sutras when i stayed in Tokyo i took walks every day —wandering— with my camera one day i found myself —alone— at a hushed temple tucked behind a wall in a quiet neighborhood i admired the architecture from the outside which is all one can do at most temples in Japan but then i saw a genkan off to one side with a shoehorn and getabako —signs of welcome— but still ambiguous or even uninviting to western eyes with nothing posted to say either “come inside” or “no guests please” the cubbies were empty so no visitors were there but i assumed it was ok to remove my shoes place them neatly and enter and so i did thankful my socks were new and had no holes as i put my shoes away then pushed the shoji screen just far enough to step through the wooden floor was soft and smooth and felt soothing to my feet i shuffled farther along quietly down a hall lined by blond wood and delicate screens calm light dancing like petals in a breeze i emerged into a garden with stone lanterns and green moss under shade of leaves and pine i heard someone coming when a monk passed behind me and turned my way i nodded he bowed i crossed a bridge to the other side of the small garden and found myself in the main hall tatami underneath like soft grass in spring glorious screens with birds panels with gold leaf i felt at peace —yet— still unsure if i was supposed to be here but i took a seat joined my hands and gazed toward Buddha his face was serene —without shadow— eyes hovering between worlds a calm expression of accord light and life —immeasurable— i said a prayer for my family who i had been apart from for so long while living in the east then i noticed a stack of booklets printed only in Japanese the cover was red and opened to the right —folded— like an accordion i knew it was a sacred text —a sutra— from the Chinese with hiragana which i could read and chant so i put it in my bag a bit of Buddha to go but later back home when i pulled it out and used my phone to translate the words i didn’t know i found it said “do not remove” right across the front what could i do with stolen sutras? i did not mean to steal i thought it was free to take like the pamphlets and tracts in so many churches and temples in other countries but in Japan things are different and my Japanese is not good enough to always know the way to this day i wonder if i was supposed to be in that hall at all or had i wandered —strayed— from the path and maybe the monk who saw me just didn’t know how to say “do not enter” but perhaps his bow was a welcome and i found myself where i was —am— supposed to be
luke kurtis is an interdisciplinary writer, editor, and artist. His books include Angkor Wat: poetry and photography and Springtime in Byzantium. bd-studios.com is his long-term art and publishing-as-practice project where he helms all aspects of the studio while collaborating with a range of artists and writers to realize their projects. He lives and works in New York City.