The Golden Temple

Main Piece: One of the most beautiful buildings in Kyoto is the Golden Temple of Kinkaku-Jin. It is a small shrine to Buddha that is covered in golden leaf and sits on top of a pond, where its reflection is mirrored by the water. But this is not the original temple. This is a second temple that they constructed exactly the same as the first, because its beauty came with a curse. Many years ago, a young monk arrived to Kyoto and he fell in love with the beauty of the gold temple. He loved it as if it were a spouse; he stared at it for countless hours, he talked to it, and it made him feel closer to God. He loved it so much that he became jealous of all the other monks that prayed in the temple, and he became to be tortured by this jealousy. In time, the only thing he could think about was the beauty of the temple. He couldn’t eat or work or even pray; he became consumed by it. So, one day, he decided he couldn’t take it any longer. He lit a steak on fire and there it in the temple, which was immediately consumed by the flames. After there was nothing left of it, the monk tried killing himself with a sword, but he was stopped by the local authorities, who arrived because of the fire. When they asked him why he did it he told them that he “could not stand the beauty of the temple”.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Ga Hyun was born and raised in Tokyo Japan. She and her family heard this story this from locals when they visited the rebuilt Golden Temple. They gave her no specific names or dates.

Context on the piece: Historically, the building was burned down in 1950 by a 22-year-old monk who did try to commit suicide. The part of the story which gives it its status as a legend is the motives that the monk had for doing this. In reality, he was trialed on the accounts of mental illness, and there are no official documents in which he is recorded saying that he did it because he couldn’t stand its beauty.

Thoughts on the piece: The motive that the story gives to the monk for burning the temple shows an emphasis on the aesthetic beauty on the Temple. It makes me wonder if the story is not actually folklore, but rather a fakelore to attract tourists by using the beauty of the temple as a plot device.