Monday, August 27, 2012

Crossroads, Centerpoints, and Sixes: Temples 17 and 18

Friday morning, I essayed out to return to north Kyoto, drop off my stuff with and gather Miriam, and we headed for temple number 17, Rokuharamitsuji. ‘Roku’ means six, so that might serve you for the rest of this post.

 Roku-hara-mitsu-ji is named because it is built at an old crossroads where people too poor to afford proper burial were dumped. But the six of the name refers also to the idea that it’s a crossroads of six realms through which souls wander, that of hell, hungry ghosts, animals, titans, humans, and gods. It’s in the middle of a slightly more run-down sector of the city (compared to the bustling tourist centers easily spotted all over). The temple itself is bright, and on our visit was filled with lanterns (not lit, since it was late morning) and fairly bustling for a weekday morning.

Some of the most interesting things were in the museum, including the statue of Kuya, who is portrayed with a line of six tiny Buddhas marching out of his mouth to symbolize the chanting he was famous for.

Another part I really liked was what I thought of as the ‘water section,’ off to the right of the main hall. Photos were not allowed, but in this area there were statues (I specifically remember a Jizo with babies and a Benten, and also a guardian kind of deity) over which people would fling or pour water from ladles at the base of each as an offering, and maybe purification for the self, and also (I think at least in the case of the water babies) a sort of sending-along to speed them on their path to incarnation.

After I’d had my turn at watering them, we moved on; Miriam again had to go meet a student, so I went on to Rokkaku-do alone. As you may have surmised, there’s a six in this one too. Rokkaku-do means “six-sided-hall.” Six-sided styles of temples are apparently a very old type for Japanese Buddhism.

Rokkaku-do is in the center of Kyoto, surrounded by classy looking glass buildings (indeed, I will confess I had a drink at the adjacent Starbucks after visiting the temple), one of which is the Ikenobo building, as Rokkaku-do is the place where ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) was developed. The temple complex (like Rokuharamitsuji) was pretty compact compared especially to the mountainside temples which cover a lot of ground, but it was a very peaceful place. They also had the best incense lighting system I’ve seen (though it confused the heck out of me at first).

Incense holder

Ikebana HQ

Door to Starbucks
 One of my favorite things here was the presence of water. There were little flowing pools all around, one of which was inhabited by white swans, another surrounded by sixteen Arhats, which represent the idea that no matter which of the sixteen compass point directions you go in, there will always be one of them to bring you back (to the center? enlightenment!).


One-word Jizo, meaning if you make a prayer in one word, he will be able to help you.

 Rokkaku-do is about the center because it has the Kyoto center ‘bellybutton’ stone, showing just how in the middle of Kyoto it is. To me it was about taking a second to get centered, even in the middle of a bustling city. On this day, Rokkaku-do was less crowded than Rokuharamitsuji, though I now think that might have been because of a festival going on in the Rokuharamitsuji area.

Bellybutton stone!
 After my chai tea in a plush chair looking out into the temple yard, I headed back to Miriam’s, my two temples of the day confirmed.

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