The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (8 page)

BOOK: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
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This beautiful building was before long going to be turned into ashes, I thought. As a result, my image of the Golden Temple gradually came to be superimposed on the real temple itself in all its details, just as the copy that one has made through a piece of drawing-silk comes to be superimposed on the original painting: the roof in my image was superimposed on the real roof, the Sosei on the Sosei that extended over the pond, the railings and the windows of the Kukyocho on those railings and windows. The Golden Temple was no longer an immovable structure. It had, so to speak, been transformed into a symbol of the real world's evancscencc. Owing to this process of thought, the real temple had now become no less beautiful than that of my mental image. Tomorrow, for all We knew, fire might rain down from the sky; then those slender pillars, the elegant curves of that roof,
would be reduced to ash, and we should never set eyes on them again. But for the present it stood serenely before us in all its fine details, bathing in that light which was like the summer's fire.

Over the edge of the hills majestic clouds towered up, like those that I had seen out of the corner of my eyes while the sutras were being recited during Father's funeral. They were filled with a sort of stagnant light and looked down at the delicate structure of the temple. Under this strong summer light, the Golden Temple seemed to lose the various details of its form; it kept the gloomy, cold darkness wrapped inside itself, and with its mysterious outline simply ignored the dazzling world that surrounded it. Only the phoenix on the roof fastened its sharp claws firmly to its pedestal, trying not to stagger under the glare of the sun.

Bored with my lengthy gazing at the temple, Tsurukawa picked up a pebble and with the graceful motion of a pitcher threw it into the center of the shadow that the Golden Temple cast on the Kyoko Pond. The ripples spread out through the duckweed and the beautiful, delicate structure instantly crumbled to pieces.

The one year that followed until the war ended was the period during which I was most intimate with the Golden Temple, during which I was ever concerned with its safety and utterly absorbed in its beauty. It was a period during which I had seemed to pull the temple down to my own level and, believing this, was able to love it without the slightest sense of fear. The temple had not yet given me any of its evil influence or its poison.

I was encouraged by the fact the Golden Temple and I shared a common danger in this world. In this danger I had found an intermediary that could connect me with beauty. I felt that a bridge had been built between myself and the thing that until then had seemed to deny me, to keep me at a distance,

I was almost intoxicated with the thought that the fire which would destroy me would probably also destroy the Golden Temple. Existing as we did under the same curse,
under the same ill-omened fiery destiny, the temple and I had come to inhabit worlds of the same dimension. Just like my own frail, ugly body, the temple's body, hard though it was, consisted of combustible carbon. At times I felt that it would be possible for me to flee this place, taking along the temple concealed in my flesh, in my system-just as a thief swallows a precious jewel when making his escape.

During that entire year I did not learn a single sutra or read a book; instead I was busy day after day from morning till night with moral education, drill, military arts, factory work, and training for compulsory evacuation. My nature, which already tended to be dreamy, became all the more so, and thanks to the war, ordinary life receded even farther from me. For us boys, war was a dreamlike sort of experience lacking any real substance, something like an isolation ward in which one is cut off from the meaning of life.

When the first B-29's attacked Tokyo in November of 1944, it was expected that Kyoto would be raided at any time. It became my secret dream that all Kyoto should be wrapped in flames. This city was too anxious to preserve its old things just as they were; the multifarious shrines and temples were forgetting the memories of the red-hot ash that had been born from inside. When I imagined how the Great Battle of Ojin had laid waste this city, I felt that Kyoto had lost part of its beauty from having too long forgotten the unrest of war fires.

Tomorrow the Golden Temple would surely burn down. That form which had been filling the space would be lost. Even the bird on top of the temple would be revived like the classical phoenix and soar away. And the Golden Temple itself, which had until then been constrained by its form, would be freed from all rules and would drift lightly here and there, scattering a faint light on the lake and on the waters of the dark sea.

Though I waited and waited, Kyoto was never visited by an air raid. Even when I read on March 9 of the next year that the entire business district of Tokyo was a sea of flames, and that disaster was spreading far and wide, Kyoto was covered with the limpid sky of early spring. By now I was almost desperate as I waited, trying to convince myself that this early spring sky concealed within itself all manner of fire and destruction, just as a gleaming glass window hides what lies behind it. As I have already said, I was hopelessly weak in human feeling. Father's death and Mother's poverty hardly affected my inner life at all. What I dreamed of was something like a huge heavenly compressor that would bring down disasters, cataclysms and superhuman tragedies, that would crush beneath it all human beings and all objects, irrespective of their ugliness or their beauty. Sometimes the unusual brilliance of the early spring sky appeared to me like the light of the cool blade of some huge axe that was large enough to cover the entire earth. Then I just waited for the axe to fall—for it to fall with a speed that would not even give one time to think.

There is something that even now strikes me as strange. Originally I was not possessed by gloomy thoughts. My concern, what confronted me with my real problem, was beauty alone. But I do not think that the war affected me by filling my mind with gloomy thoughts. When people concentrate on the idea of beauty, they are, without realizing it, confronted with the darkest thoughts that exist in this world. That, I suppose, is how human beings are made.

I remember an episode that took place in Kyoto towards the end of the war. It was something quite unbelievable, but I was not the only witness. Tsurukawa was next to me.

One day when the power supply was cut off, Tsurukawa and I went to visit the Nanzen Temple together. This was our first visit to the Nanzen Temple. We crossed the wide drive and went over the wooden bridge that spanned the incline where boats used to be launched.

It was a clear May day. The incline was no longer in use and the rails that ran down the slope were rusty and almost entirely overgrown with weeds. Amid the weeds, delicate little cross-shaped flowers trembled in the wind. Up to the point where the incline started, the water was dirty and stagnant, and the shadows of the rows of cherry trees on our side of the water were thoroughly immersed in it.

Standing on the small bridge, we gazed absently at the water. Amid all one's wartime memories, such short absent moments leave the most vivid impression. These brief moments of inactive abstraction lurked everywhere, like patches of blue sky that peep through the clouds. It is strange that a moment like this should have remained clearly in my mind, just as though it had been an occasion of poignant pleasure.

"It's pleasant, isn't it?" I said and smiled inconsequentially.

"Uh,"
replied Tsurukawa, and he too smiled. The two of us felt keenly that these few hours belonged to us.

Beside the wide graveled path ran a ditch full of clear water, in which beautiful water plants were swaying with the flow. Soon the famous Sammon Gate reared itself before us. There was not a soul to be seen in the temple precincts. Among the fresh verdure, the tiles of the temple roof shone luxuriantly, as though some great smoked-silver book had been laid down there. What meaning could war have at this moment? At a certain place, at a certain time, it seemed to me that war had become a weird spiritual incident having no existence outside human consciousness.

Perhaps it was on top of this Sammon Gate that the famous robber of old, Ishikawa Goémon, had placed his feet on the railing and enjoyed the sight of flowers below in their full blossom. We were both in a childish mood and, although it was already the season in which the cherry trees have lost their blossoms and are covered in foliage, We thought that We should enjoy seeing the view from the same position as Goémon. We paid our small entrance fee and climbed the steep steps whose wood had now turned completely black. In the hall at the top, where religious dances used to be performed, Tsurukawa hit his head on the low ceiling. I laughed and immediately afterwards bumped my own head. We both made another turn, climbed to the head of the stairs and emerged on top of the tower.

It was a pleasant tension, after climbing the stairs, which were as cramped as a cellar, to feci our bodies suddenly exposed to the wide outside scene. We stood there for a time gazing at the cherry trees and the pines, at the forest of the Heian Shrine that stretched tortuously in the distance beyond the rows of buildings, at the form of the mountain ranges—Arashiyama, Kitanokata, Kifune, Minoura, Kompira—all of them rising up hazily at the extremities of the streets of Kyoto. When We had satisfied ourselves with this, We removed our shoes and respectfully entered the hall like a couple of typical acolytes. In the dark hall twenty-four straw mats were spread out on the floor. In the center was a statue of Sâkamuni, and the golden eyes of sixteen Arhants gleamed in the darkness. This was known as the Gohoro or the Tower of the Fiye Phoenixes.

The Nanzen Temple belonged to the same Rinzai sect as the Golden Temple, but whereas the latter adhered to the Sokokuji school, this was the headquarters of the Nanzenji school. In other words, we were now in a temple of the same sect as our own but of a different school. We stood there like two ordinary middle-school students, with a guide book in our hands, looking round at the vividly colored paintings on the ceiling, which are attributed to Tanyu Morinobu of the Kano school and to Hogan Tokuetsu of the Tosa school. On one side of the ceiling were paintings of angels flying through the sky and playing the flute and the ancient
biwa.
Elsewhere, a Kalavinka was fluttering about with a white peony in its beak. This was the melodious bird that is described in the sutras as living on Mount Sessan: the upper part of its body is that of a plump girl and its lower part has a bird's form. In the center was painted that fabulous bird which is supposed to be a companion to the bird on the summit of the Golden Temple; but this one was like a gorgeous rainbow, utterly different from that solemn golden bird with which I was so familiar.

Before the statue of Sâkamuni we knelt down and folded our hands in prayer. Then we left the hall. But it was hard to drag ourselves down from the top of the tower. We leaned against the railing facing south by the top of the steps that We had climbed. I felt as though somewhere I could see a small, beautiful, colored spiral before my eyes. It must have been an after-image of the magnificent colors that I had just seen on the ceiling paintings. This feeling that I had of a condensation of rich colors was as though that Kalavinka bird were hiding somewhere amid those young leaves or on some branches of those green pines that spread out everywhere below, and as though it were letting me glimpse a corner of its splendid wings.

But it was not
so.
Across the road below us was the Tenju Hermitage. A path, paved with square stones, of which only the corners touched each other, bent its way across a garden, where low, peaceful trees had been planted in a simple style, and led to a large room with wide-open sliding-doors. One could sec every detail of the alcove and of the staggered shelves in the room. A bright-scarlet carpet was spread out
on
the floor: evidently the room was frequently used for tea dedications arid rented for tea ceremonies. A young woman was sitting there. It was she that had been reflected in my eyes. During the war one never saw a woman dressed in such a brilliant, long-sleeved kimono as she was wearing. Anyone who went out dressed as she was would almost certainly be rebuked for lack of patriotic sobriety and would have to return home and change. So gorgeous was her form of dress. I could not sec the details of the pattern, but I noticed that flowers were painted and embroidered on a pale blue background, and that her vermilion sash was glittering with gold thread: it was almost as though the surrounding air were illuminated by the brilliance of her costume. The beautiful young woman was sitting on the floor in a position of perfect elegance; her pale profile stood out in relief as if it were carved, and at first I could not help wondering whether she was really a living person.

“Good heavens!” I said, stuttering badly. "Can she really
be
alive?”

“That' just what I was thinking. She's exactly like a doll, isn't she?" replied Tsurukawa, who stood leaning heavily against the railing without taking his eyes off the woman.

Just then a young army officer appeared in uniform from the back of the room. He sat down with stiff formality a few feet away from the woman and faced her. For a while the two of them sat facing each other quietly.

The woman stood up and disappeared silently into the darkness of the corridor. After a time, she returned holding a teacup in her hands; her long sleeves swayed to and fro in the breeze. She knelt directly in front of the man and offered him the tea. Having presented him with the teacup according to etiquette, she returned to her original place. The man said something. He still did not drink the tea. The moment that followed seemed strangely long and tense. The woman's head was deeply bowed.

BOOK: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
12.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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