Ten floors over Kyoto Station between steel struts holding a soaring ceiling. The ultramodern architect wonder so loudly decried by local traditionalists. Sayoko and I eat pasta and pizza while awaiting our airport bus. There goes the old neighborhood. Paper screens weathered shops guys with swords gals sporting geisha hairdos the wooden sandals enlightenment on every corner. Below puffy clouds riding across an azure sky, we watch snow mist open and close along jagged ridetops, low mountains surrounding this ancient valley long before poets and warriors walked cobbled streets winding past latticed watering holes where kimonoed ladies infatuated boozy merchants and whispering nobles habitually hatched factional backstabbing intrigues. A hawknosed lady sits to Sayokos left opposite her breatlecut boyfriend. Behind my wife Kyoto Tower soars to Heaven over shops loaded with plastic monks polyesther happy coats and potatofaced strollers flaunting cutrate haircuts. Predators whirl and swoop beyond the picture windows maybe looking for prey, perhaps just showing their stuff. Two days ago we visited Ryoanji Temple where we sat on bumpolished wooden steps along a mind grabbing rock garden. In blazing brightness we heard French American German Spanish expound how raked gravel symbolize ocean waves, broadcasting that the rocks represent a tigress leading her kittens across a stream, how if you looked long enough the ground of consciousness would appear from beneath the detritus. Sayoko snapped the stones with our digital then got my handsome mug sitting among a bunch of locals also preserving the magic on film. After ten minutes contemplating such priestly precision I sensed a powerful urge to run out in the middle and start kicking sand, to turn over a few rocks and uproot some moss. Thankfully, meditating on dry gravel also produces a powerful thirst so rather than get locked into desire I suggested we adjourn to a local establishment for a couple of cold ones. As we left only Japanese remained, silently watching the stone islands, everyone dutifully informed by an electronic voice booming out the long sacred history of this place beyond the ordered line of life. The pastas al dente the pizzas hot and crisp the wines got body. Kyoto Station reminds me of those great European public squares you see in Renaissance paintings all multileveled juxtaposed partially covered with people promenading while bodybuilders shoulder great slabs of beef and wheel huge barrels of grog. I know we live in a loving universe where our thoughts create the collective reality which is why Id rather sit here enjoying a fine meal with a commanding view rather than rely on religion to save my soul from a nasty neurotic divinity. I get a bad headache just thinking a hundred Hail Marys to a needy top down God. Likewise busting my ass aboard a numbing meditation cushion searching for The Great Breakthrough. The other night we found a terrific restaurant along the Kamo River which means wild duck in Japanese. Hot sake with deepfried oysters while the twilight deepened under a full moon. Long strips of white radish flavored by dried fish shavings and a large handmade bowl of fresh sashimi as we sat at a long wooden counter contemplating a graceful stone bridge where hundreds hurried home to prepare a night on the town. It doesnt matter what other people think. All that counts is your own ability to see reality, your own capacity to realize the truth right in front of you. North winds earlier socked Korea now theyre rattling the City of the Gods, blowing through the cash shrines and taxfree temples, freezing business priest faces, numbing yen monk noses, shivering creditcard craft shops and whipping bargain bamboo before mindful draft beer mediation halls. If gods once lived here they must have left about the time monks started furrowing white gravel with aluminum rakes. During an era of decline when religions have abandoned humanity and spirit appears dim its not surprising temples are turned into lifeless wax museums where satellite dishes adorn priestly mansions. Although I cant stand most haiku, Basho was born in Iga Ueno near Kyoto in 1644. Basho means broadleafed banana tree. In 1672 he moved to Edo, modern Tokyo. He knew the unconditioned could only be realized within the here and now of daily life realizing who you really are by realizing who you are not. Id contact the Kyoto poets but they look down their noses at Tokyo people. Were impure. Not serious. Pretenders. Tokyo poets make too much money. Live in high rises. Eat in fancy restaurants. Travel to exotic destinations. We arent completely dedicated like the Kyoto poets who equate living in poverty with poetic authenticity. Kyoto poets are real. They live on grilled fish and cheap rice balls. Wear wornout corduroy pants and motheaten sweaters. Suffer a lot. In Kyoto truth can only be discovered by the crystal consciousness, the pure mind untainted by money modern architecture central heating or an absurd sense of humor. Authentic poetry arises from beady eyed austere zealots always here now one pointed constantly on the lookout for anything contrary to the masters definition of what constitutes the genuine word. By the time we visit the dessert buffet theres not much room left for chocolate cake and lemon tarts. Its a bummer knowing we live in a Universe that doesnt care more about saving our world than we do. Anyway a decent cup of coffee helps raise the mind from the metaphysical doldrums. And when we start heading down the escalators Im ready to say goodbye to Kyoto, to leave peacefully knowing even with humanitys expanded capabilities for selfdestruction theres still time to solve a few koans and drink some fine sake.

Kyoto Sun 03/07/04