The sounds of talking are distant, bouncing off trees and walkways. I’ve made the morning trek up Takao Mountain outside of Tokyo with my partner and many other tourists. Everyone has come to see the main Buddhist temple further up the mountain. Soon enough, I will see it too. It will be vibrant with color and burning incense and people. I will hear the chanting monks who walk in procession to and from their quarters, a procession announced by deep throated horns. They will light a fire and perform the Goma fire ritual by throwing sticks that symbolize human defilement into the flames. But that’s all for later. A rush of cool air penetrates me. I am standing before a seated Buddha, part of a smaller shrine on the way to the main one, and no one else is here.
It’s a relief to be inside this tranquility.
I step up to the seated Buddha and everything shifts. Externals fall away and I am in some deeper chamber inside myself. Is it the eyes that don’t seem to look outwardly? The formalized hands, the fingers, the wrist, all turned just so? A small sprig of red flowers grow just behind the statue. I feel hushed and crave nothing.
Maybe it’s the plain gray stone that quiets me.
My mind bounces for a second and I wonder when this Buddha was created. I remind myself to look it all up later – the meaning behind the hand gesture, the nuanced importance of the gaze, the historical context. Right now, none of this matters.
It’s like a reset button to stare into a face so self-contained.
As I stare at the Buddha’s tolerant expression, I shed the train ride and all the station changes my partner and I took to arrive here. I don’t think of the language barrier that surrounds me or what it’ like to be on the edge of a world I’ve no footing on.
The world stops. I breathe and listen and soften. And nothing else.