Visiting the national treasure sites in Nara, we were all overwhelmed and awed, like everyone else who visits them, by the sheer scale and majesty of the temple buildings, and the statuary they contain. There is something about standing in the presence of these massive, towering works of transcendent art, further enhanced by the meaning they are meant to convey, of such power radiating from compassion, that is impossible to describe. It is a bit like looking at the Grand Canyon, or the Hubble images of the far reaches of the universe, and wondering how could this possibly be.
But the effect of the temples on your mind is compounded by the stunning fact that these architectural and sculptural masterpieces were built by mere mortals, with full awareness and intention as to their effect upon others of the time, and far into the unforeseeable future. At this time, there was no communications technology such as we have today - no movies, TV, radio or other broadcast media - so, if you wanted to make an impression, what did you have at your disposal? The construction materials of the day, the giant cypress trees, stones, and the combinations of grasses and clay to make stucco and ceramics, as well as metal ore mined and forged, and the beginnings of alloys of copper, tin and iron, for example to make bronze. And, not to mention, various combinations of pigments and vehicles to make surface finishes, such as whitewash and paint. And, of course, gold and gold leaf, tons and tons of gold leaf.
But the main dimension you had at your disposal was the sheer size and scale you were willing to undertake. Going from temple to temple on a trek like this is exhausting, physically, but also mentally and emotionally. It also challenges credulity that there would be yet another, and then another, sometimes many in the same neighborhood. One area alone, at the top of a mountain range accessible by cable car, is said to boast 117 temples, each of which occupies an incredible amount of land, and features uncountable buildings, statuary, paintings, and any number of skillfully designed and constructed amenities and necessities to support the ritual devotions of the pilgrims and visitors, and to properly honor the sponsors with monuments.
This is the first in a series of travel-log style journal entries Sensei will provide during the trip to Japan:
Waiting at LAX Japan Airlines gate for our plane to arrive. Nat, Chase and I flew from Atlanta this morning on the same plane; Jerry and Jim arrived separately and met with us here. Stewart will meet us in Osaka at the airport, we think; and Peter will arrive in Osaka later “tonight” (whatever that means - time zone disorientation is setting in).
I am watching over ten bags or so, while the others wander the concourse looking for lunch and a bit of exercise before going aboard for a long flight.
Traveling abroad offers a wonderful opportunity to suspend our usual grasp on time, as something to which we are accustomed, and take for granted. That is, measured time. When what time it is depends upon where we are, Einstein’s famous conflation of space-time gets personal. If we stay in one place it seems that time is dependable. If we do not, but instead move great spaces in a relatively brief time, time becomes fluid, conditional upon where we happen to be at the moment. In other words, our concept of time is not connected to the space we occupy in any dependent sense. Its arbitrary nature becomes clear when we shift through time zones. It becomes clear that there is only one time. only one space. And, of course, mine is different from yours.