Noilly Prattle: Under the Dragon Fall

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Under the Dragon Fall

     Today, completely by chance, I had one of the most unique experiences of my life.

Ryusenji main temple with its beautiful tile roof
       Last autumn, I posted a blog on a visit to a Nishiren Buddhist sect temple called Ryusenji [龍泉寺] (Dragon Fountain Temple) about a 15 or 20 minute drive from home. The temple complex is perfect for walking in a natural setting and we have been in the habit of going there from time to time to walk. Today we were returning from picking up our plants from Road Buddy's family home when I suggested stopping by at Ryusenji, which is on the way, to walk a bit.

dragon figure ceramic on main temple roof
       Towards the end of our walk on the way to the parking lot we noticed several Buddhist monks in white robes in front of the temple office. As we were walking by one of the monks addressed me in excellent English and asked if I was interested in Japanese temples. I said that I was and, indeed, that I thought—pointing it out—the main temple building was one of the most beautiful I had seen (and I have seen many). The dragon motif of the glossy tile roof absolutely shimmers in brown tones with a touch of aqua for some beautifully stylized waves and several charming dragon figures decorating the roof.

       He then began to talk about the temple and mentioned the dragon waterfall for which the temple is well known. I told him that I had visited the temple before and knew about and had seen the waterfall and thought it fascinating. He then asked me if I would be interesting in experiencing it first hand. At first, I thought no, but then I remember thinking, when I first saw the spout, that it would be interesting to try that. The invitation was sincere, so I said that yes, I would like to try it, but what should I wear? Would nude be OK? He said yes, so I said OK, why not. It turned out, that “nude” didn't mean nothing, but a Japanese “fundoshi”--a traditional male undergarment. He said the temple would loan me one.

the grotto
the dragon fall
        A couple of other young men were coming who wanted to be initiated and he invited me to join them. When they arrived we were all given our fundoshi and led down to the waterfall, where we all changed from our street clothes to our ceremonial fundoshi. A master monk then took us in hand and explained the procedures of the ceremony. He purified the pool and waterfall by throwing sake and salt into them while saying some prayers. He then instructed us to first splash ourselves with water, then, for purification, to present first the left shoulder, then the right shoulder into the fall, followed by the left leg and the right leg—left side first because it is the side of the heart. Then, one by one, we backed into the waterfall, letting the stream fall on the back of the neck and shoulders. The stream was unexpectedly strong and you had to brace yourself to keep from being toppled over. We stood, one by one, hands in prayer at chest level, facing the monk who chanted mantras over us. We each had two turns under the waterfall.

under the dragon fall
        You experience a feeling of connection, fellowship with the monk and the other initiates and a wonderful feeling of relaxation and a kind of friendly kinship with the natural world that surrounds us—the spirit of animism, perhaps. If the spirit of “god” exists anywhere, it is more in such a simple natural setting than in a great cathedral.

        As a bonus, a temple attendant told us that now that we were initiated we could come and use the dragon fall any time we liked in any season and at no cost. Our master monk said that he practices this ritual every day of the year.  I think I would have to pass on doing that in winter, though.

No comments: