Another New Year’s Eve Service

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

Last year, in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a temple at night before the availability of electricity or, even gaslight, we held our Joya-e, or New Year’s Eve service in the dark, using only candle light in the gejin, or the main part of the hondo. Of course, for the sake of safety, we used LED candles instead of open flames, but an impressive service setting was created.

The darkness of the hondo gave people an idea of how it must have been in the past in temples throughout Japan up until the mid-1800’s. On New Year’s Eve, people would walk through the dark, cold night, to gather at the temple to bring the old year to an end together with friends and family. It was not nearly as comfortable or as safe as it is today. Not having central heating, street lights, nor paved streets, must have made it difficult for people to gather at the temple and participate in services at night. We did not try to re-create all of these discomforts, but the low lighting gave those who attended some insight into what might have been.

Not only did the darkness of the main part of the hondo give people insight as to the hardships of the past, it also seemed to accentuate the light of the naijin. This seemed to communicate the unimpeded light aspect of Amida Buddha. It was as if the light of the compassionate-wisdom was reaching out to those at the service to envelop them in the embrace of that light. Within some of the discomfort that might have been there, a very moving aspect of our teaching seemed to manifest itself in the contrast between the darkness and light.

Most of the people who attended seemed to have enjoyed being part of this experiment, especially with the taiko taking part during the chanting of the Shoshinge. Fortunately, due to a little more publicity than in the past, we had very good attendance which greatly added to the evening’s ambience. The hondo was close to capacity and made us wonder how we could recreate that attendance for our weekly services as well.

The bad thing about having so many people attending the service is that one of the main reasons we gather and have a service on the 31st, is so we can end the year by ringing the temple bell 108 times, representing our 108 passions. Some schools of Buddhism see this as ringing out the old passions so that the New Year can be greeted with a clean slate. We do not believe this, but see it as a reminder that these passions are what we are.

It has been our custom to have each person in attendance be able to strike of the bell at least once. In the not so distant past, each person was able to strike the bell multiple times. Due to the larger than expected attendance, we lost count after something like 300 and it must have seemed odd to our neighbors hearing it struck so many more times than normal. This was definitely one of those complaints that we do not mind making.

We will try to continue and develop this way of observing our Joya-e service again this year. Please come and join us, but come early if you would like to be assured of a seat. (Wishful thinking on my part, perhaps?)

© November 17, 2014