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Archive for the tag “buddhism in japan”

Tokyo National Museum: Kukai’s World and The Arts of Esoteric Buddhism

Tokyo National Museum: Kukai’s World and The Arts of Esoteric Buddhism

Michel Le Bon and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Tokyo National Museum is currently showing an exhibition about Kukai and Esoteric Buddhism.  Kukai is of major importance in Japan and this applies to Shingon Buddhism and the rich legacy he left, and in time this rich legacy would reach many distant lands.  Therefore, the current exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum will highlight the richness of his teaching, Shingon Buddhism, Koyasan, cultural factors and take you into the world of Esoteric Buddhism.

Kukai (774-835) who became known as Kobo Daishi established the first monastery in the ninth century on mount Koya (Koya-san).  The Shingon sect had a different thought pattern within the many schools of Buddhism and Kukai believed that enlightenment could be attained in one lifetime.

His theory that enlightenment could be attained in one lifetime was very powerful in his day and it gave hope and a new freshness to Buddhist thought within Japan.  Kukai also spread his message and thinking on the top of Mount Koya which is situated in Wakayama and you can imagine the impact of nature and the isolation of Koyasan on his thinking.

In an earlier article by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated that “Kukai was a searcher and he visited China and during his stay he studied Esoteric Buddhism.  Initially, he prayed for peace and prosperity because he could not find inner-peace within city life, therefore, he searched for a place where he could meditate and become even more spiritual.” 

“When Kukai saw the stunning nature of Koyasan it was clear to him that he had found the place which he desired.  The mountains meant that he was cut off from everyday city life in this period and the sublime beauty of nature added to the mysterious feel of Koyasan.”

“Today, in the modern period, other worlds still survive and in Koyasan you feel the richness of culture, the souls of the dead within the mysterious graveyards, the beauty of life within the grounds of so many Buddhist temples and a culture which still survives.”

Near the end of Kukai’s life he stopped taking food and water and instead he meditated and it was reported that his body did not decay for several years.  Many legends have sprung up about Kukai and one claims that Kukai was transformed into an eternal Samadhi. Therefore, the legend states that Kukai wanders around Mount Koya where he is awaiting a major spiritual event to take place and this applies to the next Buddha Maitreya appearing.

Other legends have developed, therefore, if you want to understand about Kukai and esoteric Buddhism then the exhibition at Tokyo National Museum is a must.  If you reside far from Tokyo in Japan or in another nation, then check the website which will be supplied and read more about this very important individual.

http://www.tnm.jp/modules/r_free_page/index.php?id=1393 Tokyo National Museum

http://www.visiblemantra.org/kukai.html Kukai and information

http://ww2.coastal.edu/rgreen/ Kukai and information

http://www.shukubo.jp/eng/  (stunning Koyasan)

http://www.koyasan.org/         (Information about Koyasn)

http://moderntokyotimes.com/2011/06/26/koyasan-in-wakayama-stunning-mysterious-and-sublime-architecture/

(If you attend the exhibition after reading this article then please mention that Modern Tokyo Times highlighted the exhibition)

Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama: quiet contemplation amidst nature

Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama: quiet contemplation amidst nature

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

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Heirinji Zen Temple is located in Niiza and while this part of Saitama prefecture may not appear to be out of the ordinary, the same can’t be said about this temple which is blessed with large grounds. Therefore, given the closeness to Tokyo this temple is accessible to tourists who visit this huge metropolis and a visit to such a beautiful place is rewarding.

The original temple was based in Iwatsuki in the same prefecture but the original area was destroyed by the centralizing forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590.  This in itself also reminds us of the violent aspect of Buddhism in Japan because this faith, which was not indigenous to Japan, was certainly a major power base. Therefore, Oda Nobunaga who began the centralization of Japan also attacked fanatical Buddhist sects who were violent and intent on preserving their power base.   

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Josh Baran states “Japanese Zen, especially the Rinzai lineage, had long been linked to the samurai culture and bushido, the way of the sword. For hundreds of years, Zen Masters trained samurai warriors in meditation, teaching them enhanced concentration and will power. Zen helped them face adversity and death with no hesitation, to be totally loyal and act without thinking. To put it bluntly, bushido was a spiritual way of killing infused with Zen philosophy. The sword had always been a Buddhist symbol for cutting through delusion, but under bushido it was taken literally, evolving from metaphor into concrete reality. The sword became an object of veneration and obsession, idealized and worshipped.”

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Therefore, when I visit the beautiful Heirinji Zen Temple and the surrounding grounds I am under no illusions because the tranquil nature of this beautiful place does not distort my reality.  However, time does not wait for nobody and while “Buddhism is in a shell” in most parts of Japan it can still be felt in places like Heirinji Zen Temple.

The ethics of simplicity, open space, serene backdrops, the noise of birds singing and the other world does play on the senses when you visit Heirinji.  After all, the architecture, serene grounds and singing birds amidst “the daily stress of life” and the passing of time, does strike a chord within the inner-soul. 

Heirinji is certainly worth a visit and for myself, I have been many times and I will continue to re-visit.  Not because I am Buddhist, this is not important, but the contemplation aspect of Heirinji is vital because it is all too easy to forget about what really matters in this life. 

Often, people only see “the bigger picture” when something dramatic happens in their life but when you visit Heirinji you understand “the bigger picture” of life irrespective of your current situation.  This is the beauty of Heirinji and Buddhist monks on a whole are in the backdrop and hidden and you have no commercial aspects of this stunning and well preserved area apart from a basic fee to enter.

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Today the temple still trains Buddhist monks but unless you knew this fact then just like the history of Buddhism in Japan; it may pass you by and this is why Heirinji is so special.  It is not about gimmicks or showing anything because Heirinji is spiritual by being itself and not bending to the modern world of commercialism.

If you are lucky enough to either reside in Tokyo or Saitama then Heirinji is accessible because from Ikebukuro in Tokyo it only takes around 30 minutes in total train and bus time to arrive.  Therefore, Heirinji is well worth a visit and this applies to visiting several times because the changing nature of the seasons is very striking in Japan.

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Heirinji is surrounded by the usual aspects of a build-up area but once you are close to this stunning place then you can feel the pace of life changing.  The none-missionary feel of Heirinji is also welcomed because zealous religious people from all faiths try to convert people through language and only seeing one world view.

However, the monks of Heirinji don’t need words because the architecture, lovely grounds, quaintness of the graveyard and other aspects of the grounds do all the talking. 

All religions and ideologies distort reality within literature and architecture. Therefore, just like nationalism the dream of shortsightedness is just that, it is a dream and an illusion. 

Irrespective of the past of Buddhism in Japan and the same applies to other faiths which have abandoned inner-truths in order to gain from privilege.  The simple fact is that other religions could learn from Heirinji because “the talking is done by saying nothing.”

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This applies to allowing individuals to enjoy their own quality time within the tranquil grounds of this beautiful Buddhist area. Therefore, if you want to experience the finer qualities of Japanese culture and witness the passive nature of Buddhism in modern Japan then Heirinji provides this.

I myself revere this majestic place and time, history, stresses of life, economic reality, and so forth; is simply forgotten.  Heirinji is a place of tranquility and who needs to read books about philosophy and religion when you have a place of sublime beauty amidst simplicity and the reality of your own reality.

If you are a visitor to Tokyo or you reside in either Tokyo or Saitama, then a visit to the stunning grounds of Heirinji should be on your list because the simplicity of this place is a real treasure.

http://www.heirinji.or.jp

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 

The witness of two suicides in Tokyo remains within my psyche

The witness of two suicides in Tokyo remains within my psyche

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

 

Tokyo is an amazing city and the environment is buzzing with fashion and from every corner of this vibrant city you can feel the energy of each new day.  However, being from a distant land I prefer to remain in the shadows and my inner-city upbringing in Manchester stays with me. 

I have wandered around many parts of Tokyo and places of interest apply to Edogawabashi, Komagome, Nippori and Seijo. I also like more popular places like Harajuku, Ebisu, Omotesando and Yurakucho. 

However, my local area is none of the above and I will remain tight lipped about where I like to hang out because I have had many death threats related to writing about terrorism.

Like all individuals who have moved to a new nation each person will see things differently.  I have no time for Japanese Buddhism because it is clear that many Buddhist clerics reside in an ivory tower. 

Also, more people kill themselves every year in Japan than people who have just died because of the March 11 earthquake which unleashed the devastating tsunami.  The annual figure in recent times is more than 30,000 suicides a year but little is being done to change the mindset or prevent suicide in Japan.

The only trade that Buddhists seem to care about is death because they can make a bomb from this business providing you have enough money.

Hikikomori is also a huge social problem alongside suicide and while Tokyo is rich in culture and a fantastic place to reside.  The negative side is the loneliness of many individuals or the stress of working life because companies expect too much from their workers.

I love the fashion of Tokyo and the modern landscape alongside the low crime rate.  It is factual that Tokyo is one of the great cities of this world and the infrastructure shames London and Paris.

This not only applies to the sprawling no-go areas of inner-city London and Paris but clearly gang related violence and everyday crime in both London and Paris are destroying too many areas.

My beloved Manchester which is rich in culture and history is also blighted by gang violence and drug related issues.  Yes, drug issues also apply in Tokyo but not to the same level of the cities that I have just mentioned in Europe. 

Turning back to suicide then I have witnessed two individuals kill themselves and clearly both events have stayed within my thinking.  The first suicide was a young man who jumped to his death in Tobu Nerima from a flat that he resided in. 

The second suicide was a young lady who just jumped in front of a train at Harajuku train station.  This suicide really had long term effects because it was like watching a vacuum cleaner sucking up dust.

Everything seemed so natural and she just vanished within the blinking of an eyelid and it was like the train had beckoned her to her death. 

Both suicides happened within one year and despite seeing blood all over and hearing the crack of bones hitting the street in Tobu Nerima; it was not the death of the man which stayed with me but the ghost of the young lady who killed herself in Harajuku.

Of course, some people will snigger and deny that ghosts exist and how can I deny these claims?  However, something stayed with me for over a year and sometimes I could feel her spirit close to me.

Irrespective if this was my mind playing a trick or it was reality; it seemed natural to me and sometimes I felt the passion of her spirit strongly but in time it faded and now I rarely feel anything unless I am in Harajuku.

It seems strange how I view both suicides because I saw the last few seconds of a dying man in front of my eyes in Tobu Nerima.  The blood was visible and the noise stays with me and I always cross myself in the sign of the Orthodox cross when I walk past the same building.

However, when I first saw the naked body I was unsure if the person was male or female because it was late at night. Yet when I was close up it was obvious that the body was male and somehow this calmed me and maybe this is a natural instinct or a safety mechanism?

I don’t really know why this soothed my pain but the behavior and coldness of people nearby shocked me because I immediately asked for help but some people seemed disinterested.  It is true that only about 6 or 7 people were near at the time but words like “baka” (stupid) from a person who was drunk was too much.

I also remember that when the young girl just gave up on this world that some people were just complaining because of train delays.  Not everybody, of course; but a few people was clearly annoyed because it was relatively early in the morning (just before 10am) and I presume the stress of work got the better of them.

I have seen this coldness before when an old man collapsed in Asaka (Saitama) and was bleeding and several times I have seen young ladies faint or were visibly distressed. Apart from two occasions when people helped quickly the norm was to ignore or to turn a blind eye.

I have resided in Japan on and off for ten years and like most Tokyoites several trains have been cancelled because of suicide. However, to visually see two people kill themselves then it isn’t easy when I have to re-visit both places.

Four strange events took place after seeing the young lady kill herself.

Firstly, this applies to sitting in a coffee shop and talking with my friend who was trying to console me in Ikebukuro on the same day of the suicide in Harajuku.  Then all of a sudden I saw a normal lady and the next minute I could only see a stone white face with no distinctive features. 

This really spooked me out!

The second major event happened a few weeks later I was leaving Shinjuku around 6am in the morning and travelling via Odakyu Line to Seijo.  I often like to walk to the final two carriages before entering the train. 

All of a sudden I could see the back of a beautiful lady and then when I got on the same quiet carriage she had disappeared.  Again, I can’t say if this was wishful thinking or if I was still in a daze because of past events.  However, it seemed real at the time and still seems real today but having little sleep during the night then I try to think rationally.

The third major event is more deep rooted because watching her succumb to the train it all seemed so natural because she showed no fear and it was like it was meant to be.  Therefore, I sometimes feel the force of the train beckoning people to jump and when I hear trains making a sudden noise in train stations this brings back flashbacks.

The fourth event was more pleasing because while I was on the Saikyo Line and passing through Harajuku I just felt that I was forced to gaze outside.  Then all of a sudden I could see a beautiful lady but this time she was serene and everything appeared to be ok and it was like I was being told that her pain is over.

Again, it is clear that you have many images of ladies on advertizing boards and I had worked long hours the day before.  Therefore, just like other times I have tried to view this rationally but it seemed real at the time and maybe I found an answer I wanted or maybe it was a flash that was meant to be implanted in my brain.

Today I am writing this because the hot summer is about to start in earnest and both suicides happened during the long hot summer.

Clearly the ghosts of the past or the images of the past remain within my psyche even if these events are more distant with each passing new day.

http://moderntokyotimes.com (Please visit)

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