Temples : Rise & Fall

Japan Adventures (2) : Temples Destroyed & Rebuilt

nanoblockstempleWhen you visit many temples in Japan, you will be given brochures with brief histories of the founding of the temples and their major milestone moments and unique monuments. It struck me that it is not at all rare that temples (mostly made of wood) are razed down by fire and rebuilt (sometimes several times) – be it via accident or war. This is common for many temples in other countries too. If a temple stands for an institution of the Dharma, this rise and fall of temples does personify very well the Dharma teaching on the transience of things material. This is not an all bleak message though. The fallen temples, with the right conditions, can be rebuilt. This is transience at work too. And the old standing ones can be renovated and refurnished too. This is also transience.

KamakuraBuddha

Photo : Jim Mills

Sometimes, the destruction of a temple turns out okay – if they inspire efforts to rebuild them. Probably the most famous Buddhist temple that was not rebuilt is that which housed the Kamakura Buddha (Kotokuin Temple, which was washed away by a tsunami tidal wave in the end of the 15th century) – which rendered it a renowned outdoor Buddha instead! This made the image much more accessible and inspirational! That said, many temple brochures (not just Japanese ones, which have English information too) inform too much on history, and too little on the Dharma. It would be invaluable for many one-time visitors to be given more of the Dharma – to invoke their interest to learn more about it. After all, isn’t that what the temples really represent? Many temples and images are considered national treasures because of their craftsmanship and age. However, that is quite superficial – as the truly invaluable treasure is the non-material Dharma they stand for.

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