Quiet tea, talky tea

Butsuma--a space for the Buddha. Chanoma--a space where people drink tea, eat, chat.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Esoteric ceremony

Koyasan and kechien kanjo


The Koyasan Tourist Association put up a notice about kechien kanjo, scheduled for Oct 1 - 3, so I thought this might be time for me to write a bit about my experiences. Actually, the first time I went to Koyasan was to participate in the kechien kanjo. Koyasan Shingon Buddhism is a vajrayana esoteric Buddhism; kanjo ceremonies are a big part of it. 灌頂or 'kanjo,' is made up of two characters that mean 'sprinkle' and 'head' or 'peak.' In fact, there is a very tiny, symbolic amount of water sprinkled on the head during the ceremony--interesting parallel with baptism. In esoteric Buddhism, there are many of these water sprinkling ceremonies, called abhiseka in Sanskrit. For other ways to transliterate it, and for fairly reliable info about the Shingon ritual, Wikipedia is not bad:


The kechien part refers to forming a relationship with (a) Buddha. Fortunately, kechien kanjo is available to anyone who wants it. The only requirement is that you are doing it on your own intiative, and that you are a responsible adult. However, they don't even ask your name or anything.

Anyway, as a first-time visitor, just Koyasan itself was certainly impressive. There are other important Buddhist monuments in Kyoto, Nara and elsewhere. However, Koyasan is a pretty isolated community, and the whole town has some relation to Buddhism. There are no pachinko parlors, no Starbucks, no chain stores, no karaoke. Lots of shops selling altars, incense, rosaries and related stuff. Lots of workshops where artisans make such things. Not to mention, hundreds of temples, many of which welcome overnight visitors with splendid gardens, painted screens and fine vegetarian cuisine. So you really feel you are in a bit of a different world there.

The ceremony takes place in the Kondo or Golden Hall, where a statue of Yakushi Nyorai the Medicine Buddha is enshrined. However, I never saw that statue for two reasons. First, it is never displayed, the altar is always closed, because it is a hibutsu, a hidden Buddha never visible to the public. The second reason is, for the ceremony, the temple is lined with blackout curtains, so it is completely dark inside. The only light is from candles, so you can't see much of anything. Also, for much of the ceremony, you are blindfolded. So, step by step, you enter into the darkness. Completely blindfolded, you move about, guided by unseen monks. After the blindfold is removed, you have a one-on-one with a vajra master who helps you hold the kongosho, a vajrayana 'weapon.' This is where the practically unnoticeable water drop is sprinkled on. Next, you have a chance to offer incense to a whole pantheon of Buddhas and other deities. After all this, you emerge, blinking in the sunshine, seeing things in a new way, at least for a while.

Kechien kanjo for the Kongokai mandala is offered in October, and for the Taizokai in May. On the first day of the three-day period, before the kechien kanjo begins, there is a procession of priests, including the abbot of the head temple, wearing their robes of Heian period styling, with incense, shell trumpets, cymbals, with more accompaniment from the huge bell in the bell tower. A great photo op at the very least. After this procession, the priests conduct ceremonies in the Kondo that set things up ceremonially for the kechien kanjo.

I have added a short video of the procession. It was raining that day, so the procession was limited to the verandah under the eaves of the temple.

Another pic shows the Kondo from the side. It is a huge temple built in the traditional way, with no nails, just huge timbers fitted together. However, this building is from the nineteenth century, not so old. Koyasan is exposed on a mountain on a peninsula which gets lots of typhoons and other storms that come roaring up the Pacific coast. This means lots of lightning strikes, and lots of fires throughout Koyasan's history.

1 comment:

  1. There are indications that the main image in the Kondo of Koyasan is Ashuku Nyorai, although even some Koyasan websites say Yakushi Nyorai (Medicine Buddha). Also, there is no record that the statue was ever visible to the public in the past 80 years since it was made, the altar has been open during certain periods in 2015 to celebrate the 1200th year of the founding of Koyasan.