Monday, September 14, 2009

Out of the City and Into the Sky

High on a mountainside overlooking the city of Kyoto. We were climbing towards a secluded Shinto shrine, but took a side path away from the main road. Plunging down slightly into a bamboo forest, in the distance, the only sound a lone nightingale's song, slow as it echoes through the dense one hundred foot stalks of bamboo the thickness of oak trees. Continuing, the path narrows and the bamboo begins to crush us, asking why we are invading this holy space. Finally, a clearing in in the grass forest. An altar lies in front of us. On it, a round stone rests, cradled on a stand. On the edge of the altar, an inscription in Kanji: Guess the weight, and lift the stone. If we guess correctly and lift with the right amount of effort, eternal salvation in the Western paradise awaits us. If wrong, our journey must continue.

Were we right? I do not know. Returning to the main path, we begin to encounter hundreds of vermilion wooden gates. Passing through each gate purifies our souls as we approach the main shrine. A creek to our left runs swiftly down the slope as our climb steepens. The stone steps we are mounting are covered in green moss. As we near the top, the sun breaks through the darkness and floods our eyes with light. Finally, at the summit of the steps: a green lake surrounded by an ancient mossy forest. Alas, the path curves to the left and continues up the mountainside.

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