Sanjusangendo, A Buddhist Poem by Daniel Bruno

Posted on Friday, 23rd December 2011 @ 12:15 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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Sanjusangendo ( 33 Bays )


Heaven, may I be a Yurikamome amid

Chrysanthemum flowers at Gion Matsori?

High over Yasaka, show me a bird’s eye view of

Kannon, the god of mercy Bosatsu.

Eleven faces has Ju-ichimen; see them in

The hondo of 33 bays at Rengeo-in.

Kiyomizu Dera, inspired by Enchin.

Let me ride on the wind like gails of Fujiin.

Before I pass on I aim to seek

33 disguises peek by peek.

Their piercing crystal eyes passed the test of time.

May I find a thousand Zen gods sublime

Serenade me, Kinnara, your sweet lullaby. Watch me

Senju-kannon, in your every palm an eye.

Forty palms and forty eyes glean twenty-five worlds; in mine behold!

Let there be maikos and moribana to the sound of koto chords.

Let me have tea with Sen Rikyu

In a mizuchaya swaddled in royal gagaku.

Moribana is the abundant flower

Gracing the fields of Ninomaru.

Take me down to Sunset Horai-Jima,

Up Tetsu Gaku no Michi way.

I’ll find wisdom in the halls of Kitano;

Wa Kei Sei Jaku will make it plain.

And if through heaven’s door should be my fate,

Carry me right on past those pearly gates…

To Shinto shrines and solemn Buddhist temples and

The embrace of jolly prosperous bald men with dimples.

Let me gain solace at castle Nijo;

Fusuma and byobu in Kano and Okyo.

Hurah!  huran is my daily matsuri at

Golden pavilions with games of archery.

See me fly like a magic arrow from Sanjusangendo.

From the roof, from the belfry hiwada no shoro.

Hanami tops will break my fall, I’ll laugh like rakugo.

My portrait will be taken by a Maruyam’ Okyo.

Lotus flowers and ashes of saito goma;

Yellow ginko leaves and toots of biwa.

Amber rooms and beats of drums taiko make

Complete my inner Yoshiwara of Edo.

Back, back in time to Naniwa, take me emperor Goshirakawa.

Mark the spot at Dotombori where Seven Samurai of Kirosawa

Fulfilled their karma.  Muga meant their mind and body were seamless and

Kata proscribed their ways of finesse.



Copyright 2009 Daniel Bruno Sanz








Sanjusangendo means a hall with 33 bays. The number 33 is sacred in Buddhism, for it is believed that Buddha saves mankind by disguising himself in 33 different forms. The 33 bays hold 1,001 statues of Kannon-Bosatsu.  Each statue is 5 1/2 feet tall, carved out of wood and leafed in gold. Each statue has crystlline eyes that appear lifelike.


The Sanjusangendo temple was originally built in the year 1164 at the request of the emperor. This temple in Eastern Kyoto is also known as Rengeo-in, although its more accepted name is Sanjusangendo. The temple is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion.


The Yurikamome is a laughing, migratory black-headed white seagull (Larus ridibundis).  It is the official bird of Tokyo prefecture.  The Chrysanthemum was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in AD 400. Japanese emperors so loved the Chrysanthemum flower that they sat upon Chrysanthemum thrones. Chrysanthemums, kikus in Japanese, were featured on the Imperial Crest of Japan.


The Gion Festival takes place annually in Kyoto and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It spans the entire month of July and is crowned by a parade, the Yamaboko Junko on July 17.


According to the legend of the shrine, its history may go back as far as 150 years before the Heian era, A.D. 656 (the second year of the reign of Emperor Seimei).


The name of the shrine was changed to Yasaka-jinja when shrines and Buddhist temples were separated at the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868).


Kannon Bodhisattva (Jp. = Bosatsu) embodies compassion and is one of the most widely worshiped divinities in Japan and mainland Asia. Avalokitesvara, the Sanskrit name for this deity, can be translated as “Lord Who Regards All,” and the Sino-Japanese term Kannon  maintains this nuance, for Kannon literally means “watchful listening,” and is often translated as “the one who sees/hears all.”


Since it is difficult to portray 1,000 arms, it is customary to show Kannon with two main arms holding hands in prayer (Gassho-in, mudra of veneration), and 40 other arms holding symbolic objects. The 40 arms each represent 25 worlds, and 40 times 25 equals 1000. Each arm is also said to contain one eye, again totaling 1000 eyes. The 11 heads are said to represent the 10 stages along the Bodhisattva path, with the 11th head, the central head, representing Amida Buddha, for Kannon is one of Amida’s attendants.


Guan Yin or ( Jp. = Kannon) head splits into eleven pieces after trying to comprehend the nature of human misery. Amitabha Buddha (Heavenly Buddha with eternal,  infinite, endless bliss) morphed the 11 pieces into 11 heads (Ekadasa mukha = Sanskrit for 11 heads); with this new endowment, she was able to hear and comprehend the voices of suffering, but her helping hands (two arms) split into pieces. Amitabha came to her rescue and gave her one thousand arms. In the Hindu tradition, one thousand indicates literally one thousand and figuratively an infinite number. She needs an infinite number of arms to save all sentient beings from misery and suffering.


Thirty statues are placed in front of the 1,001 statues of Kannon-Bosatsu. Two of them are the deities of wind and thunder, the others are spirits called “Ninju-hachibushu”. They serve the Kannon-Bosatsu and signify virtues of such as beauty, wisdom, prosperity, etc.


Kiyomizudera (“Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 and remains associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest sects within Japanese Buddhism. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.


Kiyomizudera stands in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto and offers visitors a nice view over the city from its famous wooden terrace. Below the terrace, you can taste the spring water, which gives the temple its name and which is said to have healing power.


Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall stands Jishu Shrine,  dedicated to the deity of love. In front of the shrine are two rocks, placed fifty feet apart from each other. Successfully walking from one to the other rock with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in your love life.


The monk Enchin founded Kiyomizudera temple in 798.

Fujin is the Japanese god of the wind and one of the eldest Shinto gods. He is said to have been present at the creation of the world and when he first let the winds out of his bag, they cleared the morning mists and filled the Gate between heaven and earth so the sun shone.


He is portrayed as a terrifying dark demon, resembling a red headed black humanoid wearing a leopard skin, carrying a large bag of winds on his shoulders.


The Kinnaras are celestial musicians, officiating at the court of Kuvera (Kubera). In China, Buddhist monks claim that the Taoist deity Zao Jun, a Kitchen deity, is in fact a Kinnara. In India and its Hindu legends, the Kinnara are birds of paradise, and typically represented as birds with human heads playing musical instruments. This iconography is strikingly similar to that of the Karyoubinga — heavenly musicians with the bodies of birds and the heads of humans.


At Sanjusangendo in Kyoto, two of the 28 followers of Kannon in the temple are Taishakuten (Indra), and his attendant, Kinnara, a percussionist..


Horai jima is the island of eternal happiness in the garden of Nijo castle.

Nijo-jo or Nijo castle as it is better known, is one of the many sites in Kyoto city which has both impressive architecture and gardens including a number of cultural heritage treasures. The moated castle was constructed in the early 17th century by the Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first of the Tokugawa shoguns who unified all of Japan’s feudal fiefdoms. The last Tokugawa shogun returned sovereignty to the Emperor ( Meiji Restoration, begining of modern Japan) in 1868 along with the castle, which in 1939 was handed over to the city of Kyoto.


The palace is some 3,300 square metres in floor area and  consists of five buildings and 33 rooms. It is constructed from Hinoki (cypress) timber and the impressive wall paintings are by the Kano school of artists. The first building has two reception rooms used to check the identities of visiting feudal lords and act as waiting rooms before entering the main reception building where the lords were received by the Shogun’s ministers, who received gifts.  The building contains rooms for both ministers and the Imperial messengers. The feudal lords (daimyos) where then ushered into the audience rooms according to their allegiance. Those that fought against the Shogun were seen in the outer chambers, whilst those who were allies in the conflict were granted audience in the inner chambers. The shoguns private quarters were in a smaller separate building beyond the audience chambers. Other rooms contained the shogun’s armoury. All the enclosed corridors have the traditional squeaky floorboards know as nightingale floors (Uguisu-bari). The boards squeak  to alert the guards of approaching visitors or even ninja attacks. The bird like sounds they make give rise to the name.


The main Ninomaru garden is situated in front of the palace and has a large central pond with many large rocks and three islands representing eternal happiness (Horai-jima), crane (Tsuru-jima) and the turtle (Kame-jima).


A maiko is an apprentice geisha.  Moribana are flowers.  The koto is an ancient stringed instrument.


Kinkaku, or the Golden Pavilion, stands facing Kyoko-chi pond. It is completely covered in gold.




Fusuma are vertical room panels that slide from side to side


Byobu are decorative, multi-panel screens


Eitoku Kano (1543-1590) was a Japanese painter and founder of the Kano school of Japanese-style painting during the Azuchi-Momoyama period of Japanese history. Known for his elegant and unique style, many of his extant paintings are national treasures and the Kano school is known for lofty and moral symbolism.



Maruyama ?kyo (1733–1795) was a Japanese artist active in the late 18th century. He moved to Kyoto, during which he studied artworks from Chinese, Japanese and Western sources. A personal style of Western naturalism mixed with Eastern decorative design emerged, and ?kyo founded the Maruyama school of painting. Although many of his fellow artists criticized his work as too slavishly devoted to natural representation, it proved a success with laymen.



Hanami ( flower viewing ) is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, flower in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms



Rakugo (?? literally “fallen words”) is a Japanese verbal entertainment. The lone storyteller (rakugoka, ???) sits on the stage, called the K?za (??). Using only a paper fan (??, “sensu”) and a small cloth (??, “tenugui”) as props, and without standing up from the seiza sitting position, the rakugo artist depicts a long and complicated comical story. The story always involves the dialogue of two or more characters, the difference between the characters depicted only through change in pitch, tone, and a slight turn of the head.


Saito Goma is one of the most spectacular rituals of Japanese

Buddhism. By means of ritual actions and spells, which are in

fact meditation pratices, a sacred place is constructed consis

ting of an altar and a plie of 13 metres long. The monks brandish

axes and swords and shoot arrows, symbolically removing

obstacles. Next, the pile is lit, and for the spectators the

ritual reaches its climax when the monks walk barefoot across the

smouldering pile, reciting ritual spells in order to present

offerings at the altar at the other side. Finally, the public is

offered the opportunity to cross the fire, and in this way to

profit from religious merits of the performing monks.



The biwa (??) is a Japanese short-necked fretted lute, and a close variant of the Chinese pipa. The biwa is the chosen instrument of Benten, goddess of music, eloquence, poetry, and education in Japanese Shinto.


Yoshiwara of Edo.


During the early years of the 17th century, the Shogun Hideyoshi and later Tokugawa authorities in Kyoto, Edo, and Osaka passed reforms that licensed and consolidated brothels into a single area of the city which was initially remote from the center. In Kyoto this quarter became known as the Shimabara; in Osaka, the Shimmachi; and in Edo, the Yoshiwara. Although all three quarters were organized in the same basic fashion, it was the name yoshiwara that became synonymous with the concept of a “pleasure quarter.” The brothels were surrounded by earthen walls, and in Kyoto, a moat three meters wide. A single entrance gate ensured surveillance of those entering the quarter in an attempt at preventing ronin, masterless samurai, from seeking refuge within. The intent was also to prevent prostitutes from plying their trade outside the walls of the designated precincts of the city. Business districts for the supporting trades and other forms of entertainment rapidly developed around the designated districts, and this secluded quarter of the city, free of the traditional class distinctions, was governed by a free-market economy under standards and ethics developed by its residents.


Naniwa is ancient Osaka.


Emperor Go-Shirakawa (????? Go-Shirakawa-tenn?) (October 18, 1127 – April 26, 1192) was the 77th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. His reign spanned the years from 1155 through 1158.


This 12th century sovereign was named after the 11th century Emperor Shirakawa and go- (?), translates literally as “later;” and thus, he is sometimes called the “Later Emperor Shirakawa”. The Japanese word “go” has also been translated to mean the “second one;” and in some older sources, this emperor may be identified as “Shirakawa, the second,” or as “Shirakawa II.




D?tombori is one of the principal tourist destinations in Osaka, Japan. It is a single street, running alongside the D?tonbori canal between the D?tonboribashi Bridge and the Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba ward of Osaka. A former pleasure district, D?tonbori is famous for its historic theaters (all gone now), its shops and restaurants, and its many neon and mechanized signs, including snack/candy manufacturer Glico’s giant electronic display of a runner crossing the finish line.


Seven Samurai is a 1954 Japanese film co-written, edited and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film takes place in Warring States Period Japan (around 1587). It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven masterless samurai (ronin) to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops.


Seven Samurai is described as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made and is one of a select few Japanese films to become widely known in the West for an extended period of time. It is the subject of both popular and critical acclaim; it was voted onto Sight & Sound’s list of the ten greatest films of all time in 1982 and 1992, and remains on the director’s top ten films in the 2002 poll.




Karma is an Eastern religious concept in contradistinction to ‘faith’ espoused by Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), which view all human dramas as the will of God as opposed to present – and past – life actions. In theistic schools of Hinduism, humans have free will to choose good or evil and suffer the consequences, which require the will of God to implement karma’s consequences, unlike Buddhism or Jainism which do not accord any role to a supreme God or gods. In Eastern beliefs, the karmic effects of all deeds are viewed as actively shaping past, present, and future experiences. The results or ‘fruits’ of actions are called karma-phala.





Tassels and braided ropes, lanterns and wind chimes;

Tatami mats, midori gardens, plum tree groves and dragonflies.

Old man Kamo river, gay yuka on its banks;

Chado is the graceful ceremony and sobacha is my morning delight.

Ah, with his mouth open. Ikikata.

Un, his lips are sealed.   Bushido.

Aft bamboo screen I hear cypress trees rustle; through

The Hinoki reed arrive Guardians of Nio.

Ki is the life force within.  The protector of peace is god Toho-ten.

Rinri shows me the way to go; haragai guides when the way is unknown.

Dohtoku is the moral compass and evil is purged by trees willow.

How many times must I jump from the veranda down below?

For my gaiko Shikibu let me be Romeo.

From our riokan the voice of Kyu Sakamoto will

Brighten spirits and uplift our hearts at


As for Asura, that wayward evil of the world and

Rahu the swallower of sun and moonlight:

Punish the heartless Sanji Taisho!

Make me stronger Naraen-kengo!

Wa is the harmonic fugue and

Sa the unspoken motive on cue.

Kigo is the waka season word;

Ojigi bows to be observed.

Shogyo soku shogyo, that is the credo

That came from Baigan Ishida, many moons ago.

They say the water from the well is holy at Kamei- do.

Write a prayer to Buddha for me, to paradise send my soul.

Children play with spinning tops, women wear obi and sensu.

Men make choices and choices are made, 47 ronin, seppuku.

The Laws of Power are 33 and 33 bays has Rengeo-in;

Obama is the power of persuasion, the persuasion of power is now his kin.

Enkai and ginger, cold sake brew;

Stairway to heaven, tsutenkaku.

Mizu shobai the water business, nomiya ubiquitous.

Rakugo, the comic tale of dandies and their Roppongi mistresses.

Kaizen reaches for better days;

Kokoro Zukai, compassionate plays.

Haragai reads between lines;

Lumi skywalk is the lover’s pine.

Dance music charms the happy fool,

Pizzicato Five, Lupin the Third.

Vuitton bags of Murakami

Hang on the elbows of doe-eyed birds



Copyright 2009 Daniel Bruno Sanz






Chado is the Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. In Japanese, it is called chanoyu (???) or chad? (??; also pronounced sad?). The manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance, is called temae (???). Zen Buddhism was a primary influence in the development of the tea ceremony.



Midori means green.


Yuka.  Kyoto summers are said to be the hottest and most humid in all of Japan as the city is surrounded on three sides by mountains, which makes it hard for the humidity to escape. To get cool and stay cool, Kyoto people went to the river and then came up with a great invention: Yuka riverside platform for dining.


Yuka platforms first appeared in the late 16th century. In those days these outdoor eateries were nothing more than outdoor public-use wooden benches placed along the side of and even in the Kamo River. Soon wealthy people began to set up more elaborate table-benches to entertain important visitors in style during the summer season. After civil engineering improvements were made to the Kamo River in the early 17th century, food stalls started operating along the riverbank.


Sobacha is a health-boosting, unusual but popular caffeine-free buckwheat tea infusion from the Japanese Alps.



Ah-un-no-kokyuu: The expression of perfect harmony between two people; two beings that are united as one.  Two statues opposite each other at Kiyamizu Shrine in Kyoto.  One with mouth agap, the other with mouth sealed.


Ikikata is the way of life and doing


Hinoki is a species of Cypress


Nio guardians (benevolent kings) protect the entrances of temples.

They represent Alpha & Omega, Beginning & End, Birth & Death.

One with mouth open, the other with mouth closed.


Rinri is ethics.


Haragai is reading between the lines; a gut feeling.


Dohtoku is morality.


“Jump down from the stage of Kiyomizu,” is one of the most famous phrases-cum-dares in Japan. The so called ‘stage’ of Kiyomizu is actually more of an open veranda and forms part of the main hall of Kiyomizudera Temple. At a height of 45 feet, it enables visitors to take in the whole of the city – a view made all the more special in spring and autumn when cherry blossoms and autumn leaves serve to almost frame the view. The building itself is also worthy of note given that it is an amazing combination of 139 pillars but not one nail.

The popular expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression “to take the plunge”. This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive the 45 foot jump from the stage, one’s wish would be granted. Two hundred thirty-four jumps were recorded during the Edo period and of those, 85%  survived. The practice is now prohibited.



A ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn.


Kyu Sakamoto is the only vocalist to ever produce a #1 pop charts hit in America sung entirely in Japanese: “Sukiyaki,” in 1963.


Naraen-Kengo.  Narayana = Nara + Ayana = waters of the causal ocean + the resting place = Narayana is the resting place of the causal ocean.  Sumerian mythology holds that the universe was created from the primeval waters that abided in the body of Nammu.  Thus, Nammu the Sumerian Goddess, and Narayana, the Hindu God are the repository of the waters of the oceans. The universe is Vishnu’s (Narayana) body. Naraen-Kengo in the Japanese Buddhist tradition is the Narayana of Hindus with limited attributes. Buddhists reject the idea of  a Primordial Creator–no such Entity as Narayana of Hindus exists in Buddhist tradition. The god Naraen-Kengo is of immense physical strength and is the defender and protector of believers against evil.


In the poem above, Rahu, the god of darkness, is Daniel Bruno Sanz’s reference to the total solar eclipse he saw, the longest of the 21st century,  from southern Japan on  July 22, 2009.



Kigo (??, “season word”?) (plural kigo) is a word or phrase associated with a particular season, used in Japanese poetry. Kigo are used in the collaborative linked-verse forms renga and renku, as well as in haiku, to indicate the season referred to in the stanza. They are valuable in providing economy of expression.







Kitano Shrine symbolizes the spirit of Michizane Sugawara, scholar and adviser to the Emperor Uda in the Heian Period. He was a loyal civil servant who became the victim of slander and was subsequently exiled to the island of Kyushu where he died. Shortly after his death a series of severe thunderstorms and earthquakes shook Edo (the capital). In addition, a number of the people who slandered him met an untimely demise These events were interpreted to mean that his powerful spirit was unhappy, and the Imperial Court moved to placate it by granting him the posthumous name of Karai Tenjin (God of Fire and Thunder), and building the Kitano shrine in his honor. Tenjin is now regarded as the deity of scholastic studies and is extremely popular with students preparing for high school or university entrance examinations.




Murasaki Shikibu (c.973- 1025), or Lady Murasaki as she is often known in English, was a Japanese novelist, poet, and a maid of honor of the imperial court during the Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese between about 1000 and 1008, one of the earliest novels in human history.


The revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin,  also known as the Forty-seven Samurai, the Ak? vendetta, or the Genroku Ak? incident,  took place in Japan at the start of the eighteenth century. The tale has been described by one noted Japanese scholar as the country’s “national legend.” It recounts the most famous case involving the samurai code of honor, bushid?.


The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless (becoming ronin) after their daimyo (feudal lord) was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was K?zukeno suke. The ronin avenged their master’s honor after patiently waiting and planning for over a year to kill Kira. In turn, the ronin were themselves forced to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. With much embellishment, this true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that all good people should preserve in their daily lives. The popularity of the almost mythical tale was only enhanced by rapid modernization during the Meiji era of Japanese history, when it is suggested many people in Japan longed for a return to their cultural roots.


33 Laws of Power is Daniel Bruno Sanz’s reference to two works by American author Robert Greene: The 48 Laws of Power and the 33 Strategies of War.


Tsutenkaku is Osaka’s most famous tower.  Roppongi is modern Tokyo’s nightlife district and nomiya are the drinking and hostess establishments found there.   Lupin the Third is a film music theme and Takashi Murakami is a contemporary artist whose designs appear on Louis Vuitton leather goods.  Happy Fool Charm Dance Music is a Japanese genre of quirky, happy-go-lucky breakbeats and Pizzicato Five is a popular vocal group.





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