(Reposting from old blog, dated Nov. 2007)
While Baby is feeling much better now, I have become sick myself. I should’ve expected that, but I am thick-headed at times. So, right now, I am enjoying the side effects of NyQuil, but before I pass out, I wanted to post some more pictures from Japan, taken in October 2007. These are from another temple I visited named Hasedera, or more formally Kaikōzan Hasedera (海光山長谷寺), in the city Kamakura, just a block or two from the Great Buddha.
I uploaded both pictures to Wikimedia earlier in the day.
This first picture, which I enjoyed most out of this venture, is of a small outdoor incense burner, but features two Buddhist bodhisattvas: Kannon on the left and Jizo on the right. It’s unusual to see two figures standing side by side like this, so I thought it was interesting. The Kannon statue features a crown with 11 heads on it. This is based on an old myth where Kannon was so overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, that his mentor, Amida Buddha, split his head into 11, and gave him 1000 arms to better assist the world. This is more myth than Buddhist religion, but illustrates the notion that Kannon was striving endlessly to help the world.
Jizo features his famous staff which he uses to protect those in need, and allows him to traverse the Hell realms, teaching the Dharma so that beings there can be free. The rings on the staff, when shaken, reverberate with the Dharma, so to speak.
The second picture is from the top of Hasedera itself:
This is out facing the Pacific Ocean and the old city of Kamakura. According to the pamphlet, you can see Sagami Bay and Miura Peninsula, for those into geography. Typical of many Japanese temples, there were vending machines there, but also a nice little cafe. This is tucked in the corner of the temple so it did not interfere with the actual visitation of various buildings.
Hasedera was actually pretty large and contained multiple buildings. The temple also had a long underground cave devoted to the sea goddess, Benzaiten, who apparently is an import of the Hindu god Sarasvatî. When I visited Japan in 2005, we visited the famous temple of Sanjusangendo,* which featured a very long hall containing many, many statues of Kannon. In front of these statues were life-like statues of various other Hindu gods, including Shiva and Vishnu, who had been imported into Buddhism as protector deities.
This is pretty typical of the Shingon and especially Tendai sects of Buddhism, as well as even earlier sects, which created a kind of synthesis between the native Shinto religion, Buddhism, and also Hindu gods. This helped to make Buddhism more palatable for the Japanese government who up to this time followed Shinto and Confucianism (a Chinese import) only. It’s very common at that time to see a Shinto** god, like Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, treated as an incarnation of a Buddhist figure, like Mahavairocana, the Buddha of the Sun. In the epic classic, the Tales of the Heike, you see quite a bit of this, which can be real confusing to Western audiences who aren’t familiar with this association.***
Later Buddhist sects, such as Zen, Nichiren and particularly Jodo Shinshu, eschewed a lot of this, preferring to focus on specific Buddhist figures only.
Interestingly, even in more orthodox Buddhist texts such as the Pali Canon, the Hindu gods do play minor roles. In the Maha-samaya Sutta (DN 20), the Buddha gives a long discourse on the cosmology of the heaven realms, with references to Indra, kind of the Hindu gods, and Vishnu (called Vendu). In the Ayacana Sutta (SN 6.1), another god, Brahma Sahampati convinces him to teach the dharma despite his doubts. In Buddhism, the gods are largely absorbed as protectors of the Dharma.
So anyways, I would certainly recommend visiting this temple along with visiting the nearby Great Buddha. They are so close, that you can cover both in a day, though you’ll have little time for else. I definitely enjoyed the art of this temple, but didn’t connect with it religiously the way I did with Tsukiji Hongwanji. This temple definitely felt more like a museum to Japanese medieval Buddhism, albeit a very fascinating one.
So that’s all for now. Take care everyone!
Namo Amida Butsu
* – Speaking of Kannon statues with 1000 arms…try viewing hundreds of them!
** – People often confuse Shinto and Buddhism since they’re both Japanese religions. They couldn’t be more further apart. Shinto is a native Japanese religion dealing with gods, charms, and various superstitions. It has no real structure, or organization, or explanation of metaphysics (i.e. the afterlife). Since Shinto and Buddhism are so far apart, they actually can both be worshipped in Japanese culture without too much conflict. In Tibet, this similarly is the case between Buddhism and the native religion of Bön
*** – On that note, I am currently reading the mysterious Golden Light Sutra, which was very popular at that time in Japanese Buddhism because of its reference to protecting one’s nation. Offices had been setup with monks chanting this very lengthy sutra over and over again to protect the country from calamity.