Saturday, 19 January 2008

鎌倉 Kamakura

天狼会 Tenroukai Field Trip!

This weekend the 天狼会 Tenroukai group I joined made a field trip to 鎌倉 Kamakura. Now because there is a whole epoche named after this city, the 鎌倉時代 (Kamakura Epoch) (1192 - 1333) and because 幕府 Shogunate reigned over Japan from here, I always thought it was one of Japan's former capital cities. But in spite of is obvious de facto functioning as capital, the capital of this epoch was still 平安 Heian or with its more modern name 京都 Kyoto.

The reason is that while the noblesse and the 天皇 Tenno were still in Heian, the warrior class, who was in actual power, made 鎌倉 Kamakura its home. The reason for that becomes obvious if you look at Kamakura from a bird's view or take a map.

Kamakura is written かまくら on the map

You can easily see that the city is completely encircled by mountains having one round easy to defend shore. That means 鎌倉 Kamakura is a natural fortress both against attacks from the sea, as well as from land. That is why a warrior class would choose such a location over 京都 Kyoto.

In fact it was here that the reigning warrior class had to deal with the two large scale invasions launched by the Mongol Emperor Kublai Kahn from Korea, who had already subdued China and Korea. And it was here that, according to Japanese belief, the gods intervened and sent their heavenly winds (神風 Kamikaze = God's Winds) to crush their enemies on sea. Whether it was divine interventions or not, it is a fact that the Mongol fleet was destroyed by a heavy 台風 typhoon before the coast of 九州 Kyushu. The Buddhist monks in 鎌倉 Kamakura claimed to have evoked this outcome by reciting sutras. Whether this is true or not, you can find an incredible amount of temples in this (nowadays) small and dreamy little town.

And that is why we chose Kamakura for a field trip. Its influence on Japan's political, cultural and spiritual development is very significant. Back in school days I remember field trips to be cool, because you get out of the class room and have nothing to learn and that's it. Now I was really excited about it and totally enjoyed it. I actually often think about how exciting it would be to go to school once more with the interest in the world, which I currently have. I would suck in all the knowledge about the world, my teachers would give me, and harass them with questions.


Well luckily for me such a "teacher" joined our field trip. Apart from Akatsuki-san and me, Kazue-sensei invited her good friend Thomas for the trip, who would act as our guide. Thomas is American of birth, but living in Japan for about 23 years. He is living in the same prefecture as I do (神奈川県 Kanagawa Prefecture), has his own Karate 道場 Dojo and a publishing company, through which he earns his living. He studied history and philosophy, but in spite of his interest and good grades never graduated. Apart from the Dojo he leads a small Magic group in Kanagawa.
After saying hello, he asked me to ask him questions about anything I could think of and I did ask, without embarrassment, some very fundamental questions, given the chance ^-^.

"What is the meaning of life?"

"The meaning of life is to learn to understand, understand ourself, understand each other, understand our surroundings, with which we interact and without we could not be, understand our world, understand our universe. Science seems a good tool for approaching this task, but we also need spiritual understanding by for example meditation. By gaining larger understanding, we also gain a more balanced life and are easily able to deal with the world's perils and help and love each other.
After centuries of human evolution and millions of years of the evolution of life itself, it seems very likely that this is the very goal, we have".

"Do you believe in god?"

"Which god? Take alone Christians having in fact several hundred different gods, which they worship. I don't think there is a god like that, a god with si human characteristics.
What I do believe is that we are a mirror a fragment a 3D shadow of some multidimensional perfect pattern. You can see this pattern everywhere. The Macro Cosmos can be found in the Micro Cosmos. A single cell's DNA stores the complete information of the being it belonged to. As a red blood cell is part of our organism, we are yet again part of a larger organism. You could call this larger organism god. And through constant evolution we are approaching it steadily, while being already part of it."

"Is there a correct or wrong religion? Is religion itself wrong?"

"Yes, no and no. Every religion can be correct for you. People have achieved 'enlightenment' or became a more evolved balanced human being by any of the great religions of our time. Although the individual religion's path and teachings might have minor differences, they all contain larger truths and wisdoms gathered over the ages and in the end it is the person walking on this path that determines the religion. So religion is not wrong, but a help and path to becoming a greater human being. What you probably meant with 'wrong' has nothing to do with religion itself, it is when politicians and generals exploit and use religion for selfish reasons of war and political power over people. Most people calling themselves follower of a religion however, never really understand there own religion and stay spiritually where they were, when they entered."

(After reading the great Science Fiction book 'Ender's Game', in which humanity decided to extinct an alien race of course for the safety of the earth, but also because they came to the reasoning that since e.g. an ant cannot survive or think without it's queen, a human's life is worth more than a space-ant's. Therefore I asked: )
"Would you value an animal's life, an insect's life a plant's life, different from a human being's life?"

"First you have to understand, that a human cannot life by its own. Humans are social animals and can only survive in groups without going insane. I send some of my students to the mountains to life on there own for 4-5 days. Usually nobody lasts longer than two days. By hard training and preparation, you might be able to last for months, but eventually you would go insane. But leaving that apart, without animals, insects or plants, we could not survive could we? Even if because of our scientific breakthroughs and supermarkets we sometimes think of being outside of naturals circles, of course we aren't. If we can't grow plants or heed animals, we would die. Therefore this question is more difficult as you might think. Without the other there would be no human. So if we only value human life, humanity could not continue to exist."

"In the 天狼会 Tenroukai we read and talk about the ideas of the Kabbalah, what would you say the Kabbalah is?"

"The Kabbalah tries to describe the universe. Thus a Kabbalhist is one who lives in this universe. Therefore all of us are Kabbalhists, whether we choose to or not.
The Kabbalah is the last surviving (as far as I know) system, that tries to cover all aspects of the universe open to us. For example science, religion, meditation, philosophy, exercise, magic, etc. Most religions and religious book cover some of these, but not all of them. I am pretty sure that all of nowadays world religion started with complete models like that, but taking Christianity for example, through the countless revisions of the bible and what would be allowed to be part of Christian teachings and what not, large parts got lost. Talking about Buddhism it is the large path Buddhism went from Tibet and India to all the other parts in the world, like our little Japan here. I think in Tibet itself such a complete model does still exist.
The Kabbalah itself as well as many of the lost world models probably have their origin in a world model created in ancient Egypt."

Field Trip

And thus we talked and talked. And of course I was not the only one having questions, Akatsuki-san also had a lot of questions for Thomas. Now the sad thing was, that because of his Karate Dojo, Thomas had to be back very early and only could accompany us to one temple. However he promised to give us a real historical, esoteric and philosophical tour of Kamakura in march, starting with the 大仏 Daibutsu (the huge bronze Buddha statue).

鶴岡八幡宮 Tsurugaoka Hachiman Gu

The big 将軍 Shogun of the 鎌倉時代 Kamakura Epoch, Minamoto No Yoritomo built this huge and wonderful Shinto shrine close to the center of the city. From it huge 鳥居 Torii lead all the way to the sea. And from top of the shrine you indeed have a wonderful view and can follow the Torii with your eyes. There are some incredible wonderful wood carvings inside the temple inner sanctum and all around the areal you can spot wonderful little sacred spots overseen by the tourists. On the way leading to the shrine, you will also encounter some stands selling fresh made sweets of the region.

wonderful wood carvings

After Thomas parture, the rest of us decided not go to Kamakura's main tourist spot, the 大仏 Daibutsu (the huge bronze Buddha statue) and wait for Thoma's tour in march. Instead we went to 報国寺 Hokoku temple and the 銭洗い弁天 Zeniarai Benten Shrine.

報国寺 Hokoku

The Hokoku temple has a wonderful dreamy romantic magnificent bamboo garden on its back. Entrance is 200 Yen and worth far more than that. We were lucky, because the sun just was on the right spot to shine between the bamboo trees and granted us an unbelievable view. Many people choose this garden for meditation, other just stare in awe. Apart from the wonderful trees, there is also a rock face with carved in holes for graves, which also looks wonderful. We spend a long time in there and when we finished we simply decided to walk through once more.

銭洗い弁天 Zeniarai Benten Shrine

The story of this shrine goes like this: The big 将軍 Shogun Minamoto No Yoritomo came to Kamakura and people told him of a mystical spring inside a mountain, which is said to give you back the money you wash in side by many times, if you "invest" it. Minamoto No Yoritomo immediately went there and let the spring by enshrined.
Today you can pass to a small cave to the inner shrine in front of the mountain in which you can find the cave. Many Japanese people from all over Japan come here to wash there money ever since. And I was not surprised to see large parts of the shrine being donated by Japan's big banks. (As some trivia, the Benten shrines' symbol is the Triforce from Zelda games. It has its origin here.)

We washed some money. Akatsuki-san later bought a lottery lot with the money he washed. Since I am not in need of money right now, I intent to give me washed money to someone who can need some money coming back to him/her. ^-^

the passage through the mountain

inside the cave holding the sacred spring

その他 Further Recommendations

Apart from that for you, if you choose to visit Kamakura, I can further recommend the 大仏 Daibutsu, which I mentioned, the 東慶寺 Tokeiji, because it historically acted as a refugee for women abused by their men, which therefore fled owning nothing. A very interesting place. And finally the 長谷寺 Hasedera, which hosts Japan's largest wooden statue devoted to the Buddhist deity Kannon.

Asking the question of life, the universe and everything, like it was everyday coffee talk and exploring ancient fortress cities


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