Note: Longtime UNS Member, Sharon Meyers, is currently studying ceramics in Japan for several months. This is a glimpse into her world and journey.
Kyoto is historically singular in its wide expanses of natural beauty, interwoven with ancient temples, shrines and architecture. With only 1% of the population of Japan, this city holds more than 20% of the country's national treasures, 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 1600 Buddhist temples.
These range from small neighborhood temples (there are 4 within a 10 minute walk from my apartment) to world renowned expansive temple complexes. It has become my daily habit to choose one, walk the grounds, then rest my mind, body and spirit in the hondon/main hall in reflection. I wonder how many such Zen temples have I savored over the decades since first working overseas in Saudi Arabia in my 20s? Then, I traveled to Japan, Myanmar and Thailand for these experiences. With later moves to live and work in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, I was able to explore temples in China and India. Moving back to the US, I expanded these experiences in Laos, Sri Lanka and Vietnam and now ... in Japan once more. In a way, the temple life is so tangibly familiar, comfortable.
I witness locals doing their devotions, awaiting the strength of the Buddha, letting his mercy and goodness be known to them. I find this such a loving practice that I also affirm mercy and goodness with gratefulness for another day. Reverence in temples is key; each person bows before entering and after leaving the hondon. No shoes, no loud noises, no photos are allowed in respect for its sanctity as a solemn place of worship.
Unlike cathedrals of Europe, built to cast one's eyes to the heavens in awe of arches, stained glass and statuary, Buddhist temples attract a more direct attention to the Buddha, seated in repose, eyes on me directly, resplendent in burnished gold. Buddhas are not sacred objects; they only become consecrated through the practice of being mindful in their presence. Thus, each person participates in the process, which brings forth the icon’s greatness in his or her life.
Every temple is designed to symbolize the five elements of the universe: earth, air, fire, water and wisdom/space. While the coloration, materials and even light are subdued, the space is a sensual feast: kneeling in silent meditation on a tatami woven mat; listening to the changing of a monk and ogen, his low, slow drumming; viewing the symmetry of the altar, with candles, devotional food and water offerings, flowers and incense; and of course, the central Buddha figure, an immense, yet gentle presence.
I am at peace. I am ogen brought to tears in the solitude, spirited away ...
P.S. Please click the downloads below to read Sharon's original newsletter and see her photos, as well as her recipe from Garden Chat.