It’s interesting that the pathway which links three of the world’s most important Zen temples – Ginkaku-ji, Nanzenji and Kyomizudera – is called The Philosophers’ Walk. This gives stress and emphasis to the fact that Zen is a philosophy and not a religion.
At no point along The Philosophers’ Walk – either along the pathway or the riverside, or within the temples and gardens – do you come across an image or a figure of the Buddha – the human being whose thinking inspired Buddhist philosophy and ultimately Zen.
At no point in this district do you find people praying or worshipping or in any way expressing their ‘faith’. There are, however, people ‘sitting quietly doing nothing’ – otherwise known as meditating. Zen means meditation. Sitting zazen is sitting meditation. The Philosophers’ Walk is a place for zazen, and also a place for walking meditation.
On this particular walk the words awe and wonder hardly do justice to the experience of the place, and to all the particularities of the place – especially on a day when the warmth and sunshine have encouraged the first of the plum blossoms to open, and the sun causes the roof of the Silver Pavillion to shine like pure silver.
One of the thoughts that occured to me along the Philosopher’s Walk is that – whether we know it or not – we are all philosophers to one degree or another. It’s impossible to live without philosophy – even if it’s a philosophy based on all the things that are at the opposite end of the spectrum to enlightenment and spiritual intelligence – fear, hatred, selfishness, envy, greed, anger, jealousy, etc. Even the vilest people in the world use a philosophy to justify their activities and their actions, even if it’s something like ‘greed is good’.
We discovered yesterday that on Mount Koya a massive temple bell is rung 18 times consecutively on 10 different occasions throughout the day – in order to remind us that there are (they say) 180 different destructive emotions and feelings. The bell is supposed to help rid the world of those destructive emotions – presumably by reminding us that they exist and that we need to be always on guard against their enactment or expression.
The philosophy of Buddhism is obviously an understanding that through awareness and self discipline, and ultimately enlightenment, we can contain destructive emotions within ourselves and in so doing we can rid the world of their effects, whilst at the same time filling the world with what Buddhists call lovingkindness, which equates to the ultimate expression of spiritual intelligence.
Our experience of Japan is certainly that it’s a country filled with lovingkindness – whether as a result of its Buddhist culture and history, the philosophy of the people, or their levels of emotional, social and spiritual intelligence, or indeed as a combination of all these things