On each pillar hung an oblong board engraved with flowing calligraphic writing in classical Chinese. The matched set dated from 1820 and was the work of Mankai Hakuyo, then abbot of Eiheiji. The boards’ weatherbeaten appearance told plainly of the intervening years, but the writing on them was magnificent, rendered with such spirit that the characters seemed poised to fly up into the air.
The monk read aloud the inscription on the right, transposing it into Japanese: “The tradition here is strict; no one, however Wealthy, important, or wise may enter through this gate who is not Wholehearted in his pursuit of truth.”
He then read off the one on the left: “The gate has no door or Chain, but is always open;
any person of true faith can walk through it at any time.” He went on, “You should come through this gate only if you are prepared to give your all to monastic discipline. For the last time, ask yourself why you are here. Only those with the proper resolve should undo their Sandals and come ín.”
For a moment, deep silence reigned. Then, spontaneouslyI we all began to remove our sandals. When We were barefoot, we formed a line and, setting our packs and hats down before us, prostrated ourselves three times in the direction ofthe Buddha Hall, straight ahead, to signal our arrival. With each bow I lowered my forehead to the wooden floor, offering myself in body and spirit. I felt deeply stirred in ways I Could not have explained. just as mist among the trees vanishes in the rays of the morning sun, I felt my heart growing lighter, as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Finishing this ritual, at last We followed the monk through the main Gate and on into the compound, turning now left, now right in the zigzagging Corridors, proceeding ever deeper into the sanctified Space.
The dim recesses of the compound were eerily still. Everything I saw gave off a dull, heavy sheen; everything existed in Solemn simplicity As we made our way into the heart of it felt as if the flow of time had reversed.