Ryoan-ji Heart Home: 初雪

Today, I found myself reminded of my first visit to Ryoan-ji, to sit and learn from the “sermon of the stones” at the peaceful dragon.
This was brought to mind by a light exchange of comments about another person’s post. Something tickled that memory and brought it to the front.  It is autumn, years later and that winter at Ryoan-ji should not have come to mind; but come to mind it did.  I see now, I needed to be reminded and to travel back to this location in that place in time.
I spent six months in Tokyo but traveled about the country.  There were places I needed to visit, to touch, to smell, to soak in the essence of their being.  Sitting on the platform at Ryoan-ji was the first and last of these visits.
It was cold and grey that day.  I could smell that sweetness in the air that breathed “snow”.  I parked my rental car and entered the temple grounds and made my way to the hiraniwa – flat garden.  I stood on the viewing platform, calming myself, breathing in the gentle air and letting it fill me.  Kansuzume sat on the wall, fluffed out from the cold, looking about with their bright little eyes.
I then sat.  Shortly thereafter, I became aware a young man had also come and was sitting at the far end.  Obviously, we both wanted our space and our peace.  Quickly I allowed myself to again become part of the place.  It was so very cold, but it didn’t seem to penetrate me, to distract me.  My breath created ghosts in the air (ahhh, it was that visual in the young man’s post that reminded me!) around me.
Something cold touched my cheek.  I realized it had started to snow – small flakes lazily spinning down from the sky.  I looked up and then back at the stones.  I settled more deeply into my down jacket and continued to sit.  The young man at the end continued to sit.  Soon, larger flakes of snow fell faster and thicker, settling on and sticking to parts of the stones, moss, and gravel.  I could not help myself.  I laughed in delight.
The young man turned and said to me, “hatsuyuki –  初雪”.   Realizing I did not understand, he then said, “First snow” and smiled.  I smiled in return and nodded at him.  I sat a little longer and with safety in mind, reluctantly rose to leave and return to my hotel.  I stood and took one last look.  I cannot describe the feeling as I stood there in the snow.  So many seasons had passed and yet, here the dragon still slept while seasons, time, mere mortals came and went.  I bowed deeply and walked back to my car.
I passed the young man getting into his car.  He looked at me and beckoned.  I suppose it may not have been wise, but I went towards him.  With gentle courtesy, he opened a thermos and poured into the top, steaming green tea.  He bowed and offered it to me.  I took several sips and became as warmed by his kindness as I was warmed by the tea.  We took turns sipping in silence and smiling at each other.  When the top was empty, we both bowed and he got into his car while I walked a few steps further and got into mine.
At my hotel, I took a hot shower and ordered room service.  I did not want to sully the peace by being around groups of people.  I returned in the spring but of course, it was different.  Instead of snow on the gravel, it was fallen pink petals of sakura.  I found my heart home that day in the snow.  I carry this memory with me, deep in my heart.  I do not return to this home as often as I should, but it seems, I return when I have the need.

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