Saturday, 4 July 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 40

“Zeniarai Benten shrine.” I said. “The money-washing temple, one of the few places of worship that survived the nationalist Meiji-enforced separation of Buddhist-Shinto fusion. Here, in the last of her roles, Benten reconnected love with water, and her popularity grew from a trickle into a flood. Here, she was the Goddess of Wealth, the sole female among of the prosperity-bringing Seven Gods of Good Fortune who sailed their treasure ship, the Takara-bune. A picture of the Takara-bune under your pillow on New Year’s Eve, would bring a lucky dream. 
Zeniarai Benten was founded by Yoritomo, in 1185, on the day of the Snake in the month of the Snake, after his own lucky dream, of Benten’s husband companion. The human-headed Shinto spirit snake spoke to him.

   ‘In a valley to the northwest, there is a miraculous spring that 
    gushes out of the rocks. Go there and worship Shinto kami and 
    Buddhist hotoke, and peace will come to the country. I am the 
    kami of this land, Ugakufujin.’

Yoritomo found the spring, built the shrine, and dedicated it to Benten.”
Robyn and I entered the Okugū cave, and found the working cliff face of the money-washing ceremony. Water flowed in a channel along a rock face, and small baskets were provided to prevent coins from slipping out of our hands as we doused them.
“This is supposed to double our money.” I said, dunking the sieve in the stream.
“Too bad the large denomination bills aren’t waterproof.” Robyn said. I stood up with our basket of cleaned coins.
“Why did Yoritomo really think of doing this?” Robyn asked.
“Maybe it was as the legend provides.” I said. “But there were other forces at work 800 years ago. The Year of the Snake in 1185 was the year of the Samurai crab Battle of Dan-no-ura, and the final act of the Genpei War. Yoritomo may have defeated the Taira clan and established his Kamakura shogunate, but he still had to pay for the war. The ‘Iron Rule of Currencies’ inevitably lure all governments into covering these costs via inflation. By having his subjects wish to double the number of their coins, he could double the number in circulation. Twice as much money fooled his courtiers into thinking they were twice as rich, and still does. Since more than the Lost Decade of Japan’s economic bubble collapse began in 1991, every day, on the Day of the Snake, no one can move for the busloads of supplicants that come to wash their sins, and double their silver.”
We left Zeniarai Benten uphill again, through Genjiyama Park, with its old-growth trees and crisscross trails and Kuzuharagaoka shrine, built on a Kamakura Period execution ground. It was here that Toshimoto Hino, a loyalist of Emperor Godaigo’s attempt to overthrow the shogun, was decapitated on June 3, 1332, after reading a farewell tanka.

                     ‘I will die and vanish here like a dew, but, 
                      the bitter feeling of the dew will never disappear.’

If Zeniarai Benten had been the fulfillment dream of Yoritomo, further downhill, almost at the end of the trail, we arrived at what was left of the great Hōjō temple that had been one of Kamakura's Five Mountains, on the occasion of the premature death of a son. Pink cherry blossoms and hanging strips of diagonal folded paper framed the entrance of the Jochiji, partially concealed by the tall cypresses and green lushness greenery that lined the stone steps of the temple’s approach. Inside the gate were a pond, a stone bridge, and the ‘Well of Sweet Dew,’ one of the once-famous Ten Kamakura Wells. Above the gate were carved four characters. The treasure you are looking for is next to you. And she was.
A flight of uneven large stone stairs took us up to the Shōrōmon, a two-storied tower hosting a bell made in 1340. We sat on one of the wooden benches facing the front of the main temple, so quiet and small and calm. But at its peak, after its original construction, it consisted of 11 buildings containing 500 residents. The only three inhabitants now were the Amida, Shaka, and Miroku Buddhas, guarding the past, the present and the future, respectively. 

Friday, 3 July 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 39

Backtracking became backpacking, money laundering, and raccoons. Around the curve in the road from the Western Paradise of the Great Buddha, was the trailhead of the Daibutsu Hiking Trail. Robyn and I began a hot climb on the steep dirt path that would take gradually extract us northeast, from the sandy origins of the Kamakura shogunate. The many exposed tree roots, and the weight of the Ospreys on our backs slowed us down. But it helped us appreciate the quiet tranquility, interrupted only by the sound of our heartbeats and birds and chirping crickets, and the occasional fresh ocean breeze rustling the fan palms. Taller cypresses and other trees rose into the sky, above stone stupas, and groves of bamboo. Our boot prints hugged ridge tops and hills as they snaked through the green forest, grateful for the absence of other whiter serpentine movement.
Through the branches at the top, we had an expansive view of Sagami Bay, and a contracted sense of time, as we started our descent. The black lab belonging to the old Japanese woman coming up the path, had a red bib around his neck. Twenty minutes later Robyn and I came to an unassuming tunnel in the side of the mountain. Through the short dark passage on the other side, we emerged under stone torii, into an invisible grotto, to the sound of water. Completely surrounded by high rock walls, the space was strewn with stone lanterns, and stratified with tiered temples on irregular ground. There were multicolored splotches of orange and white and black and yellow pond koi, a bamboo grove, and licorice ferns and purple flowers under a waterfall. A regiment of local schoolboys, and their white shirts and black pants and thick glasses, had laid siege to the bottled water and more exotic beverages, on tap at the kiosk. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 38

When Rudyard Kipling, who George Orwell once called a ‘good bad poet,’ came to see the Great Buddha in 1892, he thrilled to the full toothsome guilty pleasure of the idealization of things Asiatic, stuff that is before all else evocative.

                                  ‘And whoso will, from Pride released, 
                                   Contemning neither creed nor priest, 
                                   May feel the Soul of all the East 
                                   About him at Kamakura...’
                                            Rudyard Kipling, Buddha at Kamakura 

In 1923, the statue’s base was damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake and required repair. In 1960, the statue’s neck and base were reinforced to help it survive future earthquakes.
Seven years later, Barack Obama visited the statue with his mother. He was six years old. He ate matcha green tea ice cream, like he did on his return 33 years later. 
“The first time I was here, I was this big.” Obama had said, putting his hand up to his waist. 
“The first time I was here, I was bigger than Obama.” I said.
“You always will be.” Said Robyn.

                                ‘But when the morning prayer is prayed, 
                                 Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade, 
                                 Is God in human image made 
                                 No nearer than Kamakura?’
                                          Rudyard Kipling, Buddha at Kamakura 

Anyone I know who had visited the Great Buddha of Kamakura has come away awestruck. A statue like that, subject to typhoons and tsunamis, over and over, and over 700 years without collapsing, deserves to be ranked as a wonder of the ancient world. Yoritomo couldn’t have wished for better.

                      ‘Long have I searched, cathedral shrine, and hall,
                       To find a symbol, from the hand of art,
                       That gave the full expression (not a part)
                       Of that ecstatic peace which follows all
                       Life's pain and passion.  Strange it should befall
                       This outer emblem of the inner heart
                       Was waiting far beyond the great world's mart -
                       Immortal answer, to the mortal call.

                       Unknown the artist, vaguely known his creed:
                       But the bronze wonder of his work sufficed
                       To lift me to the heights his faith had trod.
                       For one rich moment, opulent indeed,
                       I walked with Krishna, Buddha, and the Christ,
                       And felt the full serenity of God.’
                        Ella Wheeler Wilcox, On Seeing the Diabatsu at Kamakura, Japan

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 37

In 1243 a wooden Buddha, with a head girth of 78 feet was completed, and housed in its own hall. Four years later it was totally destroyed by a violent storm.
In 1252, thanks again to the fund-raising of Lady Inada and Priest Joko, inside a new large temple hall, the Kamakura Great Buddha was reborn, this time in a patchwork casting of eight bronze pieces, inside the same sand that had made the swords that rose with the bones they had created from and out of Schichirigahama beach. The handiwork quality of its two metal sculptors, Ono Goroemaon and Tanji Hisatomo, and the more than a dozen years it took them to finish, is a tribute to their constancy and quiet endurance. Even today's technology cannot determine precisely how it was cast and built. The original statue was gilt all over, and glittering. Time has worn it all off, except for traces of the original coloring in his ears... a legend told, A rusting bulk of bronze and gold, So much, and scarce so much, ye hold The meaning of Kamakura?
But you only lose what you cling to. In 1335, the temple was caught in another storm. The Kamakura shogunate had fallen two years earlier and the area was still a battlefield between Emperor Go-Daigo’s army and Hōjō troop remnants. When the typhoon hit, 500 Hōjō samurai sought refuge in the building. They were crushed to death, as the temple collapsed. In 1495, an earthquake and tsunami took out most of the newly erected temple. Once again, the statue was unharmed. Three years later, while Columbus was island-hopping the Caribbean, another mammoth tidal wave swept away the rest of the temple, leaving only foundation stones. But in Japan, there's nothing like that, since the temple is made of wood. The divine spirit inside the building is eternal, so the enclosure doesn't have to be. 
The Ashikaga shogunate government of the time was in Kyoto, and gave no hand for reconstruction. The Great Buddha has since never been housed, sitting in the open air for over 700 years, weather-beaten, left to the elements and natural erosion and neglect. At one point it fell into disrepair to the point where the homeless and gamblers lived inside, making it their hideout. Saddened by the deteriorating condition, in 1712, a priest named Yuten Ken'yo at Zojoji Jodo temple in Tokyo, collected contributions, enough to refurbish the statue, but not enough to cover the construction cost of a new building.

                                 ‘Emerging from the nose
                                  Of Great Buddha’s statue:
                                  A swallow comes.’
                                              Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 36

                    ‘And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura.’
                        Rudyard Kipling, Buddha at Kamakura (1892)

The kites rode the thermals above our own flight path, back down to the road that took us through a small neighborhood of shops. A walk that took ten minutes brought us to a destination that was timeless.
The Kōtokuin Temple didn’t look like a Buddhist temple. First of all, there was no graveyard. Second, there was no temple. Robyn and I arrived at a ceremonial fountain, gurgling its invitation to pilgrims. Come purify your body and heart before entering. We followed the ritual. Pick up the long-handled dipper with the right hand, and pour water over the left.  Scoop another cupful and cleanse the right. Pour a third into the left, and lift to your mouth, swish and swirl and spit out to the rocks, to cleanse the heart.  Then, hold the dipper straight up, letting the water course down the handle to repurify it.
Sanctified, we entered the main plaza, more like a park, with a statue of God in the center.
“Whew.” Robyn whistled, letting it out slow. Framed in branches of pink cherry blossoms, against the green mountain backdrop, it was that magnificent.
“Daibutsu.” I said. ‘The Great Buddha of Kamakura.” Over a hundred metric tons of thirteenth century cast bronze covered in verdigris, 44 feet high and nearly as wide, the sacred colossus sat in his lotus position, meditating, hands cupped in his lap, tolerant, elegant, and strong, content that everyone was taken care of. A few souls approached from the front with bowed heads, and others prostrated themselves and prayed. The little sins of little folk.

                                 ‘O ye who tread the Narrow Way 
                                  By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day, 
                                  Be gentle when ‘the heathen’ pray 
                                  To Buddha at Kamakura!’
                                  Rudyard Kipling, Buddha at Kamakura (1892) 

“Its the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.” I said. “Seven-tenths the size of the Great Buddha in Nara's Todaiji Temple.”
“We’re going there.” Robyn said.
“We are.” I said. “But this Buddha, despite being smaller than Todaji, has better balance, power, intelligence, dignity, and higher artistic value.” 
“And unlike the Todaji Buddha.” Robyn said. “This one isn’t inside a large wooden temple.”
“True.” I said. “This one was also built totally with funds donated by devotees, and has his original hands and head. We can follow the same face over hundreds of years.”

                                 ‘The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies 
                                  That flit beneath the Master’s eyes. 
                                  He is beyond the Mysteries 
                                  But loves them at Kamakura.’
                                  Rudyard Kipling, Buddha at Kamakura (1892) 

                                  ‘From the great bronze
                                   Buddha's nostrils...
                                   morning mist’
                                           Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

The Great Buddha Todaiji statue in Nara was the inspiration for his younger cousin. Yoritomo’s participation in its inauguration in 1195, kindled his desire to build a matching one in Kamakura. But Yoritomo died in 1199, and another forty years would pass before his idea was revived. It came in the form of one of his court ladies, Inada no Tsubone, who in
March 1238 obtained approval from Yoritomo’s widow Masako to go ahead with the project. Inada enlisted a Jodo sect mendicant priest named Joko, to travel across the country and solicit donations. The Kamakura Shogunate was controlled by Hōjō regents, and would not give financial aid because of their patronage of Zen temples, whereas the statue Yoritomo had wanted built was that of Amida. The site selected for its construction was to reflect the belief that the Lord of Pure Land Paradise dwelled in the far west.

Monday, 29 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 35

At the top of the path was another large rust and white temple, with roofline corners that arched into the sky. Inside was a thirty-foot high gilded camphor wood statue with eleven heads, each one representing a different phase in the search for enlightenment.
“She’s huge.” Robyn said.
“One of the largest wooden statues in Japan.” I said. “Kannon, Goddess of Mercy, and despite her size, very much like Jizō- both protect the Six Realms of Karmic Rebirth, both are patrons of motherhood and children, and both protect the souls of aborted children. She resides in every grain of rice. Her original name, Guanyin, means ‘Observing the Cries of the World.’ When a believer dies, Guanyin placed them in the heart of a lotus, and sent them off to the western Pure Land Sukhāvatī paradise.”
“Uniquely beautiful.” She said.
“Not quite.” I said. “In 721 a monk named Tokudo Shonin discovered a large camphor tree in the mountain forests near the village of Hase in the Nara region. He realized the trunk was large enough to provide enough material for carving two Kannon statues. One was sculpted from the lower trunk and enshrined in the Hasedera Temple near Nara; the carved larger upper half was set adrift into the sea, to find a place of karmic connection, with a prayer that it would reappear to save the people. The image drifted for 300 miles before washing up on shore, but its first stop brought bad luck or illness to everyone who touched it. They threw it back into the sea.
Fifteen years later, in 736, on the night of June 18, the statue washed ashore at Nagai Beach, sending out rays of light as it did. It was immediately brought to Kamakura, and the temple constructed to honor it.”
Next door was the Amida-do, that hall that held the ten-foot tall golden statue of Amida Buddha.
“It was commissioned by Yoritomo on his forty-second birthday.” I said. “Normally an unlucky year for most men, but unluckier that year for Yoshitune, who he forced to kill himself.”

                                ‘Oh! My hips hurt so!
                                 My shoulders ache!
                                 Where can I give my legs a rest?
                                 I know! I’ll move Amida Buddha
                                 And lie down at his side.’
                                       Rice planting song from Aomori

In 2004, soil samples from Sagami Bay were found to contain radioactive contamination from the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests. Our views of Sagami Bay, from the observation deck at the top, were brilliant in the sun. A small restaurant served small mitarashi dango rice flour dumplings covered with sweet soy sauce. Beside a sign. Beware of Kites...They’ll aim for your food from behind and come to take it. Their sharp claws will injure you. Please be careful! 
Samurai children were raised like that. Soy sauce. No sauce.

                                      ‘A kite breeding a hawk.’
                                                            Ninja proverb

Sunday, 28 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 34

Jizō is also the overseer of the muen botoke unconnected lost restless souls of the dead, forgotten graves of ancestors, or the marginally departed. In medieval times, Noh theater was performed near graveyards to appease these ghosts. Stacks of abandoned tombstones, no longer attached to a grave, are gathered together and tied individually with red bibs. 
“When we visit the cemetery in Nikkō, we’ll see large groupings of One Thousand Sentai Jizō stone statues.” I said. “Living icons embodying the prayers and emotions of family members who once prayed for the deceased, and with the power to save other beings on earth.”
“And these ones.” Robyn asked. “Who are they here for?” 
“Children.” I said.
“Which children?” Asked Robyn.
“Young children.” I said. Before the last century, the probability that a child would survive to age five was less than half. Only then were they counted in a census and be ‘counted upon’ to participate in the adult world. Fetuses are still referred to as kami-no-ko ‘children of the gods’ or as ‘Buddha.’ Children are regarded as ‘other worldly’ and not fully anchored in human life, mysterious chigo divine beings, living in a liminal world between the realm of humans and gods, who could speak through them, and who do divination and function as oracles. Children below school age are still allowed a heavenly existence, indulged and protected without many expectations or pressures. They sleep with their parents and younger siblings until age seven. School entry and displacement from the parental bed comes as a rude shock.
“And the dressed up stone statues?” She pressed.
“Sometimes they still die.” I said. “These Jizōs come right out of Pure Land legend. The Japanese believe that children ‘in limbo’ are sent to Sai no Kawara, the riverbed of souls in purgatory. They may have innocent pure souls but, without the opportunity to have built up good karma before their untimely deaths, and guilty of causing great sorrow to their parents, they must still undergo judgment.
On the riverbed they are forced to remove their clothes and to pray for Buddha’s compassion by building small stone towers, piling pebble upon pebble, stone upon stone, to help their parents accrue merit for their own afterlife, and allow them to finally climb out into paradise. But every night, underworld hell demons, answering the command of the hell hag Shozuka no Baba, arrive to destroy and scatter their stone towers, and beat them with iron clubs. The next day the children must make new piles of stones. But while Jizō takes care of the souls of unborn and young children, sometimes hiding them in the sleeves of his robe, this horrific folklore about hell further tortures grieving Japanese parents. They imagine their little babies lingering at the riverbed, unable to cross the river, unable to gain salvation. They are driven to do something to alleviate their child’s suffering, to improve their child’s chance of redemption.
“So here at Hasedera are the stone seedlings of the great cult of Jizō Bosatsu.” I said. “Parents purchase these statues on the temple grounds in an appeal for protection of their children. The Jizō represent the souls of their miscarried, stillborn or aborted children. The thousand currently displayed will remain for only a year before being burned or buried to make way for others.”
“There are piles of pebbles alongside them here as well.” Said Robyn. “Little towers.”
“Sometime piled high, top to bottom, covering them.” I said. “The parents make those, in faith that every stone offered will shorten the time their dead child suffers in the underworld and help them perform their penance. They also leave toys, candy and fruit as offerings at the base of the Jizōs.
“And clothing.” Robyn said.
“Another metaphor.” I said. “There are the little garments that once belonged to the lost souls, any color, fabric or pattern, alphabet patterns and Hello Kitty, brought by sorrowful parents, in the hope that Jizō will clothe the dead child in his own protection. But most of the garments you see, the robes and caps and sweaters and small bibs and scarfs, are hand-knitted by local women to dress and care for and interact with a monk, and accrue merit for the afterlife.
“And they’re red.” Robyn said.
“And they’re red.” I said. “Far back in the Asuka Period, when the Romans began falling apart, rituals for expelling demons and illness were centered on a red-colored fire deity. Children with smallpox, and those caring for the sick, were clothed in red garments. But gradually, the colour’s symbolic association with demons and disease gave way to a new dualism between evil and good, with red embodying both life-destroying and life-creating powers. Proper worship of the deity brought life, but neglect resulted in death; red had become the color of safety and protection.
“These Jizōs are tragic.” Said Robyn.
“Even more tragic than that.” I said. “These Mizuko Jizōs are a modern cultural innovation, just since the 1960s, venerated as the guardian of unborn, aborted, miscarried, and stillborn babies. Mizu-ko means ‘water baby,’ after the unborn beings floating in an ocean world awaiting birth onto their island home. The most common form of Mizuko Jizō portrays a monk with an infant in his arms and another child or two at his feet, clutching the skirt of his robe. He plays the central figure in the popular controversial memorial ceremony of Mizuko Kuyō, for infants who have died before birth or within the first few years of life. Ku-yō means ‘to offer and nourish,’ referring to what is needed to sustain life energy after it is no longer perceptible in a human body form we can touch.
“Why did it suddenly appear?” Asked Robyn.
“It appeared because of us.” I said. “In response to a human need, to relieve the suffering that emerged from the experience of vast numbers of women who had undergone abortions after World War II. Over 50,000 Jizō statues have been placed here in the Hasedera Jizo-do Hall alone, since the end of the war.
Temples take advantage of the folklore, and pressure the traumatized women. Your lost child will continue to suffer. Your lost child will never be saved unless you take action to soothe their troubled souls. You must buy statuettes and offer religious services to alleviate their suffering. Grieving parents buy expensive Mizuko Jizō statues and pay exorbitant fees for memorial services; and the temples prosper from the patronage. It’s a Yakuza ghost racket.”