Historic Sites and Monuments of Kyoto: The Zen Temple of Ryoanji and its Rock Garden

Ryoanji Rock Garden b in Kyoto, Japan

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Some weeks ago, I was privileged to visit a few of the “historic sites and monuments of Kyoto,” as the UNESCO site catalogue puts it. By far my favourite was the Zen temple of Ryoanji and its associated rock garden, a garden whose most famous visitor is perhaps Queen Elizabeth II. Ryoanji’s temple grounds are relatively large–it once encompassed many subtemples–but its most famous attraction, the rock garden, is quite small and can be walked from end to end in a matter of about fifteen seconds or so. But that’s without stopping to catch one’s breath and to open oneself up to the very “Zen” (in all senses of the word) qualities that the rock garden possesses. This post will walk the visitor through the temple. In posting it, I remember every detail of my own memorable visit there. Beginning, then, at the gate:

Ryoanji gate in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji gate 2 in Kyoto, Japan

Images of the gate of Ryoanji Zen Temple

After one enters the temple gate, one passes by a pond as one goes up the path to the abbot’s house. The house was originally built for secular purposes, but was donated to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism already hundreds of years ago. The house is shown below:

Ryoanji abbot's house in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji corridor in the abbot's house in Kyoto, Japan

Abbot’s house and house corridor

After passing through the house, one can then enter the rock garden. I was rather unhappy with the results of the automatic settings on my camera and am also unhappy with the adjustments I made rather hastily in Microsoft Live’s Photogallery program. I will have to go back in the future with more knowledge of those settings. In any case, the minimalist rock garden is a real jewel, with its carefully raked gravel pebbles and its fifteen stones surmounting islands of moss:

Ryoanji rock garden in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji rock garden with ripples in the gravel in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji rock garden with people in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji rock garden view from the far end in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji rock garden island with three rocks 2 in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji rock garden 2 in Kyoto, Japan

This Zen rock garden within the temple of Ryoanji inspired me no end, and I am so grateful for my visit there. The garden comes with no definitive interpretation, no guidebook; it is up to each visitor to make of it what he or she will.

At the back of the abbot’s house adjacent to the rock garden is a smaller garden with thick foliage and some water of an exquisite colour:

Ryoanji pond at the back of the abbot's house in Kyoto, Japan

The rest of the grounds of Ryoanji Temple include a much larger garden, including this stream…

Ryoanji stream in Kyoto, Japan

And this lovely Buddha statue…

Ryoanji statue of Buddha in the garden in Kyoto, Japan

In Kyoto there is a famous attraction called the “Moss Temple”; another Zen temple, it is famous for its moss garden. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to visit there; fortunately, Ryoanji has its own very lovely moss:

Ryoanji moss garden in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji moss garden path in Kyoto, Japan

The final image in this post is of the rather large pond; one enters and exits by circumnavigating this pond. There is an island in the pond, but I was unable to get to it. On the island, I saw what I thought was a Shinto-gate to a small shrine, but I do not know if this was in fact a Shinto shrine on the grounds of a Buddhist temple.

Ryoanji garden pond in Kyoto, Japan

All in all, I would say that Ryoanji is a wonderful place for the psyche, and I very much hope to be able to go back to it at some time in the future.

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