Saiho-ji, a Zen Monastery Morphed into a Paradise of Moss
Known also as Koke-dera, an Edenic enclosure is home to 120 species of moss.
‘How are you doing?
The moss has grown greener since the rain.’
‘What Zen is there before the moss was greener?’
The old pond, ah!
A frog jumps in:
The water’s sound.
Dialogue between Zen master Basho and his teacher Buccho
In Kyoto, there is a garden with a temple (which may be a tautology), officially called Saihō-ji, or “Temple of the perfumes of the West.” Originally built in the 8th century as a venue dedicated to the Buddha, Amitabha, it was rebuilt 500 years later by the legendary Japanese gardener, Muso Soseki, who transformed it into a Zen monastery.
Over time, nature has made much of the space and has covered it with a carpet of moss. All around the body of water, called an ogonchi or “Golden Pond” dozens of species have proliferated, eventually making it into a most distinctive place. Colloquially, the former monastery is known today as the Koke-dera, literally the “Moss Temple”. It’s said that better than 120 species of moss have taken to the garden, concentrating themselves most clearly on the banks of the pond. The quiet intensity of their process began, paradoxically and preciously, during a period of a little more than a century when the site was neglected. A padded sanctuary unique in the world, today the site receives thousands of visitors attracted by the greenery of this soft paradise.
There are corners of the world intended to cultivate enchantment; places that go beyond functionality and practicality in favor of a sort of ethereal utility. Beyond the buoyant beauty that usually distinguishes such places, or precisely because of it, they fulfilled particularly generous functions alongside the development of humanity; Koke-dera is one of these.
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