Reading the Air: Open Up the Temple Precincts

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I wake thinking of our lovely neighbors waking up in their apartment above us. We live in the hills around Takatsuki City in western Japan – an area filled with Emperor’s tombs preserved in their beautiful enclosures. Our neighbours are pure and generous, their faces clear-skinned, their universal respect shining through gentle mushroom eyes always give me a warm feeling. We exchange local produce quite often but do not spend so much time together as we would like.

Then suddenly, I remember the temple precinct we live in and wonder if they feel excluded because they are not members/followers. The high walls of the temple loom over the whole area, its strong gatehouses manned always by young guards, impenetrable. Entering is impossible without badges and ecclesiastical proof. In other words, visitors who do not have the right qualifications cannot enter. They are excluded because the spiritual current is only accessible to those who make a commitment to it. How must they feel to have this citadel with its gleaming golden sorin visible for miles on top.

Religion and spirituality are fearful things to most Japanese so they often avoid any discussion on the matter. The Dharma Crisis here after World War 2 when all religions were sanitized, their status regulated, has made these shy, sincere people retreat in fear from religious visibility. And yet, their hearts are naturally connected to sacred things such as respect and peace. They often venerate their ancestors each day on their home altars, lighting candles and incense on their special days, ensuring that their throats are not dry with daily offerings of green tea, their stomachs not empty with rice cooked before sunrise in the first drawn water. They remove themselves back to their home towns once or twice a year en masse to prepare for the arrival of the spirits, waiting with all their loving relatives in the lantern light.

Perhaps they are right to avoid associating themselves with one particular religion, one sect, one view. Their wisdom comes from the time when our divine flame was alight and there were no divisions, only one universal faith. No-one was excluded. No membership credentials were needed. A time when each human was a spiritual leader, a god, a Buddha, a holy being.

I close my eyes and open up the precincts of the temple in my mind, removing the stout gates enclosing the spirits to exclude the uninitiated. The temple is surely a sanctified space for all beings, even animals and plants, without discrimination. It is not a place of fear and secrets. I vow to remove all boundaries in my own mind and to regard all my neighbours with exception as fellow holy beings.

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