Kennin-ji Temple

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Kennin-ji Temple

Enter the Kennin-ji complex in its busy midtown setting and the city fades away.
  The monk Eisai (1141 1241) founded this Rinzai temple in 1202, making it the oldest of Kyoto’s Zen temples. The Rinzai sect emphasizes reaching enlightenment through sudden understanding, aided by pondering a koan. By giving the student this conundrum with no rational answer, the teacher spurs the acolyte to higher awareness.
  Kennin-ji, like the other Zen temples in Kyoto, is laid out in Chinese style in a grid pattern based on a north south axis, with subtemples and small gardens constructed in Japanese style lining the periphery. An immense hall in the center of the compound houses an image of Shakyamuni flanked by two attendant images.
  Recent renovations allow visitors to enter the Abbot’s Quarters and the buildings connected to it via tiled roof corridors. The doors have been removed to allow views of the expansive kare sansui sand and rock garden. Zen gardens are for contemplation, an aid in transcending the mundane through the abstract principles implied in the rocks and sand. One popular interpretation of this garden is the grouping of three standing rocks in the raked sand, often thought of as representing Buddha and two acolytes. The sumptuously green moss garden is called the Sound of the Tide Garden. With its soft undulating mounds of star moss, it is as soothing to the eyes as the former is stimulating, evoking entirely different images and reflections.
  In 2002, Kennin-ji celebrated its 800th anniversary and commissioned artist Koizumi Junsaka (1924 2012) to paint two majestic twin dragons charging through the heavens, the wish granting jewel in one five taloned claw. The ink painting, on thick Japanese paper, was attached to the ceiling of Nenge do Hall.
  Other halls open to the public contain sliding fusuma doors painted by famous Kyoto artists, and include Hashimoto Kansetsu’s depiction of the Zen principles in “The Cycle of Death and Rebirth.” The temple gallery features replicas of painted screens (the originals are in the Kyoto National Museum) of the thunder gods, Fujin and Raijin.
  A few steps away from Kyoto’s busiest intersection, Kennin-ji, an active monastery, remains a world apart from its secular neighbors.

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