Friday, September 03, 2004

Artists & Generals

This morning, I`m off to Mt. Koya (Koya-san), a small Buddhist community in the mountains South of Kyoto. The monasteries offer shukubun, a kind of "homestay" where travellers can join the monastic community for a night, enjoy the meditative peace and (strictly vegetarian) cuisine of the temple, and in the morning take part in the temple`s morning prayer and work. I`m bringing a book on desert spirituality, my jammies, and not much else -- the rest of my cumbersome bookload (... in retrospect, bringing 8 books, some of them in hardback, with me was a very foolish idea.) Tomorrow, then, I`ll be travelling on towards Tokyo, the veritable antithesis of peace in many respects (or so I`m told) and a good several hours` away by train.

One of the wonderful things about this journey is that it is a cumulative rather than a linear experience -- every day adds to an increased appreciation of the whole, the past as well as the future, very much like a blossom unfolds petal by petal but appears far more lovely and purposeful when fully unfurled than when only half-open. Yesterday was a good reminder of this -- the last day in Kyoto, and by far the best of a series of wonderful ones.

I spent the morning at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art (note: Hong Kong museums are cheap -- Japanese museums, especially in Kyoto, are epxensive). The main feature at present is an exhibition of very impressive contemporary Brazilian art -- the future of modern art, as the future of the Church, will likely come from unexpected angles! Because I`m marginally more of a theologian than an art-critic, one feature -- an installation by Mira Schendel -- stuck out. Now, I`m not much of a fan of Jasper-Jones-esque scribbles-as-art, and looking at a reproduction of the individual panels of the installation in one of the catalogues, I would have just as soon passed up the room entirely. The overall effect was far more impressive, though: The artist had taken pages on which she had (in Portugese) scribbled parts of the Genesis creation account, encased them in plexiglass and strung these panels from the ceiling at eye-level with fishing line. Wandering through the exhibit, the effect was intriguing -- instead of taking in a painting or photograph, one, quite literally, entered the creation story, moved between the pages of the Bible and within the framework of the world God created. The experience was quite meditative and instructive -- not so very different from what those of us who endorse a Creator behind the creation do on a daily basis when we "enter" the world -- but artistically and consciously realized. (There were a number of other noteworthy exhibits -- most notably a videomontage titled "Devotionalia" by Dias & Riesweg incorporating the stories of several hundred Brazilian children ... as well as wax models of their hands and feet.)

I spent the afternoon in an out-of-the-way Zen Buddhist temple (... so out of the way that guidebooks, in fact, fail to mention it entirely ...), the former home of Jozan Ishikawa in the 16th century. His story is one that ought to inspire the more heroism-minded of my friends: A samurai, he served under Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa from age 16 onward and fought with him in battle for Osaka castle. Soon after the (victorious) battle, he withdrew to Kyoto, where he nursed his aging mother and devoted himself entirely to studying Chinese poetry. He died unmarried but deeply venerated at the age of 90, a teacher, innovator and originator of Bunjin-cha in Japan. (Now, someone, tell me -- there really ought to be a movie or novel based on his life :)

The home and zen garden he left behind are ravishing -- sparse, but populated with more than 100 varieties of flowers, with ponds and springs and bathed in the sounds of birds and crickets (... and American tourists,if one isn`t careful.) I came too early to enjoy the famous foliage of the Japanese maple that clothes this area of the country in October -- God willing, I will be back some other year in time to see it for myself.

When next you hear from me, I`ll be in Tokyo. Pray for travelling mercies if the fancy strikes you.


At September 4, 2004 at 7:38 AM, Blogger Paddy O. said...

Now I'm going to have to reread Taiko and Musashi to find references. Any pictures of Musashi landmarks would be fun... though I think I should have gotten the request to you before the retreat into meditative solitude.

Continuing to pray for you and your safety.


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