Reading the Air: inside the butsudan

butsudan 1
His eyes are steadily engaged on the golden reclining figure of the Buddha at the far back of the butsudan, the home altar.  This form of the Buddha is unique in Japan, symbolising the physical Buddha just about to die after his long teaching years.

A little in front of this sublime image are numerous effigies of Japanese gods and deities, representing a range of talents, among them posed photographs of robed masters who have reached satori, enlightenment, and then towards the edge of the cabinet, more of ancestors, Kokoro’s and Nohmen’s mixed together.Buddhist images

On the left side, there are early to mid-twentieth century westerners standing arm in arm, women in relaxed poses with their light eyes and brownish bobbed hair, a man in a naval uniform and one in braces.  And on the right, the same age of kimonoed women with masses of hair wound up on top of their heads, and frock-coated Japanese ancestorsmen with dark eyes and superior airs, in formal poses, standing at a distance from each other.naval portrait

The very back of the butsudan, which is dark and enclosed, represents the golden Buddha realm, and in stages, forward of that, are the lesser realms of gods and protectors, human ancestors and living masters.

reclining Buddha

“The golden realm of the Buddha,” and satori, enlightenment.” These phrases are part of Nohmen’s personal vernacular nowadays, and the word satori never far from the lips of many people in modern Japan.  But he realizes that a new part of his mission unfolding during the move towards the consecration is to package these things in a way that is attractive to those who have never encountered them before.

Japanese peaceHe is certain that the Buddha’s teachings are perfect for the world at this time because their fundamental roots lie in social harmony and peace.

Inside the butsudan, he looks forward of the golden realm to see the ancestors and masters crowded together, and realizes how easily he himself had accepted and believed in the importance of them. Though at first, it had been a revelation to him that ancestors should figure at all in his life, he rapidly realized that without them, his own life was not remotely possible, they having lived ancestors 1through difficulties unimaginable to people of this century.  And the pure wisdom and single-pointed dedication of the masters had long been his model.

He begins to talk, his voice rich with reverence.

‘You see Kokoro, our life in human form is the best and only chance we have to learn how to love.  How to first love ourselves andspirit made flesh then others.  In the boundless and eternal invisible world which each spirit inhabits before becoming visible, it may blend with others, or suffer in isolation depending on its inheritance.  But when the spirit becomes flesh, and we are born into this word to become visible, we are each unique and yet the same, each here to do the same thing and yet something different.’

Kokoro shakes her head slowly.  Her hair is long and thick.  She leans forward to adjust the small vase of flowers she offered to the Buddhas before dawn.butsudan 3





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