Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Music of Flowing Water

    Taiseki-ji, the Head Temple of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, is located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. The original land grant is huge; the grounds are enormous. Now, Taiseki-ji sits in the apex of a triangle formed by a National Park and a Provincial Park. Highways provide convenient, though often crowded, access.
    The location is remote so the Temple grounds remain intact except for the occasional road. This walkway was first constructed in the late 1200s and has since been expanded. The original stones remain in the center. Subsidiary Temples, called "bo," housing some of the priests who work in the various offices and departments necessary for running a major world religion, and also dating back to Taiseki-ji's founding in, officially, 1290, line this path.

    Since it's in the foothills, Taiseki-ji is naturally built on a slope. Since it's in Japan, there's a lot of runoff from snow and rain, draining eventually into a river that bisects the Temple grounds and ultimately empties into the sea. Since this is Japan, the runoff is neatly and expertly contained and controlled. Charmingly, the occasional plant that might line a natural stream will be carefully maintained so it can flourish.

These stone bridges mark the entrances to the various "bo," and the lanterns, lit for festivals, illuminate the gates. 

    This fountain seems to contain a spring that rises from the front of the Mieido, a seriously gorgeous, highly historic and nationally Listed building, spilling over the edges to be contained, running underground to join a stream cascading through the grounds. It has a twin on the other side of the entry, beyond which the stream itself tumbles over an artistic jumble of rocks.

    That stream, as far as I can determine, will eventually, via waterfalls, fill the pond in this fabulous garden.

    This pond, and the streams lining the stone path, are periodically drained for maintenance and repair. Of course. This is Japan, and this is Taiseki-ji. The care is meticulous, just as is the care the army of landscapers and gardeners pay to every single plant.

    I have seen this pond drained before, at the height of summer, for a few days at time, with the stream feeding it somehow diverted. This winter, however, it was drained for a couple of months, during the driest of seasons, as what looked like major maintenance took place. Moreover, the streams lining the stone path were drained, too. While there was never anybody around to ask exactly what was being done (due to COVID, not many people are allowed to visit at any given time, no visitors can stay on Temple grounds, and residents keep their careful distance amid every possible and sensible precaution) it was obvious that what was happening was major. I saw the occasional large machine in the pond, I think set up to clear the channels. I saw fresh cement repair cracks, sometimes around the rocks in bottom of streams.

    And then, just recently, I saw that the repairs were complete! The pond was full. The falls cascaded. The streams gurgled. I was delighted.

    It could be said that I'm a little slow sometimes. I've been coming to Taiseki-ji for thirty years come August. I always thought those rocks were visually decorative, placed to fool the eye with the appearance of natural streams.

    This time I realized something different. The water didn't just create music with its flow, the music was a carefully planned part of the art that goes into these wonderful grounds. It changed and harmonized as I passed on the long walk up the hill.

    This time, I listened as much as I looked. Buddhist practice is a continuing thing. It's not a one-and-done. It's a practice that we undertake every single day to manifest our innate enlightenment. It's not always easy to do that, but we are advised to keep it up, that Buddhahood lies in the continuation, in having faith like flowing water, in never giving up. Here, the masterfully designed music of the waters conspires to continually remind us of that.

     It looks like Japan will shortly ease restrictions on "tourist" visas, and that means these grounds can once again explode with the laughter and conversation of all the people who have wanted to come here on pilgrimage trips from overseas and have not been able to do so, adding to Taiseki-ji's music. I will rejoice to hear it. I hope you can come soon!

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