About a 20-minute walk southwest of the Golden Pavilion is Ryoanji -- home to what is probably the most famous Zen rock garden in all of Japan -- laid out at the end of the 15th century during the Muromachi Period. Fifteen rocks set in waves of raked white pebbles are surrounded on three sides by a clay wall and on the fourth by a wooden veranda, in an area that measures about 25m (80 ft.) long and 10m (30 ft.) wide. Sit down and contemplate what the artist was trying to communicate. The interpretation of the rocks is up to the individual. (Mountains above the clouds? Islands in the ocean?) My only objection to this peaceful place is that, unfortunately, it's not always peaceful -- a loudspeaker on occasion extols the virtue of the garden, destroying any chance for peaceful meditation. If you get here early enough, you may be able to escape both the crowds and the noise.
After visiting the rock garden, be sure to take a walk around the temple grounds. There's a 1,000-year-old pond, on the rim of which sits a beautiful little restaurant, Ryoanji Yudofuya, with tatami rooms and screens, where you can eat yudofu and enjoy the view. There's also a nice landscape garden, with moss so inviting you'll wish you could lie down and take a nap.