Saturday, July 27, 2013

Have you entered into the springs of the sea?

Knees aching from the week long, 5-hour a day Zazen sessions and frequent seiza
Feet aching from the long walk. 
I could have really missed this temple. Really, nothing special.
And then an arrow sign with the faded character on it. I immediately knew it did not point just to any waterfall but to a sacred waterfall. And so I went, following a dirt path that soon lead me along the flank of a ridge, the mountain on my left side, on my right side a ravine.
The silent millenary cryptomerias were tracing mysterious characters with their roots on the ground on my right. On my left - stones, fallen branches, stumps, shrubs, dried cracked trees turning into shards, moss, created a landscape that made me oblivious to the fact that here and there the path was narrow enough for only one person. A brook was gurgling at the bottom of the ravine, and I was trying to engrave it all in my memory.
Not another human all around. Rare birds only broke the quiet.
What a great way this country has to bid me farewell, I thought.
At the end of the ascent a few wide stone steps marked the way to a level ground where more cryptomerias and Japanese maple trees enclosed a simple unobtrusive shrine. A gable roof floating on 4 wooden poles, no walls, turned the whole gorge into a sacred space. On the table for the offerings two bundles of fresh flowers, a bronze incense burner, a small mound of salt, and a bowl with clean water: all signs that someone tended to the place.
On the other side of a stone torii, as if ejected from the bowels of the earth, a small wooden honden on a rock enshrined the kami of the waterfall. The opposite side of the sacred precinct was marked off by the start of the ravine where the brook falling from the flat top of the mountain resumed its course.
The water from the plateau above was dropping to its new course from underneath one big rock to which a thin shimenawa was tied. This meant only one thing: there must have been a way to get closer to it. And there it was, partially hidden by a rock, the bridge that connected the two sides of the ravine.
On the other side the passageway from the bridge to the waterfall was guarded by a winged creature surrounded by a fiery halo. The eagle-beaked deva had a human body, held a sword and a lasso and his hair were tongues of fire. From that point on the way to the rock was not a dirt track anymore, and closer to the big rock with the shimenawa there were man-made steps of gray slates, and rocks had been placed in a row to form a parapet for the passageway to a niche. Spaced on the wall metal candle-holders, for pilgrims to place their candles if they came here at night.
The area looked like it had been formed by an earthquake in the days of creation. The rock that now serves as a partition between people’s trips and the world must have detached itself from the flank of the mountain; smaller rocks tumbling from higher above had filled a crevice in the mountain and now were contained in the net created by the roots of several maple trees. At some point humans had channeled the flow of water through a stone spout, but until that moment millenniums of water falling from the original bed of the brook, some 6 meters above, had carved a niche that had enough space to stand in line and wait for one’s turn. The walls of the niche, covered in moss, showed their sediments in various hues of red. At the mouth of the niche a pine-wood panel blocked the view of the practice under the waterfall, and a V-shaped shelter that leaned against the side of the mountain created a space safe enough to leave one’s belongings unattended while practicing under the waterfall. And so I went.

It sends its icy shot through my spine, the wet bone-chilling stone. In a matter of seconds under my naked feet I feel the thin layer of slime and the fear of slipping and getting hurt.

Gassho to the gush. I will stand under it for 6 deep breaths.

The first touch of the water on my chest feels like a stab with an icicle. 6 deep breaths from now.

Gassho under the gush with closed eyes.

5 breaths to go. What if the stone spout detaches itself and hits me on my head? None will know I’m here. The spout is strongly attached. But what if something else falls from above and kills me?

4 breaths to go. I leave.

If I quit now I’ll regret it forever. But what if something falls on me and kills me? Well, it means it was my time to go and probably I’ll come back.

Gassho again. 6 deep breaths with eyes closed, so I don’t see the rock falling to hit me.

Now that all the cowardly chatter in my mind has quieted down, I hear the thud of the water when it first hits my skull.

Then a constant hollow rumble filling the niche and engulfing me.

The jet of water is hitting all the one thousand petals on the top of my head, I can even see their colors changing, their layers spinning.

6 amazing breaths.

My clothes are soaked.

I can leave now.

The world around me has new colors.

I cannot leave now.

I am all soaked anyway.

Shoes off again.


12 more deep breaths, with open eyes.

The thud.

The rumble.

The one thousand petals swirling and shining.

And suddenly they are dancing in front of my eyes, in a constantly changing kaleidoscope created by the literally hundreds of thin splatters of water bouncing off my head.

At every instant thousands of tiny drops pass in front of my eyes, dancing in every direction, joyously chasing after one another. Each drop shines with a myriad of changing colors, each drop a microcosm being born and dissolving immediately after.

This is bliss. If a stone fell on my head now I would not mind.

On the edge of the red stone shielding me from the eyes of the world, translucent green moss covers mountains and valleys and forests and plains.

And I’m standing on one of those peaks staring at myself standing under the waterfall.

The clinking of cymbals from behind me.

A tekiah from a conch shell blown somewhere in the bowels of the niche. Who’s blowing it? It sounds like a shofar but it is a conch, I am sure.

The eagle-beaked deva appears on the rock in front of me. I cannot tell if he is angry at me for being here. He smiles, bows, disappears.

I can also leave now.