‘Well, it all started with our masters making a decision to practise out in the community. Why? perhaps it sounds strange, but they believed that their mission was to help ordinary lay people going about their daily lives. They weren’t the first to have this belief by the way, but in olden times monastics were monastics, and very separate from society. Our founder truly felt the distance between monastics up in the mountain monasteries, and people in real life struggling with their sufferings and delusions.’
He and his wife wanted to be able to help as many people as possible, both being very practical and passionate people. Although fully ordained as monk and nun, they were also ordained as lay priests. On top of that, they had spiritual mediums in their ancestry so they brought those inherited talents into the local community to maximize th realization of their vow, which was to brig everyone to enlightenment before themselves, which is, as you probably know, typical Mahayana Buddhism, a little like Tibetan ideals. Meredith, by the way, I’m not sure what you know about Buddhism in general, so do tell me if I get too complicated won’t you! But I’m assuming you’ve done your background reading, okay?’
Meredith nods. ‘I see. Interesting! I can’t begin to understand the clairvoyance you speak of involved here-you say they were spiritual mediums-but I don’t think that need concern me.’
‘It’s very common in Japan actually, as you know, I’m sure.’ he responds.
She moves on, averting her eyes to avoid Nohmen’s penetrating gaze. ‘So, I suppose there are many power struggles in your community, or should I say sangha, given the competitiveness of human nature?’
He answers, ‘No,no. We are very harmonious mostly. Like most religious organizations in Japan there were many problems of betrayal and the like after the Second World War, the so-called ‘ Thought’ police raiding temples and confiscating Buddhist instruments and texts, and so on. Japanese authorities were very cruel and proud in those days, as I’m sure you have read. I suppose you’ve visited the more traditional temples in Kyoto, To-ji. Daogo-ji, and the like?’
She replies in the affirmative. ‘Yes, yes. Very inspiring and different. But I’d never actually been into a modern temple here until yesterday at your area temple where I was looked after so well by Izumi-san, whom I’m sure you both know well?’
They both nod and make a sound of utter approval, pressing their palms together at the sound of his name, and bowing. ‘Gassho!’
Meredith goes on though rather overwhelmed and slightly embarrassed by this show of utter devotion and humility so foreign to her.’….’So,’ she stutters, ‘I have no idea what they look like even from outside! Can’t spot them I’m afraid,’ she admits.
Nohmen somehow echoes what Izumi-san wanted her to try. ‘Well, Meredith, please allow us to invite you back to our main sanctuary during your stay. You’ll be fascinated to attend a ceremony, I’m sure. I was myself after frequenting small Buddhist centres converted from old warehouses and office buildings in Europe, and of course more formal temples in India, Nepal, and Myanmar. The experience will really not be what you expect, I think!’
‘Thank you. It’s very kind. But I doubt there will be time! I’ve got a tight schedule while I’m here,’ Meredith consciously tries to excuse herself again, the same way she did with Izumi-san, but without the crudeness.
‘Sad! Well, so what else can we tell you, I wonder?’ Nohmen is aware that consecration hasn’t really been discussed yet. He anticipates, from what Meredith has said so far about her approach, that it will be difficult for Meredith to understand matters of faith concerning consecration because she has little or no direct experience.
Kokoro smiles and pours more tea, swishing the pot around a little, and then darting up to trickle more steaming water on to the swelling muslim bag. Meredith sighs inwardly at the prospect of another moral pep talk like Izumi-san’s, especially from the mouth of her close-countryman.
‘Meredith, of course, as you’ve said, you are so involved with all the details of consecration, but I wonder if you really know what it entails and its fundamental function. It’s not merely about the buildings, or encasing relics as it might have been at the start when our masters first established the teaching. It is much more ethereal, I suppose, in a way than that. We believe we need to, and desperately wish to, ensure that future generations, for an eternity, will be able to feel the power and wonder which this teaching has generated since it began. I used the phrase ‘for an eternity,’ at which I notice you raise an eyebrow slightly, because this is a workable entity in Buddhism Meredith, as I’m sure you know. It is a belief system which goes way beyond the intellectual boundaries of space and time.’
‘Yes, I do have a problem with that,’ she acknowledges, ‘I’m sorry! But maybe, I can never accept it. That’s a huge topic, isn’t it? Maybe it needn’t concern me personally. I’m only a researcher after all.’
Nohmen resists commenting on this and goes on, ‘As I said, the practical details of this consecration and enhancement of an existing sacred site will be taken care of by experts, temple builders and the like. This is of course important, but what is much more important is the consecration of each disciple’s heart, as it is nothing more than the energy of faith which will suffuse a building with sacredness, as it did the original temple of this unique teaching, and all teachings.’
Meredith looks bemused and slightly tearful as she is taken into very unfamiliar country. She is becoming more and more indignant at this seemingly illogical digression from what she sees as the real subject of consecration. She resists him strongly. She is only a researcher after all. She feels she must only become involved with the details she is objectively researching, and must immediately square away the strange emotions which are arising in her.
She suppresses a nervous smile, and Kokoro offers more okashi – sweet and sour biscuits, which are refused, as refuge in her shoes and departure are now imminent. She feels so vulnerable without her shoes which were taken off in the hall and which will enable her to run away quickly.
‘I know I’ve probably said too much already,’ Nohmen reassures, ‘and you need time to think everything through. But let me leave you with this thought or image. Tiny creatures in the animal kingdom often live closely with a bigger animal in mutual harmony, and this is how I feel about the Earth-I am a tiny creature living in total harmony on the back of a huge one. I believe this is a crucial part of the Buddha’s teaching in this modern and troubled world.’
There are many further small questions between tea-sipping and pouring, mixed in with the ceramics and bamboo, but they are hard and dry, and splintered with fear, and the green eyes no longer adore the pottery collection. Then, before very long, the conversation reverts to the nature of the temple buildings and the consecration ceremonies, a return to familiar territory, a concrete outcome, something tangible, a material proof.
It seems that Dr. Capethorne can make no logical connection between creating a new temple, and the consecration of the human heart. So, eventually, the subject is changed to tea, and then the safe ground of the phenomenon of the Japanese tea ceremony. Thanks and foreign gifts are given, and so the interview ends politely, the questions of true sincerity and of hearts superfluous to the research.