Reading the Air: deities

 

kami samaIn Japan, there are so many gods and deities, some of which are Shinto in origin and some Buddhist. A temple (o tera) or shrine (o jingya) often dedicates itself to one deity or aspect of the Buddha. There are Buddhist temples dedicated to Kukai of the Shingon School, and to Saisho of the Tendai school, to the compassionate Kanon Bodhisattva, and to the fierce Achala, and Shinto shrines to local deities like Inari, the fox spirit, or Ryujinkei, the snake or dragon deity. Some of these deities should be inspirited and consecrated inside temples, under the protection of roofs, within a sacred enclosure, and some, those who guard the higher deities and Buddhas, should always be placed outside.

The large statues at the sacred site could be removed perfectly and reinstalled with the correct amount of deep prayer, so it is important for a sangha to come together at this time. The courtyards and gardens of the head temple were Nohmen’s favourite place.Here, he could breathe the air and feel the thrill of the protection of the heavens and the earth mediated by the deities of harmony. It was this picture, this route around the deities, which all the followers take when they first arrive at the head temple, which he followed in his daily meditations inside his heart.

This procedure reminded him so much of his beloved devout grandmother who loved so much to make the Roman Catholic Stations of the Cross, stations of the crosspaying her respects at the foot of each saint in the dark cool of the church.  But here, Nohmen could combine movement and stillness, as he went  on a pilgrimage from one shrine to another whilst involved in the weather, whatever it may be.

Christian deities are usually enshrined inside churches and cathedrals, in darkness and broad spaces bordered with stone, or partly illuminated by sheets of stained glass.  He remembered so well the echoing vaults of giant cathedrals, such as Chartres in France, Saint Peter and Paul’s Church in Rome, and the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool in the north of England. He recalled the ranks of candles ranged beneath each saint and in front of the ornate choir screen, the glow and womby feeling of that. But he was so thankful that now he could bow to deities outside in the air in his Buddhist faith.

Of course, Buddhist temples have their dark airless inner sanctum also, which is vital and which one gradually-after entering the mandala or energy field of the temple-progress towards, climbing stairs, reaching certain galleries, and then finally, arriving in the womb of the temple. This progressing around the precincts is designed to represent the slow-moving towards enlightenment.  During this journey, it is possible to light a candle in the wind, and to offer a bundle of lit incense sticks positioning them into the ash pits in front of the shrines, their clouds of fragrant incense billowing up into the sky.

Borobadour

temple steps temple steps

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