Hayashi Kakujō is the chief priest of the widely known Nanzōin Temple on the outskirts of Fukuoka City, Japan. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Hayashi-jūshoku (Hayashi is the family name, jūshoku is the Japanese word for high priest) during the years I lived in Fukuoka and am happy to be able to introduce him to you here.
Nanzōin and the Priest Hayashi
One of the best-known Buddhist temples in southwest Japan is Nanzōin, which is about a 30-minute drive east from Seinan Gakuin University (where I long taught). Nanzōin is the most-visited temple of the Shingon (True Word) Buddhist “denomination” in Kyushu.
Hayashi Kakujō was born in 1953 when his father was the chief priest at Nanzōin, and he became the chief priest there in 1980. I met him for the first time not long after that. In addition to talking with him at Nanzōin, he also sometimes attended the interreligious dialogue group I met with regularly.
Hayashi-jūshoku is an intelligent, well-educated man who was a beneficial member of interfaith discussions. He also has considerable knowledge of and appreciation for Christianity, choosing to send one (or more) of his children to a Catholic school an hour away from their home.
There is a waterfall on the grounds of Nanzōin, and standing under it as a spiritual discipline is commonly practiced there. Hayashi-jūshoku did that every New Year’s Day in years past—and still does as far as I know.
(One time, when it was much warmer than on January 1, I tried standing under the waterfall—but the rush of cold water took my breath away and I had to immediately step out; I found out later that you are supposed to hold your breath when stepping under the waterfall.)
The Sleeping Buddha of Nanzōin
In 1995 Nanzoin completed the construction of what is said to be the largest bronze reclining Buddha statue in the world. It is about 45 yards long (think almost half a football field), 12 yards tall, and weighs some 300 tons, almost as heavy as a jumbo jet airplane.
One time Hayashi-jūshoku took June and me to see it not only from the outside but on the inside as well. It is an impressive statue!
The month following the completion of the reclining Buddha statue, Hayashi-jūshoku won a lottery jackpot for what was then worth about $1,500,000—and ten days later he won another lottery for almost $65,000!
The mass media picked up on that and presented it as a Buddhist form of the “prosperity gospel”—and following that good fortune, Hayashi-jūshoku seems to have received hundreds of requests to speak at public meetings.
The True Word Buddhism of Nanzōin
The best-known form of Buddhism from Japan is, of course, Zen—although it is far from the most popular form in Japan. Shingon (True Word) Buddhism, more popular in Japan, is also known as Esoteric Buddhism and is closely related to Tibetan Buddhism.
Shingon was brought to Japan by the Japanese monk Kūkai in 806 after spending two years studying it in China.
Last fall I wrote a review of the book Jesus and Kukai: A World of Non-Duality (2018) for the journal Missiology: An International Review. Since few of you will see that review when it is published, I have posted it on my supplementary blogsite (see here).
Jesus and Kukai was authored by Peter Baekelmans (b. 1960), a Belgian Catholic missionary and an initiated practitioner of Shingon.
While the book is not without its faults, it gives a wealth of information about Shingon, and as I say in the review, I wish I had had it to read during the years I had direct contact with Hayashi-jūshoku.