47 posts tagged gods
Mallet and tub used for the pounding of omochi sticky rice cakes.
The Japanese and the afterlife.
Casually called shigo no sekai (the world after death) or more commonly Yomi no kuni (the land of darkness) the Japanese believed from early times that there is a place where the “souls” of the dead dwell. Floating around in a kind of limbo.
The traditional Shintõ belief is that “souls” of the dead float about and gradually lose their individuality and then, after the 33rd anniversary of their death, they merge completely with the “souls” of their ancestors in the death realm.
These souls are then able to keep watch over living people, and they are believed to be able to visit their descendants on earth over the New Year holiday season and also during the Obon period when a link is opened between this world and world of the dead.
Traditional Buddhism taught the idea of reincarnation/rebirth and the Japanese adapted this to fit in with their belief in “souls.” Buddhism introduced the idea that a person may be reborn into one of many possible realms, and this is held by some Buddhist sects.
The predominant Japanese Buddhist belief though is that various hell realms exist, not unlike the Christian/Greek notion, and that in contrast a heavenly realm known as the Buddha’s Pure Land also exists.
Most Japanese believe that during the 49 days after a person has died, known as the “Period of Intermediate Existence” (not unlike the Christian idea of purgatory), the “souls” of the dead pass through mountains and then cross a river (Sanza no kawa) before being judged by the Buddhist god Emma (in the photo above) and assigned to a new realm for their next life.
Hie jinja, Hiratsuka, Kanagawa prefecture on Flickr.
Hie jinja, Hiratsuka, Kanagawa prefecture on Flickr.
Prayers to the gods.
Hie jinja, Hiratsuka, Kanagawa prefecture on Flickr.
- #atheist #atheism -
Christians often accuse me of not ‘reading the bible’ properly. Well, aside from those that assume I haven’t read the bible. But really, it’s not too hard to use the Christian methodology to reading the bible.
1. Something in the bible is vaguely historically true (e.g….
The Sacred Tree.
Chinese lanterns, candles, incense, paper flowers, golden tin-foil lotus leaves, Buddhist prayers beads - all the necessary items that one must purchase for Obon on August 15th to welcome the spirits of the dead back to earth.
Today is Obon (お盆) sometimes shortened to bon (盆) the Buddhist custom of welcoming back the departed “souls” of one’s ancestors and a time for Buddhist monks to pray and carry out rituals to alleviate the suffering of the “Urabanna” (lost “souls”). Ullambana is actually a corrupted form of avalambana which literally means “hanging down”; translated into Japanese as tõken 倒懸 “hanging upside down.”
The heavenly realms, the lower hell realms and the realm of the living are all open today! At this time the “souls” of the lower hell realms are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. Most of the returning “souls” are believed to be ancestors of those who forgot to pay tribute to them after they died, or those who were never given a proper ritual send-off. Some are also those who have no living relatives or have become trapped in the lower hell realms due to some misfortune. Nowadays Obon is mostly a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. In Japan Obon has been held annually since 657 C.E.. It was traditionally held from the 13th to the 15th of the 7th month during the Edo period (1600-1868). Today it takes place either on the 15th of July or the 15th of August depending on the region. Obon falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the summer harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, and the rebirth of ancestors into the various realms.
It is a time to welcome back to Earth the “souls” of the dead. Across Japan Buddhist monks today performed lengthy rituals and recited numerous sutras to welcome back the “souls” of the dead and to ensure that they do not suffer in the lower realms. Ceremonies are held to relieve “souls” from suffering, many ceremonies are held at night as “souls” are released from the lower realms when the sun sets. Special “ghost altars” are built for the “souls” and monks perform rituals for the benefit of the returning “souls.” Rice is thrown about in all directions to distribute it to the “souls” as at this time they can enjoy physical foods.
Outside houses in the driveways and at entrances small “ghost altars’ are erected with a cucumber and eggplant fitted out with legs for the “souls” to enjoy. It is traditional to install also a pink lotus (the symbol of Buddhism) but these days a plastic one with golden leaves is used by most. At the end of Obon, to make sure all the “souls” find their way back to the other realms, people float water lanterns and set them outside their houses. The lanterns are used to direct the “souls” back to the underworld, and when they go out, it symbolises that they have found their way back.
Obon originates from the story of Mahāmaudgalyāyana (Mokuren in Japanese) one of the closest disciples of the historical Buddha recounted in the Ullambana sutra (Urabongyõ in Japanese) a Mahayana sutra. It is claimed the Urabongyõ was translated into Chinese from Sanskrit by Dharmarakṣa (Hõgo) between 266 and 313 C.E. Mokuren was considered the second of the historical Buddha’s two foremost disciples, and the foremost in supernatural powers, together with Śāriputra. Originally a Brahmin from Kolita he became a disciple of the Buddha after proving his supernatural abilities to the sangha. Mokuren is especially well known in Japan as the most accomplished of the historical Buddha’s disciples who was renowned for his supernatural powers developed through intensive meditation. Mokuren was able to read the minds of others and detect lies from truths. He could transport himself from his body into all the various realms of existence and following the instructions of the historical Buddha in the Urabongyõ he became adept at speaking with ghosts and Gods. Mokuren is traditionally attributed with the abilities of walking through walls, walking on water, and flying through the air.
In various Pali sutras Mokuren speaks with the “souls” of the dead in order to explain to them their torturous conditions and help them to understand their own suffering so that they may be released from it or come to terms with it. He was also able to instruct sangha members directly mind-to-mind “without words” so that they could attain enlightenment faster.
In the Urabongyõ sutra the Buddha instructs his disciple Mokuren on how to obtain liberation for his mother, who had been reborn into one of the lower hell realms. Mokuren used his supernatural powers to visit his deceased parents. First he found his father in the middle of one of the heavenly realms, but in searching out his mother, he found that she had been reborn in one of the lower hell realms. Apparently she had ended up there because she hadn’t given enough money to the Buddhist sangha. An interesting punishment for not giving money to a religious following that sounds a little familiar - don’t give enough money to your religion and you’ll go to hell!
Greatly disturbed by her suffering, Mokuren went to the historical Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. The historical Buddha instructed Mokuren in a special magical ritual to secure her release from the lower hell realms. Mokuren performed the magical ritual told to him by the historical Buddha and was able to secure his mother’s release from the lower hell realm. His mother was able to be reborn as a dog under the care of a noble family. Mokuren asked the historical Buddha if it was possible to help her attain a human rebirth. The historical Buddha instructed Mokuren to give money and food to the 500 Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the 15th day of the 7th month. Following this advice, Mokuren’s mother finally gained a human rebirth. Quite simple really, give money to the Buddhist religion, mother is out of hell. Mokuren, happy for his mother’s release danced with joy. From this dance comes the Bon Odori or “Bon dance” which is performed during Obon all over Japan. Obon is thus a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated and people remember to give loads of money to the Buddhist temples.
Interestingly, despite his supernatural powers, Mokuren was stoned to death by wandering ascetics of an opposing religion. When the historical Buddha was asked why Mokuren had not defended himself and allowed himself to die, the historical Buddha replied that because Mokuren had “attracted such karma in a previous life.” In his previous life Mokuren had murdered his parents, one of the five cardinal sins of Buddhism. The historical Buddha then explains that even the powers of the Gods or supernatural abilities can’t save one from their own karma.
Even kids get to carry a smaller mikoshi (with a smaller God?) at the Hamaori matsuri, Chigasaki, Kanagawa prefecture. Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/a4Pqw9
Even Buddhist Gods need comfort. Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/9Wi3jZ
Kannon bosatsu - Avalokitaśvara - Guanyin - Spyan-ras-gzigs - Nidubarüsheckchi etc……is a bodhisattva with a very interesting history.
Based on Brahmā, the God and creator of Hinduism Avalokitaśvara is the most worshipped and has the most forms of all the Buddhist Gods. A bodhisattva of the Mahāyanā Buddhist cults, he rose to popularity in the late 4th century C.E. and can be found right across Asia from India to Sri Lanka, Java, Cambodia, Thailand, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan.
Some cults of Buddhism recognise certain forms of Avalokitaśvara while others deny their existence, classifying them as illegitimate. The Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama as a living incarnation of Avalokitaśvara with all the attributes of the bodhisattva outlined in the sutras. The palace of the Dalai Lama is in fact considered to be the paradise of the deity on Earth.
In both Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia and Myanmar Avalokitaśvara is also worshipped as a “Lord of the world” and bringer of compassion and love.
Avalokitaśvara is usually represented standing with an effigy of Amitabha Buddha in his headdress. He carries the attributes of the lotus which in the Hindu scriptures represents purity, a water vase which quenches one’s thirst and Buddhist prayer beads. He can be found also sitting on a goose, a peacock, a pheasant or the fiery phoenix (itself originally Egyptian).
Interestingly, in China and Japan Avalokitaśvara is also often depicted as a female or androgynous. In China especially Avalokitaśvara seems to have become combined with Mary of Christianity at around the first century C.E. - when Assyrian migrants were introducing Christianity to northern China. These images carried over to Japan where they are known as Juntei Avalokitaśvara. Depicted as either a male or female (more often female) holding a baby wrapped in blankets this form of Avalokitaśvara was worshipped by Japanese Christian converts in the Tokugawa era (1600-1868) to save them from government persecution when Christianity was banned.
Combined over the years with Juntei Avalokitaśvara is the Shintõ God Koyasu-gami - herself an early Korean shaman connected with childbirth.