Monday: Meeting up with Chozen & Hogen & company (and other Arhats and Bodhisattvas)

So a couple of days ago Wes and Sheila were walking the streets of Kyoto and they bumped into our Dharma neighbors, Chozen and Hogen Bays (dressed in blue samue), along with three of their students - from left to right, Patrick Bancho Green, Laura Jomon Martin, and Nancy Kodo Conover.  Another marvelous encounter.  They agreed to meet today at Tenryu-ji, a temple famous for its garden, designed by the greatest teacher of his generation, Muso Soseki.  His work was destroyed in the Onin War I mentioned before, but these are probably based on them.  Tenryu-ji is also the home of Yuho Tom Kirchner, who occupies the position of "Gatekeeper."  Indeed his quarters are right next to the front gate.  More about Yuho later.  First let's visit some arhats.

The Arhat Garden at Tenryu-ji is pretty great.  Someone said that the temple is working their way to 500, the traditional number of them (the 16 I mentioned before are an abbreviated version), importing them a few at a time from China.  They represent all the different aspects of humanity - practitioners come in all shapes and sizes and forms:  

Check out the dog in the background:

Hogen reckons this is an arhat pealing away his face to reveal his original face:

An extra Arhat today:

This garden has more flowers and flowering trees than I've seen in others.  Beautiful sights and smells:

Quiet unassuming waterways like this are in every Zen garden I've seen:

We visit Yuho again.  

And he shows us his garden, which he loves - the neighboring monk let him use some land to expand into.  

Next to the garden, a row of Jizos.  Since we're with Chozen, THE Jizo expert in the West, we pepper her with questions about them.  People offer these bibs and flowers and tea in memory of a child who has died, or generally for children that have died in the world.  The bibs are often red, but sometimes white.  There's an old story that Chozen relates (I think I have it right):  At the feet of Jizo there are two protectors - a red one, who is the protector of the realm of evil; and a white one who is the protector of the realm of good.  These bibs then are for one or the other.  Chozen says there are other folk stories about red & white too.  

Chozen is here to connect with officials in Nagasaki to see if they're interested in helping organize another Jizos For Peace event on the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.  Chozen was born on that very day, and she says it caused her mother and father, peace activists, a great deal of suffering.  During the last Jizos For Peace event people from 49 states and 25 countries made 334,000 Jizos to present to Nagasaki as an apology, a memorial, and a prayer for peace.  

The wall behind those Jizos is a cemetery wall, which we walk through.  

Now it's on to the bamboo forest of Arashiyama and beyond.  The road to the bamboo forest is crowded.  

But after a while it thins out.  The bamboo is beautiful.  

We keep going, on the road to see more arhats, at the Jizo shrine a 25 minute walk up the foothills.  Soon enough it's pretty well only us.  On the way we try our best not to stop at the little pottery and gift shops that show up now and then.  One sells silk cocoons made into little people.  

Monks on takahatsu with their hats and little rakusus.   

And of course, paddleboarders.  

The thatch on a tea shop.  

Finally we get to the arhats. I'm writing this in the Seoul airport, without access to my pamphlet, so I'm going to wing this post and clean it up tomorrow when I get my suitcase and pamphlet.   These little guys are amazing - and the place is a hidden jewel.  Chozen, Hogen, Wes, and Sheila have been here before and explain that the little temple that houses them was going through hard times maybe 70 years ago, and so decided to allow anyone to have a block of pumice into one of the arhats, each one different.  As I said, these represent the variety of human life, and these ones are even more whimsical than the arhats down below at the temple.  

A boxer:

The moss makes hair and eyebrows that add to the effect:

The principle image at this temple is Kannon.  Sticking with the theme of variety, she holds in her many hands a swiss army knife of tools with which to help and teach people:  a Buddha, a vase of healing balm, a lotus flower, an arrow, a skull.  

Another Kannon stands to her left, and if you look closely you'll see she holds a curious object.  Japan is quite syncretic - you'll find a Shinto shrine in the middle of a Buddhist complex for instance.  This seems to be an example of that.

As we leave, we play the three bells of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  

What a treat it was to spend the day with Hogen, Chozen, Kodo, Jomon, and Bansho.  I'm looking forward to seeing them again stateside.  I'll be passing through Portland with my son Lars next month, and I'm hoping to stop in on either of their places - Great Vow or Heart of Wisdom.


  1. Wow-I love a ton of things about this post. I think you saved the best arhats for last with those moss-covered ones, and the journey through the bamboo forest was a good leadup. All the others were so cool as well. And the MacGyver version of Kannon is great. That’s a woman of action.

    Sometime I’d love to hear more about the place of those arhats in the Zen temples. They’re obviously placed with a loving and respectful spirit-or so it seems to me.

    1. I loved those moss covered arhats - I could have posted another dozen photos easy...Frustratingly I can't find the brochure I picked up there, so I can't even give you its name. There were one or two other tourists who made it up that far, and it was the only temple beside's Daiun's where we could just walk right up to the alter and see the statues up close.

      As you know, the Mahayanist literature has at times been pretty rough on the arhats, so it was heartening to see them all over the place at these Zen temples. And I love how they represent the wealth of human emotion and character, often in a lighthearted way. It reminded me of my favorite intro to the Zen life, the cartoon book Unsui.


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