‘Yes, but how did you come to be interested in Buddhism in the first place, Meredith?’ Nohmen is intrigued.
Meredith recalls, ‘Well, by accident really. I was involved in the restoration and rededication of an ancient cathedral in England, in Worcester, and became fascinated by what was involved in terms of relics, sacred objects, and substances buried beneath the foundations of religious buildings. Then, one of my closest friends who is a practicing Buddhist, a Tibetan Buddhist actually, became a temple-keeper in France, and I visited her there one day. Her temple was so beautiful, the wooden high ornate architecture, in Bhutanese style, fascinated me, and the history of a comparatively modern building constructed according to ancient rules, interested me, too. So, I decided to branch out into Buddhist consecration for my doctoral thesis. I must say, that I’m so impressed with your main temple, too. Its huge body is brilliantly designed.’
‘Yes, I agree. It’s quite something, isn’t it?’ Nohmen feels proud, but not attached.
‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with the origins of Indian temple design, both of you?’ Nohmen checks with Kokoro.
‘Well, the temple buildings or precincts were designed as a body-you know, head, torso, and feet-exactly to link human beings seeking to practise their faith with the gods. According to Indian specialists, this was because people’s moral condition had deteriorated, and men were no longer gods themselves as they once had been. In the Golden Age, temples were unnecessary because people lived divine lives,’ she related, displaying a little of her academic air.
Kokoro is confused and looks at Nohmen with great question marks on her fine eyebrows. Nohmen explains in basic Japanese, the specialized religious vocabulary too difficult to translate, but Kokoro wants to know more about this history which she knows nothing about. Religions are not part of the education curriculum in Japan, so people rarely have a wide vision regarding them.
‘So, Meredith-san is Bukkyoto, follower of Buddha?’ she asks.
‘No no no!’ She laughs and slaps her thigh as she does so in a slightly embarrassed way. ‘I’m just reader and writer following my curiosity. Temples, lamas, and high priests simply capture my imagination. That’s all.’
Nohmen explains. ‘Meredith, it is difficult for Kokoro to understand Christian and Buddhist traditions in the West. She has never been inside a cathedral in England, nor has she any idea about Tibetan or Indian Buddhism. After all, they are countries over the other side of the world, which she has never visited, Japan’s links being mainly with North America, which is relatively near at hand. Buddhism in Japan has taken on a very different form compared to other cultures it was imported into, as you probably know.’
Kokoro pours everyone more tea, kneeling and focusing on the flow of the bright green liquid while trying to understand difficult English.
‘So, why Japanese Buddhism and temples, Meredith, if I may ask. It could be said that it’s in many way the opposite end of the spectrum from Tibetan Buddhism, which I practiced for many years by the way. On the whole, modern temples here are not built in traditional style. We are, after all, an earthquake country, so modern building methods have to be adopted now by law. Of course, the famous temples of Kyoto and Nara are some of the largest wooden structures in the world, as I’m sure you know, and their elegant roofs especially interesting. But modern temples are very practical up-to-the-minute buildings, actually.’
‘Yes, I know some of the background here. And actually, we, Professor Clements my supervisor and I, chose your denomination among others to research because we understand that yours is a lay organization. I’m particularly interested in lay sects, and how they interact with the clergy in terms of construction, and of course, how that affects consecration,’ she explains.
Kokoro cannot follow, so Nohmen interprets. She looks into Meredith’s eyes as he does so.
‘So, I was wondering if you could first tell me a little of the background to your organization’s rather unusual departure from monastic Buddhism in Japan, if you don’t mind.’ She looks at both of them gratefully. ‘It’s very good of you to spare me some time.’