Kamakura: the human, the natural, the symbolic

“The fact that we are living here, now, in the present– this is the true meaning of the existence of the Buddha. Nothing is more precious than this. How marvelous this is! How important this is to realize from the bottom of one’s heart! This is the way in which all of us, each in our own fashion, will awaken to the truth and each live, in our own way, a cheerful and happy life.” – Zen Master Mugaku Sogen, Founder of Engaku-ji.

30 May 2013
Author: Pebel Rodriguez – Urban Environmental Systems Management


Shop in Kamakura. The relationship between man and nature is palpable in the Japanese architecture and everyday living – natural and built environment co-existing. Pebel Rodriguez, 30 May 2013.

Today was a day full of reflection, full on meaning. Walking through the streets of Kamakura, seeing its traditional architecture, a portrait of the Japanese pure essence, was a remarkable experience. As we were walking the streets the humid breeze seemed to be welcoming and embracing us… a response to our marveled overwhelmed minds. I felt so thankful to just be there today, alive! As we unraveled its beauty all this significance comes into play. You can see it in the scale, you can see it in the relationship with nature – you can see it in the now, the temporality of the now.


Engaku-ji Temple. Pebel Rodriguez, 30 May 2013.

As one enters the Engaku-ji Temple (1282), – also known as “The Temple of Spirit” due to its lovely meditation halls and sessions – the energy starts changing, one can feel the embrace of the Zen, as if opening into it. The overall impression is the marked co-existence with earth. We are part of it since the beginning of times and that is how the entire site develops. The integration of the elements -water and earth- and the fluidity of the layout, it feels as though is floating through the site.


Kamakura Daibutsu (c. 1252-1262). Pebel Rodriguez, 30 May 2013.

“This is the Temple of Buddha and the gate of the Eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.” [Kotoku-in Monastery, Kamakura].

The Kamakura Daibutsu, Great Buddha of Kamarura, is the principal deity of Kotoku-in temple and a national treasure, as meaningful Japanese traditions are reflected in this space. This becomes palpable in the symbolic cleanse of the body before approaching to the holiness, in the conceptual content of gates as entryways to eternity and, again, in the intrinsic relationship with  nature that is always present in these sacred spaces. Each part of the monument is full of symbolism. This is the case of the hands of the Buddha: “The position of the fingers signifies meditation. The circle made by the thumbs and the index-finger is smaller in proportions than normal one, because there is a kind if web between the fingers of the Buddha to symbolize fulfillment of the vows.” [Kamakura, Hase Kotokuin, Chief Priest]. There is a serenity feeling that comes from contemplation of the monumental and harmonious proportions of the Buddha. The posture and nobility of this representation in open air looking down to us is one more sign of Japanese symbolism.

After our contemplative and reflexive day it is inevitable to be embraced by the Zen, as if by osmosis. If one can experience this state no words are needed to explain this magnificent culture full of content and meaning.

Today is the most meaningful day of all. Tomorrow, when the Nippon Sun touches our faces after dawn, again, it will be today.


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