Entering the gates of Douou-ji, we find ourselves on a stone path bounded by a latticed fence on one side and a elegant temple floating above us against the blue sky. Douou-ji was established in the 17th Century, during the Edo period, and belongs to an ancient denomination of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, Jodo-shu, but there is little that is old about this temple or its grounds. The architecture is Modernist and minimalist, by Masaki Ogawa, and the temple was inaugurated in April of 2013. As we approach the ground floor along the path, we see to our right a fountain for performing ablutions and a cemetery where the graves are swept and polished. Families have left offerings for the ancestors before their gravestones: flowers, mochi, fruit, and beer. New Year’s is a particularly important time to give thanks to one’s ancestors. With gratitude for the past, we can face the future without fear.
Douou-ji is dedicated to the future of Buddhism. The lower floor of the temple, housing a community centre where weekly yoga classes are offered, is almost entirely glass, and a Zen rock garden bedded in white gravel extends in a rectangle both inside and outside the windows, connecting the inner sanctum to the outside world. On the inside, contrails in the gravel make lines that suggest the rocks move when you aren’t looking, tracing their own paths in the pebbles. On the outside there are circular patterns, wheels within wheels, descending to a single simple dot. The peaceful atmosphere of the garden and its surroundings make me feel content to sit and enjoy the calm, but we ring the bell and Ranjini tells the voice who answers that we’re here following the Edo Kannon pilgrimage. The voice instructs us to come up in the elevator.
The priest meets us upstairs and takes our go-shuin books to stamp, directing us outside to contemplate the Kannon-do while we wait for him to finish his calligraphy. The shrine is located at the corner of the building, and we approach it along an upper deck that passes in front of windows revealing the main hall of the temple. This Kannon-do is one of the loveliest we’ve seen, with 33 different images of Kannon gathered from temples across Japan, representing her 33 different manifestations (seated, standing, eleven headed, thousand armed), all arranged inside the black box of the shrine. Ranjini sits while I photograph her image reflected in the glass between the camera and the varied Kannon images. Walking around behind the temple, I photograph the fountain and gardens and cemetery below.
Returning for our go-shuin books, we tell the priest how impressed we are by the temple. He’s pleased, and intrigued by the fact that we’ve come all the way from Canada. (Ranjini always introduces herself as from Toronto, even though she’s living in Dubai). The idea of West has a special status in Pure Land Buddhism, as the Pure Land lies in the West. Perhaps that is why Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest was used for the elegant beams that support the temple. The priest introduces us to his teenaged daughter, who is studying in Canada, and Ranjini tells them that her daughter will also soon be starting University somewhere in Canada. After exchanging email addresses, the Priest offers to give us a tour of the main hall.
The room is flooded with light. At its centre is a golden Amida Buddha cast in the Edo period. A light tower above the statue showers down sunshine, and the windows behind the Buddha and behind us open the temple to the world and to the gardens and the ancestors lying below. Wooden chairs have been set out for a service. The hall feels open and spacious, with the focus squarely on the central Buddha. The architect, Masaki Ogawa, was concerned that dark and crowded ancient temples had left the Japanese feeling out of touch with their spirituality and so he designed this temple with the idea of renewing and deepening the intensity of a worshipper’s relationship with the Buddha and his teachings.