I spent autumn 2011 walking and photographing in Japan, at times along paths travelled by Zen masters, via mountains, forests, lakes, ancient villages and newer cities.
Where I was continually aware of the confluences of these most ‘interesting of times’. Where the captured moments of simple beauty were each shadowed by daily reports of radioactivity levels, the halting recovery from the tsunami, and a background hum of ubiquitous corruption. Where my lack of language to help penetrate an already opaque culture put me readily into ‘don’t know mind’… a most excellent mind space for seeing and making art.
Now I am writing haibun around these images, another attempt to depict the essence of the ordinary as timeless transcendence. Glimpses through the gateless gate.
See some of them in Recent Posts.
Small rituals are required before entering each sacred place. Perhaps a bell to be rung, hands to be washed, a bow before an offering. I like these rituals and enact each carefully, as a momentary dance, a reminder to be mindful. To show respect.
I stand in gasho at the tori gate. The path leads to a small shrine where kitsune, fox ears peaked, whiskers twitching, gaze:
shrines, large and small
mark this holy mountain
my short life
A sublime face in a small but perfect courtyard calls me in from the street. A large sculpture. Lichens soften granite surfaces, Water pools around a mossy neckline.
I crouch to photograph the metre-wide lips – full, sensual, just a hint of a Buddha smile. I look down. My shoes are mossy. Lichens scab my knees, vines with tiny heart-shaped leaves curve around my calves. I too, am being claimed by the garden:
drawn to a smile
is this what it means
to be human?
There can be silence even in a crowd’s cacophony. Happy tourists stream by as I perch on the steps to focus on this wondrous, perplexing creation. What is it about this raked sand garden that commands me so?
As I gaze at the patterns of light and dark straight lines bend and sounds drop away. My mindstream warps for a few moments. I shake my head, shift my gaze, and it happens again. I look around, no one else seems to be noticing this odd phenomena:
sand garden does
my head in, transfixed
I cannot leave
One foot after the next along the trail, shirt sweat-wet, heading towards the yet-to-be. Other walkers greet us, friendly and curious about our ‘otherness’. We are never quite sure where we are. But always the city floats below us, like the great liner, to the west.
Along the way: a disused shrine mouldering under the trees, a cracked timber bench from which to sit and contemplate the view, worn stone steps covered in moss, lead down to a stream. And a sign that makes me smile:
Two friends, perhaps scholars?
A happy exchange. Of what?
And why? Doesn’t matter!
At the shrine entrance, everything has significance, meaning, purpose. The bus stop, soba shops, fenced cedars sheltering deities – these I can figure… But as to the rest, I just don’t know, I can only trust my senses. Kanji-carved stones, metres high, flank a huge granite ball resting in water. Weathered timber signs, busy with inked kana, instruct, I guess, supplicants about to enter.
I rest for some moments in this charged and elemental space. Soaked up, mind stilled, I’m now ready to climb the stairs:
no means to make meaning
stone and rope sculptures
in a sacred space
Fifth floor foyer, a tired hotel, waiting for the lift. Just before the door opens, sunlight creeps across the face of the building opposite. I am rushing to breakfast, a train to catch and I am stopped in my tracks.
Window frames an urban abstract, a faded but playful composition of coloured geometric shapes. A cheery flash against the grey expanse of a still-sleeping city, a small spark of lift-waiting joy:
on my way to elsewhere
everyday art, lit
by the rising sun
We find a gap in the fence behind the supermarket car park and cross the railway tracks. Then our feet pound hollow on the small wooden bridge, like marching soldiers, we echo down time into the castle grounds. The moat, gates and stone walls enclose a small yet immaculate garden where we sit to eat lunch.
Between sushi bites, I gaze across the stylised forms of the surrounding space, to a trio of cherry trees, each set epicentre in a raked gravel bed:
breath rises, falls
then ripples across
a bounded infinity