“the statue of Buddha deserves all the bird shit it gets”
That’s probably my mom’s favorite quote. She has always been interested in Zen Buddhist philosophy; it was the closest thing to a religion that she has. Our household was odd; my father and my brother and I would attend our predominantly black Catholic church every Sunday, while my mother was and is agnostic but had this book of Zen Buddhist quotes I frequently looked through. Though I’m sure they’d disagree, my parents were somewhat the same, spiritually. We weren’t very dogmatic Catholics either; we never went to confession before communion and repented the occasional missed Sunday. My father repeated that he thought of Catholicism as a religion of practice rather than just words — Zen Buddhism, too, turns away from doctrine and emphasizes spiritual practice.
My mother appreciated that Zen Buddhism cut through all the noise and propaganda of organized religions. It is primarily a philosophy of honesty, one that demands you look at your naked self and deal plainly with it, that you seek enlightenment there in that reflection and its inherent connection to everything else. It is especially good that you do this everywhere and in your daily life, not reserving it for special occasions or dramatic outbursts.
What do you see, how do you feel about that reflection, when you are laid bare, when you are stripped of titles and accomplishments, burdens and responsibilities all in equal measure. What is left?
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I went on a trip to Japan with three of my high school friends. We visited several famous Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and I expressed that I’d like to find one that was a little more peaceful — large crowds of people seemed to ruin the whole point of shrines and temples for me, as places made for praying, thinking, and reflecting. We found Enko-ji temple randomly on Google maps, and when we arrived I realized it was a Zen Buddhist temple. There were no elaborate statues of Buddha; the architecture was minimalist. Nature was enough splendor on its own there, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.
There were still quite a few people at Enko-ji, but less of a crowd than the more famous places, and more domestic tourists rather than foreigners like us. The arrangement of the temple grounds also lent itself to many spots of peace and quiet despite the visitors — the grounds sit on a hill, so rather than sprawling over flat land, you walk upward. This means that the din of the crowded areas fades away, that people disperse over different levels of the land, and there is time and space to finally, actually pray and think and reflect.
Toward the end of our visit we sat inside the temple, looking out onto a pond that reflected the fall leaves. The window framed the scenery, a masterpiece with no artist, beautiful on its own. People sat and spoke softly and walked past.
I felt a deep sense of contentment.