Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where does one go to see out the End of the World?

Eight-eleven p.m., Japan time, they said.  My day started with a missing glove nearly twelve hours before. 

I had taken my daughter to school, and dropped the glove somewhere on the ride back.  It didn't take so long to find it, but inertia led me through the grounds of Daitokuji to Imamiya Jinja.   I stood awhile in the quiet confines of the shrine, where two massive arrows had been plonked into the earth on either side of the central offering box.  Suddenly the space began to fill with dozens of kindergarden kids, who lined up in groups determined by the color of their caps.  Their principal led them through a prayer and the obligatory bows.  Then they all filed out in a stream of color resembling a NFL halftime show.  In silence once again, I walked up the small hill to a shrine for the Earth god.  Not long to go, I thought.

Across town next for a Nepal curry under photos of their homeland, a geography that reveals the true meaning of "Long Count."  Then over to Keibunsha, one of my favorite bookstores in Japan.  Here I browsed examples of time finitely bound, yet the wisdom and knowledge encased within being of course, boundless.

Onward to the foot of the eastern hills and Sekizan Zenin, one of Kyoto's hidden gems.  I wandered the path between shrines and temples, and beneath trees long gone to winter, lighting incense sticks as I went.  Smoke curled upward from these traditional linear manifestations of fixed time.   

Beyond rice and vegetable fields stripped and without color, then following the steps up to Tanukidani Temple to repeat my Shikoku 88 pilgrimage, yet on this occasion the temporal parameters had been condensed and folded into a miniaturized version.   Wandered next amongst the esoteric figures above.  The seemingly eternal flow of a waterfall nevertheless fails to extinguish Fudo's flame.  Nearby Jizo as Womb of the Earth, ready to perform good deeds until the end of a different Long Count, one that ceases with the return of the future Buddha, 5.6 billion years hence.  

The pillars of the temple hall were covered with small strips of wood that served as talismans for those stricken with illness.  I thought of my sister, who had lost her husband to cancer only this morning.  From afar, I'd been watching him die over a series of months.  But these months had a different meaning to me sitting safe and healthy a half a world away, and to a man watching his life force slowly ebbing away as cell after cell was ravaged by cancer.  Poor dear Paul, your world truly did end today. 

The skies were as dark as my thoughts.  The light was completely gone by the time I got home.  I watched my daughter as she ate dinner, day by day growing to fit into a world that had been woven around her.   After she went to bed, I sat alone in the front room in the dark, straightening my back and tucking in my chin.  I hadn't meditated for some time, but the body slipped quickly into the abyss, and the usual feeling of weightlessness.  And the sounds of the world began to drop away, last of all the rain that fell in a steady patter onto the roof.  And disappearing too was the ticking of seconds, replaced instead by the falling away of breaths that marched one by one toward the end of the world.

On the turntable:  Jerry Garcia Band, "Shining Star"

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