New Year Celebration III
On January 3, I went to the Koyasan Tokyo Betsuin, the Tokyo branch temple of Koyasan Shingon esoteric Buddhism. They have had ceremonies at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM for the past three days. So I dropped into the 2:00 ceremony today, to see the goma ceremony, when a fire is built in a special altar to invoke the power of Fudo Myo O, the unmoveable god of light, also known as Acala. The temple has a hard floor with chairs and a tatami area closer to the altar. As I was sitting in a chair waiting, a priest came out and invited everyone to move up to the tatami area. I thought maybe I could see better from there, so I moved.
Before the start of the ceremony, a very loud bell was rung as a signal. Then, a procession of four priest moved into the temple, with the first priest ringing a hand-held bell. Three of the priests were wearing the usual Shingon-style kesa, but one was wearing a brown robe that looked similar to robes that southeast Asian monks wear. The chief priest sat at a square altar right in front of the statue of Kukai Kobo Daishi. There was another square altar just behind that. The extra altar had a kind of canopy over it, and this is where the fire was built. I don't know if the canopy was a ritual necessity or maybe a way to control the smoke. Another priest hit a large drum and the fourth priest rang the large bell. Actually, several bells of various sizes were rung during the ceremony. After some invocational prayers, one priest took a microphone to encourage everyone to join in reciting the Heart Sutra. We recited it three times--I didn't know it was ever recited more than once. As the flames grew higher, one of the priests invited us to make incense offerings, noting that we might want to think of any special wishes or prayers while making the offering. Then, we started reciting the mantra of Fudo Myo O. That went on for a while, with the pace gradually speeding up until it was pretty frenzied, accompanied by the large drum. Then there was another mantra, one I couldn't identify, and another one that sounded like the mantra of Shakyamuni, but different from the one I know. All through this, the priests were passing ritual tablets through the flames and also adding more materials to the fire. Then, we were invited to join in the Gohogo, the invocation of Kobo Daishi. The ceremony ended after a few more prayers, and then the priests recessed, again led with a hand bell. Finally, they brought out the tablets that had been passed through the flames to present them to believers who had made special offerings.
There were three or four large casks of sake off to one side, with ladles and paper cups. I was hoping...but for some reason, they didn't offer me any! I don't know who got to drink that. But it certainly was a satisfying ceremony. I will see if I get my wish!