Noilly Prattle: Getting Reacquainted 13 – The Temple of the Dragon Waterfall

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Getting Reacquainted 13 – The Temple of the Dragon Waterfall

     There is a seasonal element to many things Japanese—especially art forms. You will find seasonal words in haiku poems:

A dirt road on foot,
a fine golden afternoon,
backlit pampas grass.

In this example “pampas grass” imparts a feeling of autumn. Similarly, Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) expresses a seasonal mood in the materials chosen. In this example the persimmons indicate, as the pampas grass in the haiku, that the season is, again, autumn.

          There is a temple in the mountains not far from our home that we often drive by on the way to someplace else. You seem to miss so many wonderful things on the way to “someplace else”. Since we enjoy walking in natural settings—well, semi-natural settings to be more exact—we decided to try hiking on the mountain trails near the Temple of the Dragon Waterfall. It sounds more concise and poetic in Japanese – RYUSENJI [龍泉寺], and the kanji for dragon:

would make a great tattoo.

Falcor, the luck dragon 
        Unlike the Western tradition, dragons are not forces for evil in the East. Here, they are more like Falcor, the “luck dragon”, in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story and symbolize benevolence and good fortune. Accordingly, we have a temple and its adjacent shrine dedicated to dragons. Working in tandem they are designed to ensure a good rice crop and harvest. The temple is called RYUSENJI [龍泉寺], The Temple of the Dragon Waterfall; the shrine is called HACHIDAIRYUO [八大龍王], Great Luck Dragon King.

Ryusenji - main temple
       Ryusenji is a particularly lovely specimen of the temple type. The main temple sits on a sunny hilltop. However, as its name implies, there is a misty/shadowy rock chasm that contains the dragon waterfall used for “misogi” (ritual purification) by Buddhist monks. Lest you imagine something majestic like Niagara or Victoria Falls let me prick your bubble before descending into the grotto. The waterfall is piped in and emerges through a kind of dragon-like faucet and drops to the rock floor of the grotto. Nevertheless, in spite of the slight kitchyness of the contraption, the grotto possesses a kind of spirituality conducive to meditation and cleansing of the spirit. It must be especially challenging in the winter, though.

unusual dragon motif in roof decoration
dragon waterfall - more like a spout
the grotto
Buddhist monk doing "misogi" 

earthen dam and  HACHIDAIRYUO [八大龍王Shrine

       The complex contains a large pond created by an earthen dam which you can walk around on a dirt road used for service vehicles. It’s about two kilometers to circumnavigate the pond and a fairly easy hike with easily doable ups and downs. The road winds close to the contours of the pond and is very scenic, especially on a sunny fall day.

Jizo (guardian spirits)

       While walking along, my eye was struck by the singular vision of hundreds of statues of “Jizos” (a kind of protective spirit like a guardian angel) all lined up in orderly rows and columns, some wearing red bibs. According to Road Buddy these spirits absorb your bad karma and release you from it. Actually, it’s a pretty amusing sight. I couldn’t resist an irreverent photo or two. I guess I’ll burn in one of the several Buddhist purgatories for that little indiscretion, but should eventually achieve Nirvana.

the Sanskrit Mantra rock
       The road soon leads to the Great Luck Dragon King [Hachi dai ryu o] shrine associated with the temple. The pond is very prettily framed by a newish style bright vermilion torii gate from inside the shrine precinct, which, basically, consists of a very large rock with a Buddhist Sanskrit mantra (Namu Myoho Renge Kyo) inscribed in kanji characters. This same mantra is visible on many of the rocks in the Ryusenji complex. Translating from the Sanskrit it says: "I honor the Universal Mystical Law of Cause and Effect."

       I can abide with that; The Temple of the Dragon Waterfall complex is a pretty mystical place. 

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