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Daruma-dera: temple of the red-bearded barbarian

Back out to Kyoto today. (Seeing that it's past April 15, did I mention that I filed for an extension on my taxes? I had planned to bring all the papers over here and do them here on-line, needing the refund, but the papers took up too much luggage space. Anyway...)

To Nijo Castle, Daruma-dera, then walking around Gion a bit.

Nijo: castle's ok, worth seeing for historical interest, it's where the last shogun announced the restoration of the Emperor to the daimyo. the gardens a nice - some parts are trees and shrubs with grass and wildflowers allowed to grow. A kid with a dandelion, more interested in it than in all the carefully planted trees - thanks young sensei.

About a mile off is Daruma-dera, a temple dedicated to Daruma. Not in my guidebook, I found a little bit about it on the web and knew I had to check it out. Fortunately it's marked on the Periplus map of Kyoto I bought this morning. Tucked away in the suburbs, it's an active temple, no English brochure or signs other that the one in front. The main hall has zillions of Daruma figures.

Interesting fellow, Daruma, and interesting his adaptation as a toy/good luck charm/holy image by the Japanese. Daruma, a.k.a Bodhidharma outside of Japan, is credited as the founder of Zen Buddhism, as well as being the root of many of the healing and martial arts that trace their origin to China - including both karate and shiatsu. (See why I had to go say hi?)

He lived around 500 A.D. or so, and came to China from either India or Persia. Classically he is often depicted as being swarthy, with wild hair and often a red beard. (Many koans make reference to "the barbarian's red beard.") He also often is shown with bulging eyes, the legend being that, frustrated with falling asleep while meditating, he cut off his own eyelids; where he threw them to the ground,the first tea plant sprouted.

(Zen is replete with stories about hacking off body parts - thankfully, most of them should be taken figuratively, otherwise early Zen followers would have been dying from blood loss or subsequent infection at such a rate at to preclude the school's survival.)

Daruma arrived in China after Buddhism was well-established - but a degraded sort of Buddhism, more concerned with racking up merit (what we often call in the West "good karma") to get a good life on the next time around than with the Buddha's teachings about the end of suffering.

Thus have I heard:

The Emperor of China was just such a "merit collector" Buddhist, and Daruma ended up having an audience with him. The Emperor had of sponsored a lot of temple-building, sutra-copying, and suchlike, and thought this had earned him a lot of good karma. He asked Daruma, "So,. how much merit have I accumulated doing all this?"

He no doubt expected to told that he had earned copious merit points, redeemable for a future re-birth into the Pure Land or something. But Daruma was having none of it.

"None at all," he replied.

Gutsy thing to tell a man who could have you executed on a whim. But rather than running this impudent monk through, the Emperor must have figured to tap his brain on better ways to rack up the merit.

"Then, what is holy," he asked.

And that lovable barbarian replied, "Vast emptiness. Nothing is holy."

This befuddled the Emperor more than a little bit. Perhaps suspecting that he was being toyed with, he asked, "Who are you, to give me such answers?"

Daruma's answer has echoed down the ages, forming what many believe is the core of Zen: "I don't know."

(I have tried to make a Discordian koan out of this: "Upon hearing this great teaching of Bodhidharma, Chairman Tao exclaimed, 'Don't know?! Don't know?! Third base!'". People either look at me blankly or groan when I tell it; I "don't know" if that means its working or not.)

So after his unsatisfactory interview with the Emperor, Daruma went to the famed Shaolin Temple, where legend has it he spent several years sitting, staring at a wall - so long that his arms and legs atrophied, and that's why he's represented as an armless, legless Weeble-like like figure, symbolizing perseverance.

(The figures are weighted so that if the are tipped over, they right themselves, illustrating the Japanese proverb Nana karobi, ya oki - "If you fall down seven times, get up eight times.")

Legend also says that he found the monks at Shaolin too weak to endure the rigors of his style of meditation, so introduced a set of exercises (presumably from yoga) that became the basis of kung fu/wushu and, later, karate, and also of Asian bodywork.

Resolving the armless and legless lump with the kung fu master is left as an exercise for the reader.

Anyway, Bodhidharma's negation of theory and focus on meditation is considered the start of Zen, and he is the First Patriarch. Zen as a tradition would come into its own a few generations later with the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng - but that's a different story.

Daruma is often shown wearing a all-covering cloak and cowl, presumably keeping him warm as he sat in his cave facing the wall.

wind bends umbrella
so my jacket's hood becomes
like Daruma's cowl

(Can I just mention here that it was the moment I saw the temple (even if I did mistake buckets for Darumas) that the wind and rain stopped?)

I had the place to myself a bit, sat for a few minutes in the hall, burned incense and lit a candle. Wandered around the yard a bit; there's a garden but the gate was closed, so I wasn't sure what the deal was. Fortunately a Japanese guy showed up, paid the lady in what I had taken for a souvenir booth 300 en for admission. Ah! When in Rome...

The garden was nice, seemed a good place to sit and think. I walked around the hall where the path led - got into some places I'm not 100% sure I was supposed to, but got nifty photos (didn't get one of this fantastic bas-relief Daruma carving upstairs, though.)

Anyway, recommend highly, especially for karate-folks with a Zen interest, for whom Daruma should hold special interest. I shall endeavor to return, perhaps in combination with return trip to Daitoku-ji.

Walked a good distance back to the subway. There is a sword shop on the corner near Nijo-mae subway station, that's worth a mention. Ogled in the shop window for a few minutes.

Decided to head over by Gion via the subway, see if I could find the restaurant Robin and I stumbled on my last trip to Japan.

Walking later, I think...Who gave Dogen inka? No one, AFAIK. Who gave the Buddha inka? Did he not call upon the earth to recognize his enlightenment? Is not the world, one's interaction with it, one's impact (small or large - I speak of the quality of the impact, not the size) of the world the judge of a human being, not a signed certificate? And what about the spirits of the earth - might we say that the kami gave Buddha his inka? ("I didn't study under the Buddha, but I have the same teachers he had, study at the school he graduated from.")

Anyway. I think I found the place but it wasn't open. But got some good photos around the area, and walking about I got a better orientation about where things seen on various trips are located relative to each other.

Now at the Blarney Store for a beer or two. Invited Eric but he's wiped out, too much music and work. Ok, gives chance to catch up on this writing.


Anyway. I think I found the place but it wasn't open. But got some good photos around the area, and walking about I got a better orientation about where things seen on various trips are located relative to each other.

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