Or, finding treasure in Nara, Japan

The Todai-ji Daibutsu-den Hall in Nara, Japan
The Todai-ji Daibutsu-den Hall in Nara, Japan

This month I had the pleasure of visiting Japan with my daughter. I kept some notes while we were on the go and will publish a series of posts about the trip. I hope you enjoy it!

I had been to Japan before, in 2018, and the highlight of that trip was visiting the Great Buddha in Nara. I promised myself I’d go back one day, so as soon as my daughter and I started planning our trip, I put Nara at the top of the destination list. 

The Great Buddha is housed in the Tōdai-ji Temple complex in what is known as the ‘Deer Park’. Wild deer wander the park and the surrounding streets, seeking snacks from visitors – usually in the form of deer biscuits sold by vendors around the park. The most delightful thing about the deer is that, in true polite Japanese fashion, they’ve learned to bow. They can be feisty though, especially if you’ve got any tasty morsels in your pockets! 

Deer on a paved walkway toward Tōdai-ji
Deer near Tōdai-ji in Nara

This trip, we stayed right on the edge of the Deer Park, so we were just a short walk away from Tōdai-ji. Our trip started in early February, so the weather was cold and there were far fewer people about than on our previous trip, which was in Spring. This time it was a duller, colder and more subtle experience. But the Great Buddha, sitting on his lotus throne and rising nearly 15 metres from the ground, did not disappoint. Upon seeing him, my heart was filled with pure reverence.

I even cried a little. So much had happened in the five or six years since my last visit to the Great Buddha. This time, I was a completely different person and I’m changing still. I heard my heart calling to him – kudasai, or please. I’m not sure what I was asking for. Grace, perhaps. Blessings too. Then my heart sang and my body hummed with an understanding, a truth. I already have everything I’ll ever need.

I have a Buddha nature inside myself.

The Great Buddha at Tōdai-ji
The Great Buddha at Tōdai-ji

Later, hungry for more knowledge about Buddhism, I downloaded an eBook about Zen. In this book, Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk who is credited with the creation of Zen, is quoted as saying:

There is no such person as Buddha. Buddha is simple a Sanskrit word meaning ‘initiate’. The absolute is immanent in every man’s heart. The ‘treasure of the heart’ is the only Buddha that exists. It is no use seeking Buddha outside your own nature.
Prayer, scripture-reading, fasting, the observance of monastic rules – all are useless. Those who seek Buddha do not find him … One thing alone avails – to discover the unreality of the world by contemplating the absolute which is at the root of one’s own nature.’

I did know this already. For many years, I’ve listened to the teachings of Tara Brach and she often says that each of us has a Buddha nature, the treasure within. But I hadn’t embodied this concept until I took myself back to the Great Buddha and stood there, pleading.

Like the hero in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I travelled all that way to find that the treasure was inside myself all along.

I walked away a different person. A more thankful, devotional self.

Devotion seemed so much more possible in Japan. The place is littered with temples and shrines, some thousands of years old. The Great Buddha himself was first constructed in 743. In Japan, I felt connected, in both heart and mind, to the devotees of the past who walked the same trails, trod the same staircases and prayed in the same places.

Can I bring some of that energy into my every day, now that I’m home? I hope so. I have the power of meditation to fuel me, and to remind me of all that I have within.

Much love, Lyndall