As usual, one Sunday in March I biked to Mt. Kiyomizu, in Miyami City, Fukuoka, for a hike. Even though it was a little rainy, I wanted to spend some quiet time in my favorite temple, Kiyomizu-dera. Sadly, I climbed the wet mountain only to find the temple closed! And yet… this ended up being my best visit yet.
A man wearing geta and simple, loose clothing arrived at the temple at the same time as I did, and we shared our disappointment at finding it closed. He had come all the way from Aso, in a prefecture south of Fukuoka, just to see it. Two or three times a year, he travels to Mt. Kiyomizu to play the shaku-hachi while gazing at the temple’s beautiful garden.
Since the temple was closed and it was raining, we sat on the entrance steps. Then he unwrapped the cloth that covered his shaku-hachi, and began to play. He improvised the tune, meditating on the tall trees, plum blossoms, and rain before us.
You can listen to him play the shaku-hachi for yourself. Here is one of his videos on YouTube.
We parted ways and I continued up to the top of the mountain, where the other part of the temple is. Here I discovered why the first building was closed. On the 18th of every month, people flock here to offer prayers to Kannon. I watched as a train of older people descended from a narrow mountain trail, rang the temple bell, and went inside to be blessed by the monks.
The temple also offered a vegetarian meal on that day, an example of shojin ryori – Buddhist monks’ cuisine. I was too timid to join in the train of pilgrims, but I went upstairs into the restaurant for an early lunch.
To my surprise, I was seated at a table with the shaku-hachi player. A friend from Aso had joined him, and as we shared the meal, we talked about our backgrounds, Buddhist sects, the history of the Kiyomizu temple, and more. His friend spoke excellent English, having spent a year in Montana teaching Buddhism and befriending Mormons. The two of them were truly lovely people, and I learned more about Buddhism in that one conversation than I was able to in the previous year and a half. They, in turn, were very surprised to learn about my father’s Buddhist career, and to hear about the different kinds of temples in New York City.
We exchanged email addresses and I continued on my hike down the mountain. The rain was gone, rabbits bounded across my path, and the plum blossoms brightened the landscape. I biked home a thoroughly happy gal.
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