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temples and gardens

April 8, 2004

hooded buddhas

I’m back on the island after a week or so’s absence going round Kyoto and Okinawa with my parents. On my previous, brief visit to Kyoto at New Year, I only saw a couple of temples, but this time the cherry-trees exploded into blossom on about the day after we arrived, and we went temple-beserk. If you find yourself in Kyoto, my top two temples are Kinkakuji (金閣寺), the Golden Pavilion, which – true to its name – is almost entirely covered in gold, and Kiyomizu Temple (清水寺), which is a collection of several buildings, all very different, and each of which individually would kick the arse of most other temples in the vicinity.

Quite a few of the temples had Zen rock gardens, and I was surprised to find that while some immediately struck me as balanced and peaceful and quite possibly the product of someone who knows something rather profound, others, though superficially similar, seemed as if someone had just raked some gravel into pretty shapes. I began to wonder if my instant discrimination between ‘fake’ and ‘real’ Zen gardens was a sign that I understood something – perhaps even of imminent enlightenment – but my optimism was shattered when, on reaching the last garden of the day (one of the ‘real’ ones) whose only prominent features were two large and slightly rounded mounds that seemed to be emerging from an otherwise calm sea of gravel, one of the first thoughts to ripple the tranquil, pondlike surface of my mind concerned their hilarious (and not entirely vague) resemblance to… the breasts on a lady! Imagine that! A great big nude lady, hiding under the gravel, just biding her time, waiting to jump out and startle a passing monk!

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