Yukio Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, trans. Ivan Morris.

Published 25 Oct 2017

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima was based on a real life incident. This particular incident happened in Japan in the year of 1950. It was by that time that the Zen temple of Kinkakuji was burned to the ground by one of their acolytes. Originally, the acolyte’s plan was to die along with the temple but he changed his mind after seeing the fire. This is the main incident which Mishima used as the building block for his story. The protagonist in the story is Mizoguchi. He was studying so that he would one day become a Zen Buddhist monk in the temple. Mizoguchi became afflicted with an awful stammer. This particular affliction occurred after he witness his mother having a sexual intercourse with another man in front of his dying father. Mizoguchi is unattractive and his speech impediment only added more to his estrangement with others as was reflected on page 5 of the book (Mishima, p.5).

Beauty is one of the elements ever present in the story. Before his father died, he was able to bring Mizoguchi to the Golden Temple and it was upon seeing the temple that Mizoguchi started to cultivate his fixation with its beauty. The main reason why Mizoguchi wanted to be a monk is because he wants to live at the Golden temple so that he would be forever united with the temple’s beauty. In spite of the fact that Mizoguchi consume most of his available time appreciating and admiring the temple’s beauty, he still could not seem to find peace with himself. For him, the temple’s beauty mocks and disturbs him since it is an attribute he could not hope to obtain.

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Self-hatred is also present in the story. Mizoguchi longs for beauty and purity which he could never obtain. Thus, in consequence he came to hate what the temple represents. Eventually, Mizoguchi scorns his very own identity and this is one of the reasons which forced him to do the horrible deed of burning the temple. At the early part of the story the temple served as a haven for him. However, later on the temple consumed him to the point that it always emerge in his thought. One particular example of this was when he went with Kashiwagi on a double date. While Mizoguchi was kissing his date visions of the temple appeared on his mind’s eye and this compressed his sexual longings (Mishima).

Nihilism is also ever present in the story. In school, Mizoguchi made friends with Kashiwagi. Kashiwagi strongly advocate the idea that knowledge alone could make one’s life bearable. He conveyed this particular outlook in life to Mizoguchi by undermining the latter’s belief in beauty and its purity. Mizoguchi’s friendship with Kashigawa led to his poor performance in school. This in turn, made Mizoguchi all the more estranged from his life in the temple and it was then that he decided to set it on fire. It was only after burning the temple that Mizoguchi was able to know the real meaning of freedom and it was then that he experienced a great desperation to live.

Nihilism basically refers to the idea that it is necessary to obliterate the old and bad for the advancement of new and good. Mishima implied that there are some theories in Zen Buddhism which justifies the annihilation of beautiful objects. One good example of this could be found on one Zen story “Nansen Kills a Cat”. In the story, a Zen priest slaughters a furry cat so as to illustrate his aloofness from the glamour of beauty. In the story one could say that Mizoguchi was influenced by the infamous Zen commandment. This particular commandment states that once one meet the Buddha he ought to kill him. Only after doing the act could one achieve complete release. Thus, as could be seen Mizoguchi’s action seems to be a rational extension of Zen’s strain of the nihilistic attitude I earlier described in this paper.

Works Cited

  • Mishima, Yukio. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Vintage, 1994.
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