Kyoto’s Tofukuji Temple 東福寺 Bashō Haiku & Some Philosophy

The moss, rock garden and pond at Tofukuji Zen Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

I find Japanese gardens always naturally a splendid place to compose haiku poetry. On a visit to Tofukuji Temple 東福寺 in Kyoto in 2018, the splendid moss garden and pond in the main Holden made me think of the famous Basho poem, translated here by Lafcadio Hearn,

Old pond – frogs jumped in – sound of water

Hearn’s life was honored in a Haiku Competition and Haiga Exhibition in Kyoto in April 22-25, 2020 of which I was a part of and won second place. I’m sure this 13th century temple, famous for its autumn colors and more, played a big part in why.

Tofuku-ji is the head temple of the Tofukuji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism and number four of the Five Mountains of Rinzai Zen in Kyoto. The raked gardens are famous, as well as its moss garden designed by the famous Japanese Garden Designer Mirei Shigemori.

Zen raked garden at Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto

Along with my photographs of the Tofukuji Temple, I quote here, ”Be a Frog and Jump into Bashō‘s Pond’ in the Japan Times by one of my favorite writers about Japan, Michael Hoffman. He says of Bashō and Zen philosophy:

Moss, rock garden and pond at Tofukuji.

“(The) sound of water coming out of the old pond was heard by Bashō as filling the entire universe.” Hearing it, “Bashō was no more the old Bashō. He was ‘resurrected.’ He was ‘the Sound’ or ‘the Word’ that was even before heaven and earth were separated.

He now experienced the mystery of being-becoming and becoming-being. The old pond was no more, nor was the frog a frog. They appeared to him enveloped in the veil of mystery which was no veil of mystery.”

This is a veil of mystery indeed! Perhaps William James, eminent psychologist and philosopher (1842-1910), was thinking along similar lines when he wrote, in “The Varieties of Religious Experience” (1902), “Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

Tofukuji is famous for its fall colors, but this visit of mine was in Spring 2018.

We may go through life without suspecting their existence … (but) no account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. … The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity.”

Trees at Tofukuji, Kyoto, Japan
Lovely spring moss.

D.T. Suzuki says, “Basho the poet … has passed through the outer crust of consciousness away down into its deepest recesses, into a realm of the unthinkable, into the Unconscious, which is even beyond the unconscious generally conceived by the psychologists. Basho’s old pond lies on the other side of eternity, where timeless time is.”


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