As we drove into the entrance to a green and lush valley, we were greeted by majestic mountains that towered over the valley, shrouded in mist, the pali (cliffs) standing tall and strong like the pipes of a cathedral organ, emanating the silent sound of their grandeur in a way that seemed almost audible.
It had rained overnight and into the stunning green mountain valleys of the Koolau Range, huge waterfalls cascaded. It seemed that the natural amphitheater of mountains might be the temple that we had come to see. But nestled in this magnificent valley is another kind of very beautiful temple – the Hawaii Byodo-Inn Temple.
The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is situated on the windward side of Oahu, in an area called Ahuimanu. It is a favorite gathering place for people of all faiths to enjoy some peace and tranquility. A large area of the park grounds is actually a cemetery, which was developed in 1963 by Mr Paul Trousdale. Its gardens honor many faiths including Christianity and Buddhism. There is also a Japanese WWII cemetery on the grounds.
The replica of Japan’s 950-year-old Byodo-In stands in the Temple of Equality. The word ‘Byodo’ means ‘equal’ and ‘-in’ means a ‘temple’. The entire place, including the cemetery and the temple, is a resting place for people of all religious beliefs, for non-believers and any ethnicity. The original Byodo-In is located in the outskirts of Kyoto; the Hawaiian version was erected in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
After entering the property along a road that wove through the cemetery, we arrived at the temple, which stood on the other side of a lush rainforest creek and a large pond with beautiful black swans and large Japanese koi carp. Fish food is available for purchase from the temple shop, for kids young and old.
The path led us across a bridge and as we walked the sound of the temple bell resounded. Six feet high with a bottom diameter of 57 inches, weighing over seven tons, it is called a bon-sho or ‘sacred bell’, it was cast in Osaka, Japan. The original bell has been hanging in Japan for over nine centuries and was crafted in India.
Visitors are invited to ring the impressive bell (using a large, soft wooden log called a shumoku) before entering the temple. It is believed that the unique tones of the bon-sho clears the mind of negativity, imparts deep peace and brings happiness, blessings and a long life. We are reminded, by the resonating sound, of the transitory nature of things.
Following the sweet scent of Japanese incense, I walked towards the temple and stepped inside, leaving my shoes and my worries at the door. Immediately a feeling of calmness settled inside of me as I gazed up at the two-ton Buddha statue that seemed to be inviting me to be still and to meditate. Behind it stood an intricate and ornate oval-shaped carved wall, with flowers and deities dancing in the design, and it cast a lace-like shadow on the concrete wall behind it. The statue was apparently constructed mainly of copper and bronze, and originally finished with 24-carat gold leaf. This Amida Buddha represents the infinite life and light surrounding all beings.
I was amazed at how easily I was able to sit and bathe in the potent spiritual energy of the place. With a mind that incessantly chatters (like most people!) about this and that, I am always relieved when I find some peace in meditation. The main hall of the Byodo-In is a wonderful place to find some stillness. Within a few minutes of sitting silently, I discovered that instead of thinking, I was soaking in the blissful energy of a warm, light feeling in my heart that began to emanate throughout my entire body. Even the sound of nearby voices did not disturb my peace.
Feeling refreshed after only thirty minutes of sitting - as though I had taken an afternoon nap - I continued to explore the surrounds. The original Temple in Japan was constructed of wood and designed using a traditional ‘tongue-in-groove’ method, meaning that not a single nail was used. The cast cement version in Hawaii was built to look just like the traditional design by constructing the concrete in a way that simulated the tongue-in-groove effect. The wooden parts that were carved for the ornate sections of the temple were apparently chanted and prayed over by the builder before carving. I admired the detail in the composition as well as the beauty of the gardens. A visit to Byodo-In was definitely akin to visiting a temple in Japan, complete with misty, magical mountains in the background.
The Valley of the Temples is well worth a visit, especially if you are seeking some tranquility - away from the bustle of the Honolulu city traffic.
Hours: 8.30am-5:00pm daily. Weekdays are the best time to visit, to avoid the crowds that frequent the temple in large tour buses on the weekends.
Phone: (808) 239-8811