Tag Archives: Buddhism

花見: Sakura season

The Japanese make an event of going out to see cherry blossoms, Spring emerging.   This phenomena is rooted in Japan’s art and literature that savors Buddhism’s bittersweet appreciation of the inescapable changes in life.   Cherry blossoms bloom; a week later the blossoms fall to the ground, still perfect – young and fragile.

I remember when I first lived in Japan.  A Japanese man asked me why Americans like roses so much.  He personally found roses disgusting.  Admittedly, the rose bud and its mature flower is beautiful, but the flower will slowly decay…eventually turning black on its own branch.  He preferred the cherry blossom that perched on its branch for a very short time and then gracefully floated down to rejoin the earth.  Today the Japanese like roses as much as anyone else.  But, nothing is loved as much as  cherry blossoms.

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Yoda and the Dalai Lama

                    Kannon Bodhisattva at Jōkōji Temple near Nagoya, Japan

The Kannon Buddha, the Dalai Lama and Yoda.  Similar views all.

Being invited to a special showing of an historical treasure is an honor.

The 500 year old Kannon Buddha is open for viewing at Jōkōji only once every 12 years.  I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity.  But, to be truthful, I did not think that I would learn much from this statute hidden in a little temple in a forgotten corner of Japan.  I was wrong.

Brought to Japan from India, through China and Korea, the story of the Kannon Buddha was introduced to Japan in the 6th century.  Though originally depicted as a male, Kannon in later years was given a gentler face and is dressed in the flowing gowns of a woman.  She has become the symbol of the divine mother or the divine feminine.

Kannon is a Bodhisattva (Japanese-Bosatsu).  This means that though she has achieved enlightenment, she has decided to wait for full ‘Buddhahood‘ until everyone else in the world can be saved.  Though she will be released from suffering at a later date, she has vowed to remain on earth in different reincarnations until all living things reach enlightenment.

I love this idea of the Bosatsu!   To be so unselfish to delay your own Buddhahood until everyone else reaches enlightenment.  This is the core of my ideal of motherhood, of womanhood, of mankind.  Life is not a ‘zero-sum’ game.’  There are no winners and no losers.  Life is a journey where all must be valued, all treated with compassion, all find peace and enlightenment.

Oh, and what about those 11 heads?  Kannon is the Juichimen Kannon.  Juichi [十一」means eleven and men 「面」refers to face or facet.

There are different explanation for the eleven heads.  On a simpler level, those heads spread kindness in all directions.  Or do the faces see the suffering in the world, and hope to give relief? On a more philosophical level, the 10 heads represent the 10 stages of the path to Bodhisattva needed to reach enlightenment.  The 11th head represents Buddhahood.  I guess I will have to get back to you on that.

It should be no surprise that the Dalai Lama is believed by the Tibetans to be a reincarnation of the Kannon Budhisattva.  Kannon represents compassion and the Dalai Lama’s words, though not scholarly or particularly eloquente, call for mankind to live in kindness,  “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”   “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.’

Dalai Lama

I saw the Dalai Lama 12 years ago.   I was one of fifty people standing in the early summer chill of the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) in Tallinn, Estonia.  I listened to his soft voice and his words dotted with laughter.  Dressed in long orange robes in contrast to the dour plaza, he reminded me of a real live Yoda, speaking simple words of wisdom.  “Kind, you must be.” (That’s Yoda pretending to be the Dalai Lama.)

A few minutes before seeing the Dalai Lama, I was at the Estonian Parliament meeting with Tunne Kelam, who now represents Estonia in the European Parliament.  Tunne Kelam was an important Estonian dissident during Soviet occupation.  During our numerous meetings, Tunne always made me feel that he had all the time in the world just to sit and chat with me.   After about an hour of conversation, I asked Tunne, “How are we doing for time today?”  He check his watch and laughed, “Maybe we should quit in 10 minutes, I don’t want to keep the Dalai Lama waiting.”

Tunne Kelam and Dalai Lama

Tunne is an old friend of the Dalai Lama.  For decades the Tibetan leader and the Estonian dissident have talked about how to end foreign occupation of their homes.  Estonia now celebrates 21 years of freedom.

Tibet waits.

Perhaps this relationship between Estonia and Tibet is analogous to the Bosatsu ushering others into paradise, yet, staying behind to help others reach enlightenment.   Is Tibet and the Dalai Lama helping the rest of us and our nations reach freedom from suffering and a path to enlightenment?  And Tibet…

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Samurai and Sutras

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Jōkōji Temple






akebono ya – kiri ni uzumaku – kane no koe



fog circles in

the sound of the temple bell

                                                          Matsuo Basho, 1689, July 11

Jōkōji Temple is just round the river bend  (I know…I’m sorry.  Now you have that tune stuck in your head!).  It is not an easy walk, but a nice drive in October.  It is autumn in central Japan.  The evenings are cool and new bugs sing us to sleep.

We went to Jōkōji Temple Saturday afternoon.  I was afraid we’d run into lots of people, but there were very few.  The leaves are just beginning to change, and people haven’t begun their annual pilgrimage to see the leaves of autumn 「秋の 紅葉」.

Hidden behind the beauty of Jōkōji Temple is a story of a daimyo and his samurai.  Yoshinao was the son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Japan from 1600 to 1868.  350 years ago,  Yoshinao Tokugawa was the governor of the Owari province and was the guy who helped build the Nagoya Castle. One day while enjoying nature, as one did as a daimyo in Japan,  Yoshinao visited Jōkōji Temple.  He liked this countryside and the temple so much, that he gave orders to have his mausoleum built there.

On May 7, 1650, Yoshinao died of natural causes when he was only 51 years old.  Admittedly, dying of natural causes in those days was quite an accomplishment., but 9 of Yoshinao’s loyal samurai were so shocked by their daimyo‘s death that they committed seppuku (oibara).  Their nine graves sit on the right side of Yoshinao’s mausoleum.   Perhaps they are still protecting their daimyo even in death.  I wonder if they know about iPads and iPhones?  How could a samurai today serve his master without social networking?

Sorry, I didn’t see any ghosts or lost samurai.  But I do find it interesting that a very powerful daimyo who ruled over much of Japan was buried at this temple in an isolated, almost forgotten piece of Japan.  Just goes to show…we all end up at the same place.  Yoshinao’s dirt just looks like dirt.  He does have a nice temple, though.


As we walked around the temple, we enjoyed the perfect temperature and the spectacular grounds.  When we came down from our climb to the mausoleum, a young Buddhist monk and his assistant invited us to have some tea and mochi.

After telling our customary tale of where we came from and what we do, we chatted with the assistant and her sensei, the young monk.  So, we had lived in Estonia?  Did we know about the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who had saved many Jews during the Holocaust?  Did we know about Japanese fortune telling?  My number is 3, meaning “happiness.”  The Dalai Lama says that happiness is the goal of life.  He wrote, “I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.” Don is “calm and peace.”  A nice fit, I think.

As we finished our green tea, gave our thanks and got up to leave, the young monk shyly asked us if we would like to join him for a special blessing.  Curious, we followed the boy up a rocky trail where a small wooden shrine was nestled against the hill.  We climbed up some rickety steps, took off our shoes and entered a little room.  “Please make yourself comfortable,” he said.   I balanced my large frame on a small cushion.   I looked to my right at the young man who with his wool cap and casual manners was just a teenage boy.    The boy lit some candles and some incense.  Folding his knees under himself, seiza style, our young friend took off his woolen cap and took out a thin accordion like book.  He was no longer the shy young Japanese boy who could have been one of my students.  Chanting sutra in a deep melodious voice, he became transformed.  He became timeless.

Buddhist prayer, unlike Christian prayer, is not a supplication to a supernatural being.  Instead it puts us in a place where we can awaken our compassion and inner strengths.  The chanting of the sutras is a form of meditation that works to replace negative thoughts with calm and energy.


DIRECTIONS: To get to Jōkōji: The temple located on a small mountain, “Oumusan” (Mt. Oumu) about 0.7 miles east of the JR Chuo Line Jōkōji Station.  This is one stop north of Kozoji Station.

ADDRESS: Aichi-ken Seto-shi Jokoji-cho
TELEPHONE: (0561) 48-5319

Webpage (in Japanese): http://www17.ocn.ne.jp/~jyokoji/MyPage/menu0.html

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