Words float in the
sky, announcing that this is a landscape of the mind, not the eye. A small
hut in the mountains, an image of freedom-the desire to get away from
it all, to take leave of the world of the nine-to-five job, the jostling
for success and seats on the train, the incessant chatter of voices with
opinions and something to sell. "I think I'll just go live on a mountain
top" is the common refrain, but the arrangements prove to be too much,
so we settle for an image.
Break the front
door if you want to enter your home.
Dogen (13th century)
Many others have been
there before, from St. Jerome and the desert fathers of early Christianity
in Syria and the Nile valley in the fourth century, to Ryokan, the Zen
recluse poet in Japan in the eighteenth century, the embodiment of the
solitary retreat for the Japanese people. However, the image is not always
pretty. St. Jerome is often depicted pounding his chest with a large rock,
wailing in pain for enlightenment. Ryokan, less dramatic, constantly talks
of the severity of the life of renunciation: the hunger, the cold, the
deep loneliness. "My sleeve is wet with tears," he often writes, concluding
a poem in the place where words fail. Hermits often long for the comforts
and activity of the city.
The inscriptions on
this picture scroll bear the signatures of two head abbots of Tofukuji
Zen temple in the capital city Kyoto, indicating that it was hung in the
institutional setting in a large, busy urban temple. It was there to provide
a glimpse of the distant mountain retreat for someone who, like us, can
find himself preoccupied with activities that are at odds with the stillness
and silence of the contemplative life.