Ryoan-ji, Kyoto

Pilgrims meditating at the Zen garden of Ryoan-ji, Kyoto, Japan.
Pilgrims meditating at the Zen garden of Ryoan-ji, Kyoto, Japan. (Enlarge)

Ryoan-ji, the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon, was founded in 1473 by Katsumoto Hosokawa. Within the precincts of the beautiful temple is the famous Zen garden of Soami, completed in 1499. The garden is extremely simple, being composed of 15 stones set in a small field of white gravel. The stones are arranged in five groupings of 5, 2, 3, 2, and 3, and are so placed that viewed from any vantage point there is always one rock hidden from view. The garden is fondly called the 'garden of emptiness', and while it is a sublime place to meditate on the emptiness of all worldly phenomena, it is a rare day that the garden is empty of groups of noisy tourists. Sadly this is the case at many sacred places in these times of easy tourism. The best time to visit Ryoan-ji therefore is on the worst of days; the winter months, a weekday, in the pouring rain.

Martin Gray is a cultural anthropologist, writer and photographer specializing in the study of pilgrimage traditions and sacred sites around the world. During a 40 year period he has visited more than 2000 pilgrimage places in 165 countries. The World Pilgrimage Guide at sacredsites.com is the most comprehensive source of information on this subject.

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