‘Koans are capsules of thought, psychic knots that resist unraveling. In some Buddhist sects, students are assigned phrases or situations to meditate upon, to focus the mind and free it from the bear-trap of reason. For example:
1. “A man is sitting atop a hundred-foot pole. How does he get off it.
2. “A wheel maker makes two wheels, each with fifty spokes. Suppose you cut out the hubs. Would there still be wheels?”
3. “On a windy day, two monks are arguing about a fluttering banner. The first says, “The banner is moving, not the wind.” The second says, “The wind is moving the banner.” Who is right?
4. “Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?”
5. “What is the straight within the bent?”
6. “Pull a five-story pagoda out of a teapot.”
Inexhaustible, koans are intended for live practice between master and student, with illumination as a goal, not interpretation, because, as the old saying goes: “It’s easy to confuse the pointing finger with the moon.” As Zen teacher Norman Fischer explains: “This practice consists of living and sitting with phrases, until they become very large and very strange, and reveal themselves to us. That is to say, through them we are revealed to ourselves.”
There’s no right answer to these puzzles designed to focus the mind, and I sometimes dwell on koans while waiting in the dark for first light. This morning, I’ve been thinking a little about mu, though I appreciate it’s not something understood by occasional thought. Mu, which translates inadequately as nothingness, often appears in Buddhist practice, and sometimes in this venerable koan: “What is mu?”’
- Diane Ackerman, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day.
Mahōtokoro lies somewhere in the mountains of Chūbu, hidden by high peaks and thick, ancient forests. The main entrance to the campus is the Nandaimon - the Southern Main Gate. No street or path leads up to this gate however, because the school has no connection to the outside world in any way or form. The Nandaimon the oldest structure in the school grounds and was build to remind students and teachers alike that what lies behind it is the world of the inexplicable, the magical. A graveled path leads from this gate to the Central Gate - Chūmon - that marks the entry to the innermost part of the complex.
Enclosed by a corridor that opens to the inside, the main pagoda is situated in the middle of the compound. With a height of almost 50 meters this five-story pagoda dominates the landscape of the school, its crooked roofs being visible from all over of the grounds. It hosts the library of Mahōtokoro that holds thousands of books on magic, spanning a time period of more than three thousand years. The only other building in this inner complex is the Daikōdō, the Great Lecture Hall. It is located north of the pagoda and provides the biggest classroom of the school with space for more than 200 people. Behind the Lecture Hall small stone stairs lead up the hill to the Inner Sanctuary, where a shrine for the Empress Suiko and the Imperial Family oversees all the other buildings inside the school grounds. It is off limits for most students and under the direct supervision of the current headmaster.
East of the inner compound of pagoda and Lecture Hall lie the dining hall and the houses of staff - excluding the teachers - followed by a series of buildings that serve as minor classrooms used mostly for non-dangerous classes like History of Magic, Arithmancy and Calligraphy. The sports areas for karate, jūdo, kyūdo and kendo are located in the far southeast of campus while the southwest of the grounds is overlooked by the second pagoda of the school, a smaller but more colorful variant of the main pagoda that lies between trees and serves as the Astronomy classroom. A path leads from the pagoda into the hills of the surrounding forests and towards the Baseball and Quidditch pitches.
The western part of the school grounds is mainly used for the accommodation of the students of Mahōtokoro. While on campus the students live in what appear to be little ancient-looking one-story buildings, but in reality these houses are charmed to extend and shrink on the inside depending on the number of people needed to shelter. Students aren’t separated by age, though after a disastrous experiment in the 1860s they are separated by gender. Additionally the inner compound is flanked by the Main Hall or Kondō on the upper west-side; an octagonal hall used solely for the lessons of Wand Magic and Wandless Magic for the first and second years. A large pond is situated south of the student living quarters, accompanied by a magnificent tea house that is source of great pride in the students of Mahōtokoro, for it is their job to keep it in good condition all year round - the school’s Tea Ceremony Club enjoys great popularity.
The green houses and Herbology and Potions classrooms are located on the western side of the Nandaimon, while the living quarters of the teachers are separated on the eastern side of the gate. Furthermore the school to this day possess a few rice fields that were once used to feed Mahōtokoro’s inhabitants and nowadays serve the purpose of providing a productive activity for those students getting detention.
[pictures: Tōdai-ji, Hōryū-ji, Tō-ji, Kan'ei-ji, Byōdō-in. Not mine.]
The Sakura season in Kyoto is always the highlight of the spring season. There are so many beautiful spots scattered around the ancient Heian capital, that it’s hard to decide where to go. The peak of the Cherry blossoms doesn’t last all that long either, just about one week. Although its spring and the rain that comes with it, there are days that the sky is heavenly blue and the sun is shining! This year I visited many different spots and its hard to say which are prettier. The topping on the cake was my visit to Haradani-en Garden (原谷苑) in the North of Kyoto. Another highlight was the “Sakura Hana Matsuri” at the Hirano Shrine (平野神社) in Kyoto. I just happened to be there a few minutes before the matsuri arrived in the shrine. Truly a remarkable experience. There was a procession passing through the Sandō (参道)-The approach way leading to the main shrine- and coming to a halt in front of the Haiden (拝殿). A small ceremony was held for the return of the Kami to the Honden (本殿). The participating troupe of man and woman were all dressed in Heian style kimono. The next stunning event was the matsuri held on Mount Yoshino in Nara. It is called the “Yoshino Hana Eshiki” (吉野花会式) procession. The participants are the famous Shugendō (修験道) ascetic mountain monks. They made their way from the Sakuramotobō (櫻本坊) to the Zaōdō hall of the Kimpusen-ji temple for the final climax of this matsuri. A dance by the oni odori (鬼踊) and the burning of a large pile wood and pine branches. After this they trow mochi kubari (餅配り) into the crowd. Some of the other sakura hotspots where the Sewari-tei River Bank (背割堤) in Yawata, Katsuragawa Ryokuchi Park (桂川緑地) along the banks of the Katsuragawa River, the Takase River (高瀬川) along Kiyamachi Street, Tōji Temple (等持院), Suika Tenmangu Shrine (水火天満宮), the magical Momoyama Castle (伏見城) in Fushimi-ku, Tenryu-Ji Temple (天龍寺), Senkō-ji Temple (千光寺) and Jōshōkō-ji Temple (常照皇寺). The following pictures are unpublished as of yet and I’ll be posting them in this album as time permits. Hopefully these pictures and locations will inspire you to come to Kyoto next year and enjoy the beauty of the “Cherry Season”. This is the five story pagoda (五重ノ塔) of Tōji Temple (東寺) During the 2014 Sakura Season in Kyoto.