Asia | Japan | Kyoto – The Religion of Moss
Religion is all around us, above us, within us. It is there waiting for you to discover it for the first time, or remember it again. Religion is in our God, out saints, our holy books, the birds, the animals, the trees, the rocks, the moss, and oh yes, even in us.
The Zen Temple Saihoji, also known as Koinzan Saihoji, also known as Kokedera, also known as the Moss Temple, is located on the outskirts of Kyoto Japan. Being highly interested in all things Garden, this temple was recommended to me as a site to see. It was originally founded in 750 AD, and restored by Muso Kokushi around 1350 AD. This Zen temple is famous for its mosses. Unfortunately, when it used to be open to the general public; the mosses were trampled by the huge numbers of visitors. Upon some research, I found that now you can only enter with reservations, sent by postcard two weeks or more ahead of time. So I asked my dearly beloved friend Yayoi to send it. She received a response that told me that I could arrive on June 17 at 1 PM, and to bring a pen/brush with me to write prayers. The entire response was in Japanese kanji, so many thanks to Yayoi for helping me out. I would not have had this wonderful experience without her.
I arrived at 1 PM. There was a man at the front gate who checked my card to make sure I had reservations, and then he directed to an area to take off my shoes and then enter the first building. Next, another person checked my card, and then they took my payment of 3000 Yen or about $25 US at the time. Next, I was directed into the main temple. The temple was about half filled with visitors, about fifty of us in all, and we were in rows and each person sat on the floor behind a tiny desk. On the desk was a sheet of prayers about 11 inches by 17 inches long, and we each had two copies of the prayer sheets on the desk. On the floor next to the desk was a pen (brush), an ink dish, an ink stone and a weight to put on the paper to rest my hand on so it wouldnt smudge the fresh ink. One sheet had the prayers in kanji (the Chinese characters) and next to the kanji in even tinier print was the word in hiragana (a phonetic form of writing). On the second sheet the prayers were only written in kanji and in very faint grey print on the cr?me colored paper. Have you ever done paint by number, where the canvas itself carries the instructions on where to paint? This was similar in that I was to trace over the printed kanji on the paper to write my prayers.
These prayers were a collection of words that are used during Zen meditation. I wrote 278 word in all, lots and lots of them being the same words repeated. Before I started writing, the priests started praying. It was beautiful to hear them chant, and drum, with the incense burning and the breeze flowing through the three open sides of the building. After the chanting was completed, I started to write. And to pray. First I solely concentrated on the writing, and after I had written a few words, I started praying in my head in English. Than I moved on to the Lords Prayer in Spanish. Than I tried French, but I didnt get so far, then I just started generally praying for whoever came into my thoughts. Than I started thinking about what kinds of things I usually pray for. This trip has already been full of prayers. Every time I visit a temple or a shrine I try to pray. And then I started thinking of all the things that I dont pray for. For example, I pray for happiness, but I dont specify what that might be. I just figure God knows better than I do what will bring me true happiness. And then I cleared my mind and concentrated on the words I was writing. Some of them I knew, so I would say them as I wrote them. Here in the temple, I began to realize how every moment can be a religious moment, if you let it.
When I finished my sheet, I took it up to the front and made an offering of it. Then I went out into the Moss Garden. So many shades and textures of green, it thrills the mind. I walked seeing the spots where Zen priests and monks have sat for centuries meditating. The book I have brought with me on this trip is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. As a youth, the main character becomes an active Christian, Hindu and Muslim. The youths response as to why he did this is that he just wants to love God. When told that he must choose one, he responds with a quote from Gandhi that said All religions are true. This beautiful site brought that to mind, that all religions have good in their hearts and in their meaning, and all are to bring one to the same outcome, it is a question of paths to get there. Following the path around the heart shaped pond in the middle of the Moss Garden, I believed that to be true and I am thankful that the path of my life has brought me through here.