Ryoan-Ji Temple

(龍安寺)
#ryoanji #zen #garden

The Fifteen Rock Temple

If you are in Kyoto and someone invites you to go and visit a rock garden, don’t be confused. Not all gardens are full of colors and trees. Sometimes we will have the opportunity to see one completely different from the gorgeous gardens of court nobles constructed in other periods.

I was excited to go to the rock garden and try to count the fifteen stones that are in the garden. It is said that you won't be able to count all at the same time from the veranda unless you do it through attaining enlightment.

The Garden is amazing, especially in summer when all the lotus flowers flourish; I could take a picture of a square made by wood inside the lake where those lotus flowers are arranged for the summer season. But today, it was empty. Don't worry, I will come back in summer and show you a picture.

The Ryoan-ji temple was built in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto and used as a Zen training temple. It was destroyed during the Onin war and rebuilt some years later. However the rock garden has not a precise built date, but it was built around the late 15th century.
The rock garden is a small parcel with fifteen rocks surrounded by white raked gravel. When I entered the rock garden and looked at the position of the rocks, I couldn't guess what was the real meaning of the position of the rocks. Later one of the nice old men who works for the temple told me that there are many theories about what the rocks represent, from a tiger crossing a river to the peaks of mountains rising above the clouds. Don't worry if you can't see anything because this garden is not meant to symbolize anything just to reproduce the beuty of nature. I couldn't see anything. Perhaps I have to meditate more in front of the garden.

Another special feature about the rock garden is the walls at the background. They are made of clay boiled in oil, giving them a special shape and dark colour. The white of the gravel been highlighted by the darkness of the wall.


Today I was lucky because the building where they keep the image of Buddha was open to the public. Usually it is closed but today we could enter and see inside the chamber just for 300 more yen. There was a young student who teached us all about the history of that building and the images of the Buddha that were keep inside of it. She was nice and I was amazed with her knowledge. Then she told us that she did that as part of her university club, just to enjoy the temple and the history around it. Such a lucky girl she is!

I already watched the temple, but there was one more secret waiting for me, the Tsukubai near the tea room. This coin shape rock has a deep meaning. Its surface has four symbols that have to be combine with the square hole in the middle to make a sentence: ''I learn only to be contented''. He who learns only to be contented. This concept is important in the Zen spirit. It is funny because it shows you a humble meaning while it is engraved on the shape of a coin.

After finishing the temple, if you are hungry, you can take a break at the restaurant located inside the temple garden. You will have some good views of the garden and the pound and every minute you will hear the sound of a bamboo tube hitting a rock. It is breaking the quietness of the garden. This rustic device was meant to startle any animals with its noise. I think is one of my favourites sounds.


Photo & Report: Javier Azaña