The Shrine Of Compassion

For Otherworld 2011 my husband and I built a small shrine in the spirit of The Temple.
A tiny spirit house for visitors to leave notes, to be consumed by fire.

It began as a more ambitious project, but sometimes things need to be distilled to their core before their true purpose is revealed.

To process the grief of miscarriage, Frank and I discussed what we would do to honour our mizukos (unborn), and to give ourselves closure for this experience. As Burners, we felt that The Temple was an appropriate place to bring our grief, and the ashes of our departed, but that would be a long time coming, and we didn’t want to artificially delay our process.

Hearkening back to the more ambitious project we’d once had in mind, we decided to build a sacred space closer to home. We chose to build the Shrine for Otherworld, the Victoria summer regional Burning Man event, as it is very close to our hearts. Had we been able to, we would have liked to build a proper temple, but that was not possible for us, both in scope and in safety if we intended to burn it. So, perhaps not a temple…. perhaps just an altar, or a shrine.

We set out to design something that would serve the purpose we needed, and still be appropriate to it’s location. Logistically, something small that could be easily moved and safely burned was ideal, but we also wanted to ensure that it still accomplished that feeling of grounding and resonance that we felt was integral to something that was to serve as sacred space. We also wanted to create something that would be accessible to everyone, so we did not want it to be specifically dedicated to Jizo, or require any prior knowledge to understand it’s purpose. The common thread in all of our brainstorming, was compassion. And so began the creation of The Shrine of Compassion.

I felt so inspired by my investigation into Japanese customs, that I wanted to reflect that in what we would build. I imagined perhaps a tiny temple, and so I began to research Japanese temples, looking for a shape that I might take inspiration from. Although Buddhism is much younger than Shintoism, and are separate belief systems, there is often an aesthetic blend that occurs, finding both Buddhist and Shinto elements in the temples and shrines of each. So I decided to allow both of these to inspire my design process.

I soon learned that in Shinto custom, a miniature shrine, called a hokora, frequently found in places of great natural beauty, to house the kami (spirit) of that place. Also of interest, is that the earliest true shrines were temporary, just as our beloved desert temple. With a bit more research I learned that some kami, called “dosojin”, are much like Jizo, in that they are protectors of travelers and those in transition, and are often enshrined in little hokoras on roadsides.

So I designed a small spirit house. Something I find important about the Temple is the ability to write things down, and leave them in the sacred space, to be released in fire at the end of the event. To mirror this, I created openings in the roof of the house to allow visitors to slip notes inside. Another important thing about the Temple, is that entering it marks the transition from the mundane into sacred space. To mirror this, we designed an approximation of a Shinto torii (archway), to create a threshold that one may cross to enter the sacred space.

That sacred space, is where one can be still, explore the deep waters, connect with oneself, and with others in their raw feelings. To be grounded, to meditate, to release, to grieve. To consider compassion. With the support of our dear friends, we placed the Shrine & it’s torii by the river, provided pencils and paper for those who wished to leave something in the hokora, and together, with our beloved community, we burned it at the end of the event, on Sunday afternoon.

I poured my love into the creation of this shrine. I thought of you, while I was building it. I wanted to give you a place where you could come, and lay your burden down, and know that I love you, and I believe in you, and I forgive you. I invite you to take a moment now to consider your heart, and breathe.

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