The Serene Hoonji Zen Temple with 500 sculptures of the disciples of the Buddha in Morioka Japan, and a little about how hard it is to teach others

This morning we woke up in Morioka to the sound of rain dripping on the roof.
The weather forecast called for two more rainy days, before the sun will shine on us.

Somehow, both of us developed runny noses, and overnight we went through all the big boxes of Kleenex tissues that we had bought the night before.

This morning I jokingly suggested to Jules, that we look into buying fifty precent ownership in the Kimberly-Clark company that owns Kleenex brand, which might be cheaper than emptying all the supermarket shelves around Morioka of their supply of soft lotion tissues….

We decided to take it easy today, and see what we can see around town, without pushing ourselves too much.

The map of the city has some suggested self-guided walking tours, which would take us to some of the highlights around town.

I decided to combine some walking routes and to see what interested me most, judging from the descriptions of the places.

I was in for a real treat… But I did not know it….

We started the day with a lovey breakfast at our Ryokan, and stopped to visit the shrine of coffee….. The Morioka Starbucks, which is the best place to see all the other Gaijins (foreigners) in town, which are not very many…

During this whole trip in general, we have seen almost no foreigners traveling around Japan.

After some Lavender-scented Earl Grey tea with soy milk and honey, we made our way to see the “Rock Splitting Cherry Tree.”

This cherry tree started from a seed that fell into a huge rock over four hundred years ago.
It grew without any soil, taking nourishment directly from the rock.

Now it stands tall with its roots reaching the ground after it split the large granite rock.

It is cherished in Morioka as a symbol of Persistence, Endurance and Determination.

And indeed it is exactly what I felt when I saw this tree.
It made it despite impossible odds…

It is said that this cherry tree has bloomed EVERY YEAR and that it is still doing so… 400  years later.
Talk about consistency and determination…

After admiring the rock splitting cherry tree and the streets of town, we walked north, to an area that is dense with Buddhist Zen temples.

We saw a collection of three large rocks, which were mysteriously imprinted with large size hand imprints.
It was called “The Demon’s Handprints,” because nobody knows how such large and non-human sized handprints, got imprinted on a natural granite rock…

By now, the handprints are not so visible…. the moss and the weather and maybe all the rubbing for good luck and astonishment by previous visitors, had wiped away the large handprints….. but we could see how they looked in the past.

At one point, we found an English sign that suggested a walking route around this beautiful temple area,
It meandered across the river and through the large Inari Shinto shrine, and ended at the Zen Temple of Hoonji which houses a collection of five hundred sculptures of the disciples of the Buddha.

The map and the walking tour said that this Zen temple has a monument for the five hundred disciples, but NOWHERE in all the suggested tour ideas of Morioka, did it say that you should absolutely NOT MISS visiting this Zen temple…

So I had no expectations and went along with the suggested walking tour of this beautiful temple area.

Suddenly a young Japanese couple with a child, joined us on the quiet street we were walking on.
Since I saw no signs as to where to turn, I decided to follow them.

Jules said that we were going the wrong way, because we had to cross one of Morioka’s three rivers, and walk to see the Shinto shrine, but suddenly I felt an urgency to go see the five hundred disciples….

The couple with the child went into their car at a nearby parking lot, which convinced Jules that I was wrong to follow them……. but I still heard that inner voice urging me to turn left….

I did not know why, or where I was walking towards…. I simply followed my inner guiding voice….

And indeed we reached the Hoonji Zen temple.

It stood serenely with large wooden gates carved with beautiful dragons, and with a large inner garden shaded by very tall trees that were hundreds of years old.

In the garden stood beautiful large stone and rock sculptures symbolic of Zen, as well as a moss covered sculpture of the incarnation of the Buddha that is called Sakyamuni.

Sakyamuni is known as the incarnation of compassion and kindness, and is an image that is often prayed to when one is seeking fertility and good health. (A little like the image of the Virgin Mary in Christianity, which devotees pray to when seeking compassion and healing)

After walking around the beautiful Zen garden, I again heard the same inner voice urging me to go into the main hall of the temple.
Jules followed me, and we took off our shoes and climbed the stairs to the Temple.

A monk whose head was shaven was carrying his meal on a plastic tray.
He looked at me, unsure if we were coming in or not…

With unexplained inner confidence I strode forwards, and he reluctantly put his meal tray to the side and charged us the modest entrance fee of 300 yen ($3) per person.

Usually Buddhist Zen temples are considered to be for the people, and they only rely on donations and do not have an entrance fee,….unless they host a very unique and significant relic, which arouses the curiosity of travelers and does not attract only spiritual seekers.

In a way, this was a good sign….it meant that inside the dark temple, something amazing was awaiting us…

The old monk pointed to his watch and said that we have only fifteen minutes to see the 500 sculptures… Since he will be closing the doors of the temple at four o’clock.

I rushed to the hall to see them…
And finally I understood the urgency that I felt inside of me….My inner voice wanted to make sure that I did NOT miss this….

I stood there in total awe….

We were the only visitors and we were allowed to enter the place all by ourselves and were left alone to wander around with my mouth wide open with astonishment….
(again, the pictures do NOT do it justice… You simply had to stand there to realize how powerful it was…)

As I said before, I had no expectations, since nowhere did it say that it was an absolute MUST thing to see and visit when visiting Morioka…. But they definitely SHOULD HAVE said that…

I would have been heartbroken, if I had missed this place, and if I had missed seeing this amazing combination of art, craftsmanship and spirituality.

Around me, placed as in an amphitheater with five levels, were five hundred hand-carved wooden sculptures, each with its own expression and each painted in gold, except for their clothing which were painted in colors.

The idea of selecting to depict 500 disciples, is symbolic only.
Five hundreds is a euphemism for “MANY…. Or Multitude….”

Each sculpture depicted the symbolic faces and personalities of the disciples of the Buddha.

Some of them were asleep, some were playing with their ears, or picking their noses…others were depicted as talking among themselves while the Buddha was delivering his wise and enlightening sermons….

Some of the disciples were depicted as sitting deep in meditation, but many of them seemed bored, preoccupied and unable to concentrate.

Enlightenment, IS the personal destiny of each and every one of us, who seems to walk the world of appearances and seems to be powerless and to suffer limitations and lack.

We are ALL destined in due time, to remember our own Divine Nature and to wake up from the dream of illusions and to stop believing that we are mortal bodies.

Each and every one of us one day will remember that we are NOT separated from one another, not separated from Life and do NOT live apart from God……..but that we ARE Powerful Spiritual Enlightened Beings…

It is our Divine destiny to reach Enlightenment!

By now, everyone of the disciples of the Buddha had probably already reached enlightenment… But at that time, they were disciples, with wandering and undisciplined minds… But still golden and beautiful…

As I stood in the darkened hall of the five hundred disciples, I remembered  a joke that I once heard about Jesus and his own disciples, and about how hard it was for Jesus to help his own disciples to understand the truth…..

There are many references in the New Testament Bible, that Jesus made to the fact that his own beloved disciples, despite their willingness, simply did not fully understand what he was speaking of…

It is very difficult to teach others… Before they are truly ready to listen, to understand and to LIVE THE TRUTH….

The joke is called:


Jesus took his disciples up to the mountain and gathering them around him, he taught them, saying:

“Know ye not, that YOU ARE gods…… and that the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?!!!!

……Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…..

He who does not love, does not know God, for GOD IS LOVE!!!!”

Then Simon Peter said: “Do we have to write this down?”

And Andrew said: “Are we supposed to know this?”

And James said: “Will we have a test on this?”

And Phillip said: “I don’t have any paper!”

And Bartholomew said: “Do we have to turn this in?”

And John said: “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this!”

And Matthew said: “Can I go to the boys’ room?”

And Judas said: “What does this have to do with REAL life?”

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and inquired of Jesus: “Where are your anticipatory set and objectives in the cognitive domain?”

And Jesus wept.

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