhism, had influenced the way gardens and architecture is designed and built. They believed that, in nature, all natural elements have spirits. As such, gardens are created to imitate nature or sometimes referred as ‘borrowed sceneries’, “shakkei”. Plants, both evergreens and deciduous are selected and carefully planted to reflect impermanence – seasonal changes – life itself. This is evident particularly in the use of maples, “momiji” and cheery, “sakura” trees. Additional elements are added to enhance the garden include bodies of water, either moving or stagnant; stone water basins, “tsukubai”; stone lanterns, “dai- dōrō” and stepping stones, “ise”. In architecture, historical period elements are used to recreate, especially, in the design. Art and nature are inseparable, likewise, the indoor and outdoor flow. It seems that art, nature and religion have become one. Examples of these are the Zen Gardens. Religious messages and teachings are created, not on a canvas or sculptures, but in a living form – the garden. In dry “karesansui” gardens – sand, stones, rocks and plants are mindfully arranged to reflect these messages. Fine examples include Zuhoi In and Daisen Temples. Symbols like hills, mountains, streams, and universe are immaculately and carefully incorporated into the design. Gardens had taken a spiritual discipline. Having done the hard work, today, these gardens are continuously and meticulously maintained to keep form and true to its historical origins that had survived for centuries. These places remain an abode for tranquility and solitude. A silent retreat! I am personally intrigued, touched by a sense of calm and the images etched in my mind by the mere sight of these treasures.