A Taste of the Past, A Deeper Appreciation of the Present?

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

When studying in Japan, my major was Shin Buddhist Studies, but my particular area of focus was Jodokyo Kyo Rishi, or the historical development of Pure Land thought. The reason for this was that I felt knowing the concepts and how they developed historically would better enable me to explain those concepts in a different setting. Knowing the setting and background of concepts should help in explaining and interpreting those concepts to a different environment.

One of the things that has happened as a result is that I spend a lot of time trying to imagine or visualize what was, in order to better understand the setting or background. Sometimes my imagination takes over during those attempts to visualize and I get carried away wondering how a certain situation might have affected people in the past and how it may impact people today. How would a certain atmosphere that was the norm for people in the past, affect people today?

Over the years, we have come to accept certain things without giving it any thought. We have taken electricity and lights for granted and give no thought to services at night, but what was it like before? We expect our temples to be comfortable and pleasant, but what level of comfort is necessary for listening to the teachings? Have we lost some things as a result of this comfort and convenience? We may not live in medieval Japan, but is there some way to recreate the impact of certain services observed then without sacrificing all of the conveniences to which we have become accustomed?

We do not want to become Luddites and forsake all that we have. We also have to be concerned with issues of safety that have accompanied those technological advances. Electrical lighting is much safer than gaslight or candle and/or oil lighting while providing more light as well. However, what would the impact of a brightly lit naijin or altar area be in a dimly lit temple? How would the sound of chanting resonate in the dark?

In an attempt to get an answer to some of these questions, we are going to try something new at our Joya-e, or New Year’s Eve service this year. We will try to recreate an atmosphere that approximates the past in a modern setting, using updated technology in a different way. We will not sacrifice safety, but try to give everyone in attendance a sense of what it might have been like to attend a service in the dark of night before electric lighting.

Hopefully, people will come to better understand that which they have been taking for granted, while experiencing a different level of the impact of ritual that might have been there in the past, but has become sacrificed in the name of convenience. Please try to join us on New Year’s Eve to take part in this experiment.

© November 18, 2013