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Elizabeth Beaton-III

At the Summit of Koyasan



Walking back through the town, I made it to the temples.

The Konpon Daito offered

an immense and solid facade, concealing

unworried faces. A child frolicked

and beat the temple’s mini-gong. Elderly visitors sat and smiled.

A man chanted in unbroken prayer. I waited. Paintings

on the walls formed a mandala around

the Buddhist statues, which imposed in gold.

It was the kind of temple that demanded

I read a sutra, rather than the kind that invited me

to compose one. I lit a candle and left.


Next door, the Kondo stood,

built in dark wood. Its deeper hues lent it

an austerity: no vermillion, no burnished

gold. The Kondo didn’t thrust its images

like a man puffing up his chest, but asked

that the visitor approach, bend down and absorb

the display with its green-paper lanterns, emerald-boarded doors,

and dark bodhisattva figures. My eyes

discerned pairs of cockerels on red cloth,

and pale teal, mandala-like flowers. The incense

exuded a smoky, woody scent, rising in puffs from

a claw-footed bowl.


I liked this temple immediately. Something about it

sang to me. This time, I lit two candles, side by side,

and sat alone, watching them burn.