It’s December in Hawaii, the busiest time of the year. Tourists abound. Now mid morning, the weather is warm and sunny on the island’s south shore. My girlfriend Sue and I are leaving behind the crowded streets and beaches of Waikiki to visit the Byodo-In Temple on the west side of O’ahu. It’s a place well worth a visit if you ever visit Hawaii, especially if you love peaceful, tranquil places.
You can escape the crowds of Waikiki at the tranquil Byodo-In Temple just on the other side of O’ahu.
Rather than drive the costal highway, we decide to save time cutting straight through the middle of the island. This route takes us through the mountains via a series of tunnels. As we emerge from the last tunnel, our red VW Beetle’s windshield is suddenly pelted by rain. It’s hard to believe just four minutes ago we were looking up at blue sky! The mountains that divide the island are to blame. They push up warm ocean air on the western side causing precipitation.
Around noon, we turn off the main highway, following a narrow, winding road up towards the park’s gate. The road is lined by palm trees and passes through a lush cemetery with rolling grass-covered hills. The graves are widely spaced; almost all are adorned with fresh flowers. As we approach the gate, we pass by a sign that reads, “Haven of Peace.”
Despite the fact we followed four or five other cars into the park, we find a parking spot right away. Although we’re both excited to see the temple, our stomachs are growling so we decide to eat the lunch we brought before exploring the temple.
Our hunger satiated, we grab our cameras and head towards the ticket booth where a man tells us it is $3 per adult. It’s a fair price. We’re both surprised how inexpensive it is to get in.
The rain has stopped now, leaving the air smelling sweet and fresh. The misty clouds overhead cast a soft, even light that wraps everything, leaving no hard shadows.
As we turn to our left, we see an arching footbridge leading to the Byodo-In Temple. The temple is predominately striking red in colour; white panels and yellow ornamental trim work accent the impressive Japanese architecture. Set against the green of the Ko’olau Mountains, the temple stuns one into a kind of reverent silence. There are a few tourists walking around taking pictures and talking quietly. Others are taking turns ringing a 5 ft. tall Bon-sho, or sacred bell. The resonating sound can be felt as much as heard. Some believe that ringing the bell purifies the mind and brings happiness. The bell rings again and we move closer towards the temple.
A small pond, stocked with gold and orange koi, surrounds the temple. A pair of black swans float by idly. The sound of trickling fountains and bird song fill the air. Gravel crunches under our feet as we tread the path towards the temple entrance.
“Excuse me. Would you take our picture?” we are asked. A small group of young tourists line up with their backs to the temple as my girlfriend tells them all to smile. Snap. One more. Snap. Snap. The trick is to take two more after you say one more.
“Thank you!” they say. We ask if they would reciprocate. They do, and now we are back on the trail.
The Byodo-In Temple was established in 1968. A plaque says the temple was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Hawaii’s first Japanese immigrants. It was modeled after the much larger and older Byodo-In temple in Uji, Japan.
At the entrance to the temple there is another sign asking visitors to remove their shoes before entering. The temple is an important place of worship for the local Buddhists, as well as a place of great artistic beauty.
Sue and I take off our shoes and enter into the Hoo-do, the main Phoenix hall. Inside is a 9 ft. statue of Amida Buddha covered in gold leaf, save for a few spots that have worn away over the years. Surrounding the Buddha are carvings of numerous Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings of perfect knowledge.
Around the hall are wooden benches, where we sit to contemplate the Buddha. Surprisingly, we are the only ones who have entered the temple, so we have the place to ourselves. We sit on a small wooden bench and listen to the silence. The Buddha’s tranquility washes over us and we feel, in that brief moment, enlightenment is tantalizingly close. Then, as other visitors enter the Hoo-do, the spell is broken and we move on.
Sue says she’d like to see what they have in the small gift shop at the far side of the temple. The small shop is guarded by one of the many feral cats that live on the island. A little girl is crouched down in front of the cat, trying to get its attention, but the cat ignores the girl, interested only in licking its paws and cleaning its face.
The cat is not the only resident of the temple drawing attention. Tourists are also gathered around a peacock, trying to take its picture, hoping it might spread its extravagant tail plumage.
Inside the shop we find the usual t-shirts, books and jewelry one would expect in a gift shop. Sue purchases a small iron statue of Buddha that can easily be fitted into our suitcase for the trip home. I decide to buy a necklace. The woman selling them tells me, “My boyfriend makes all these by hand.”
Satisfied that we had soaked up as much good karma as we could, we reluctantly head back to the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY NOTICE MAGAZINE IN 2015