Travel sure provides an opportunity to learn things. This trip has been no exception. We’ve learned about Shinto shrines, and had a chance to go inside one. and this week we learned more about Buddhism.
Much of our exposure to Buddhism has been Zen Buddhism, and that always calls up images of monks in silent meditation, sitting for long hours of contemplation.
In our travels over the years we have encountered Buddhism in Thailand and Myanmar – throughout Southeast Asia, in addition to in Japan. In fact in 2015 we stayed at a Buddhist monastery at Koyasan, where we witnessed a fire ceremony.
This week we went to a Buddhist temple. Although Buddhists do not worship a God, there are deities who are worshiped. This temple serves a fire deity, called Fudo-myoo.
A new hall was opened in 2012 and 500 people can attend the ceremony, which occurs maybe 6 times per day.
On the left of the picture above you can see something in black and white.
Sanskrit lettering which represents the mantra used in the ceremony.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, no photos allowed inside. I will have to tell you as best I can.
Above the ceremonial area is a huge glittering golden canopy. There is a large area below it where the fire itself resides. There were also three large taiko drums.
The monks filed in, six of whom were blowing on conch shells. The senior officiant was escorted in and sat on a stool with his back to us. His escort seated him self behind one of the drums. The ceremony began with chanting and drumming on little drums – the monks with the conch shells had switched to drums. Then the fellow sitting behind one of the large drums stood up and picked up a stick about the thickness of a baseball bat. He positioned himself in front of the very large drum, braced his feet, raised his arms and waited. When he hit the drum we nearly jumped out of our seats. Suddenly we were in the midst of a takio drum performance.
As the ceremony went on the drumming would stop for a bit. Small sticks of wood were added to the fire, which leapt up a good three feet – good thing the golden canopy was a long way up! An assistant went around to the back of the fire area and would take down pairs of wooden boards that had writing on them and would wave them through the fire and smoke, then put them back. Some had been through the smoke many times as they were quite sooty. Worldly concerns are written on the wooden sticks and boards and are burned away.
So on it went, fire, smoke, chanting, conch shells, small drums. Just when we were being lulled into quiet there would be an outburst of taiko drumming.
And then all but one of the monks filed out. The last man there spoke to the crowd for a bit, bowed and left.
We filed out, found a bench and looked at each other. Well, that was totally unexpected. Not the quiet contemplation one might have expected. Big flames, big noise, smoke and incense and golden glitter. It was quite amazing.
Looking at the brochure we had acquired we discovered that behind the main hall is a corridor that contains 10,000 small Fudo-son statues in crystal cases. We had to go see that, too…..
I have no reason to doubt that there are 10,000 little crystal globes, each one containing a sculpture of the Fudo-son. It is said you will be blessed when you walk through the corridor touching the prayer beads hung along the wall.