Thursday, January 10, 2019

Introducing a Buddhist Priest and His Temple

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.


  1. Comments on today's new article have been few, but I just received, and appreciate, the following from local Thinking Friend, and Catholic Sister, Marilyn Peot:

    "Very interesting. Buddhism in US is truly leading people into a deeper sense of True Reality. I attend each year the World Peace Prayer at the Rime Buddhist Center--at 6:00 a.m each New Year's Eve. This year was especially profound. As all these different faiths gather and at least 12 of them offer their Prayer for Peace, I am touched deeply. The experience leaves me with a deep sense of the Divine helps to understand what we mean by the Mystical Body of Christ.

    "Thanks for sharing your experience."

  2. Thanks, Marilyn, for reading and responding to this morning's blog posting.

    I attended the New Year's Eve service at Rime Buddhist Center one time and found it quite interesting--and I am not sure why I have not attended more. I guess one problem I have had with the leadership at Rime is their presenting Buddhism in a rather monolithic manner whereas having lived in Japan and having had some contact with and more study about the different Buddhist "denominations," I know that there are significant differences between the different schools such as Jodo (Pure Land), Shingon, Nichiren, and Zen. (Of course, many of us Christians in Japan have probably given the impression that Christianity is much more monolithic than it actually is.)

    Still, as you say, there is also something quite significant that transcends those differences.

  3. After posting a link to this article on Facebook this morning, Thinking Friend Patrick Crews, who now lives in Arizona, wrote the following on FB:

    "I met Hayashi Ajari twice (once with your introduction.) Kukai wrote of Ten Stages in Enlightenment that included as steps the different world religious positions. From this perspective Hayashi Sensei encourages people to progress from where they are. He doesn't feel it's wrong for someone to be in a different faith from him. It's integral to who they are and how the "skillful means" is leading them to awakening. I've seen you again and again share the same attitude of working from and trusting the spiritual process of others."

    1. Thanks, Patrick. I appreciate the comments and pictures you posted on Facebook this morning, and I hope other readers of the blog saw or will see them there.

  4. Seeing the photo of the reclining Buddha made me think of the Statue of Liberty. Both are very charismatic works of a similar size (135 and 151 feet, respectively). Some monumental statues honor outsized egos, such as Ramasses II, or are shrouded in mystery, such as Easter Island Moai statues, but the reclining Buddha and Statue of Liberty are gentle giants radiating peace and hope. Perhaps the Buddha has some subtle symbolism, parallel to the torch of Liberty, which in turn harkens back to the forgiveness of debts in ancient Jubilees, such as that of Hammurabi. Michael Hudson references this in the first paragraph of his new book, "...and forgive them their debts." Hudson's book has a picture of Jesus cleansing the temple of the money changers on the cover. We live in interesting times when an economist finds himself writing theology!

    1. Thanks, as always, for your comments, Craig. I hadn't thought of the parallel between the reclining Buddha and the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, both may radiate peace and hope, but it seems to me that the peace and hope offered by the Buddha is mainly "other-worldly" whereas the peace and hope offered by the Statue of Liberty is for a better life in this world, now.

      The Buddha indicates the peacefulness that can come from change of one's inner life: entrance into Nirvana (perhaps now for some; after death for most). (The Japanese name for the reclining Buddha statue is the Nirvana Statue.") It has little or nothing to do with the changing of the living conditions of people in this world now.

      I was also thinking about the great contrast between this picture of the reclining Buddha entering Nirvana and the central Christian symbol of the cross--or the crucifix in Catholic Christianity which has the longest history and perhaps is best known in Japan. That great contrast perhaps is a major reason for the widespread rejection of Christianity in Japan--as well as the reason for its appeal for others. Perhaps the message of suffering love is stronger for some than the picture of blissful entrance into Nirvana.