I spent this layover again on a train..and a bus..oh – there was a taxi in there too. Literally planes , trains and automobiles. Kyoto called me back once again and I decided I should really go see the Golden Temple as during all my previous trips to Kyoto in the last 24 years I have never managed to make it there. Kinkakuji- as it is known in Japan-must be one of the most photographed landmarks of the country- almost everyone in North America who has had any remote interest in Japan has seen a picture of it. Some of my favorite pictures of it are ones taken after a heavy snowfall in Kyoto- very rare. I would love to see it in the snow.
So in very cold weather I bundled up after morning yoga practice at hoped on the train. I am currently reading a copy of the Bhagavad Gita called The Living Gita by Sri Swami Satchitananda. It’s great because it’s like having a teacher lecture you as you read the actual Gita. He has some good metaphors to explain the Gita in simple terms. So as I rumbled along in the train I noticed the sky getting fuller- not darker exactly – but more fluffy. When I got off the train and was waiting for the bus, I started to see little flashes of white- like ash- drift one at a time through the empty air. I followed one down to it’s resting place on the sidewalk and watched it melt away. Snow. It was snowing in Kyoto! I was filled with that whole “dance around and clap your hands like a little kid” feeling. But I didn’t- I just kept it inside and let a huge grin spread across my face.
Thirty minutes later I was at Kinkakuji. I have to say the bus system for foreigners in Kyoto is excellent. You can get to any major landmark by buses that are marked in Japanese and English and some are on continuous loops of just the tourist areas. It cost 220 yen to ride the bus but you can buy a day pass for 500 yen and get on and off as much as you like.
The entrance to Kinkakuji was a lovely stone pathway with moss covered forest on both sides. I paid my fee- received a very interesting entry ticket ( it looks like a Japanese scroll) and made my way in. As soon as I rounded the first corner it presented itself to me. It looked more gaudy yellow in the distance than gold- but then I walked closer. My throat actually tightened. It was beautiful. I had seen so many pictures of it but to see it in person took me back a bit. Closer up it didn’t look yellow at all- it was truly golden- and it’s mirror image was perfectly reflected in the still pond.
Kinkakuji was built by a Shogun- a head of state during the time of samurai- as a retirement villa in 1397. After his death is was left to the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. The temple has been burned down and rebuilt many times. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf. The pavilion functions as a shariden, housing relics of the Buddha.
The pond in front of it is called Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond). It really does reflect, almost perfectly, the temple and trees around it. I immediately thought of the phrase we use of “the mirror of the heart”. When Maya or illusion is erased we can see clearly our true nature. There was nothing in that pond to muddle the reflection- no ripples, no movement. That is probably why we need stillness in our heart and mind as we practice- to become so still like this pond in order to see ourselves clearly. The reflection in the pond was no less stunning than the reality of the temple beside it. I hesitated to look in to the pond myself- what would such a mirror show me? I started conjuring up images of the stories of Shiva and the mirror- so maybe I didn’t really need to look. The mirror pond had already shown me so much.
I spent a half an hour staring at the temple and watching flakes of snow dance temptingly in the air but none of them survived the fall. No snowy picture of Kinkaku-ji for me. I had manifested snow- just not enough. Isn’t that always the way- you get something and you get greedy and want more. I said thank you for my snow- no matter how tiny- and said to the Universe that I was thankful for even that little bit.
I left Kinkaku-ji very satisfied and hopped a taxi to investigate a local inn that might accommodate a group of yogis….but that is another blog.