the zen of silence
Silence plays hide and seek in Kyoto. But when you look well, when you search hard, you will eventually find it. Hiding in the courtyard of your Gyon ryokan or a temple in a bamboo forest.
Riding your bike at the break of dawn through a still sleepy Kyoto towards Ryoan-ji, the temple of the peaceful dragon, you’ll have the biggest chance of finding it. The sound of silence being embraced by your tires caressing the road.
An early morning ride through northwest Kyoto is like biking through a kaiga (絵画). A Japanese painting, framed in the golden colors of Kyoto autumn. Each day that goes by, the foliage is more on fire. Until the former imperial capital is ablaze. A roaring inferno of crimson leaves against a deep blue sky.
But this morning all is quiet. Silence awaits. Like the peaceful dragon that has been watching over this sacred place since 983, for over a thousand years when the first temple was built. Waiting and watching. Peacefully. Over what would become one of Japan’s most famous gardens.
Ryoan-ji is a kare-sansui. A rock or Zen garden, constructed around the year 1500. Surrounded by a wall made of clay boiled in oil. Measuring 30 meters from east to west, 10 from north to south. Just 300 square meters is all it needs.
For over 500 years the Japanese soul has lived on this small piece of land. Unchanged while wars were fought and the world moved on. Caught in 15 rocks. Standing in a sea of pebbles. Resting on a bed of moss.
The soul of Japan waits here in silence. Fifteen rocks. And wherever you sit in this sacred garden, fourteen rocks are all you see. The fifteenth rock is in your mind. Only to be seen by those who reach the ultimate state of Zen. Only to be seen by those who can hear….
…the Zen of silence.
Ryōan-ji temple rock garden
Ukyo Ward, Kyoto
Kyoto Prefecture 616-8001