Kyoto Bonus: Daruma-dera Visit

Kyoto Bonus: Daruma-dera Visit May 13, 2017

My checkout time in Kyoto on Monday was 10 am, while my flight out from Nagoya was 4:30 pm. It’s only about two hours by train. (One hour by shinkansen from Kyoto to Nagoya, then about 45 minutes from downtown to the airport via a commuter line.)

So I dropped may bags in a coin locker at Kyoto station and took a local line uptown a few stops to  Daruma-dera. This is the other Horin-ji here in Kyoto. It’s a smaller temple on a nondescript street, not well-known, but what it is know for is it collection of Daruma figurines.

IMGP6203-1000These figurines evolved from an old toy, sort of a weeble or roly-poly that rights itself when tipped over. Somehow they came to be associated with the semi-mythical founder of Zen, Bodhidharma — known as Daruma here.

If he actually existed (and it’s questionable) Bodhidharma was an Indian or Persian monk who came to China around 500 AD or so and ended up at the famous Shaolin Temple, where he started the meditation-focused Buddhist sect that came to be know as Ch’an. It’s better known around the world by the Japanese pronunciation, Zen.

He also, says the legend, taught the monks exercises that became the foundation of the Asian martial arts and bodywork therapies. Another legend says he sat so long in meditation that his legs withered away, giving him the shape of the figurine. I haven’t figured out how to resolve that one with the one legend that makes him the original kung-fu master.

But having this toy assigned to him has made Bodhidharma a sort of cartoon here, and you will see his barbarian face all over the place.

Daruma painting at Tenryu-ji, Kyoto
Daruma painting at Tenryu-ji, Kyoto

The figurines symbolize a proverb: if you fall down seven times, get up eight times. Apparently a prior abbot of the temple found this to be the heart of practice, and so started the collection. They range in size from one that comes up to my chest, to ones you can hold in one hand.

There is an interesting ritual associated with these figurines. When you get one, both eyes are white. When you set out on some new endeavor, you paint in the black of one eye; when you succeed, you paint in the other. So Daruma is sitting there scowling at you with one eye, reminding you to get to work. (At least I’ve found it to work that way.)

I’ve fallen off my meditation practice these past few months. It’s more than the seventh time that’s happened! But Daruma reminds us that however many times we fall off or fail, seven or seven thousand, all we have to do is get up one more time than that.

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