March of Buddhism in Japan

Published : Oct 14, 2015 12:30 IST

Kujaku-Myoo, Buddha on Peacock, A.D. 1200, Koyasan Museum.

Kujaku-Myoo, Buddha on Peacock, A.D. 1200, Koyasan Museum.

Many links in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism can be found in a study of Japanese Buddhism. Today’s Himalayan Buddhism is of a later development and has lost the typical “havan” or “homa”. I was delighted to find and to record the continuance of the tradition of “homa” in some of the most important Japanese Buddhist sects. They call it “goma”. Sanskrit sutras are also chanted on the occasion, and it is much like the “havan” Indians are familiar with.

India’s relationship with Japan is far closer than Indians seem to be aware of. It is time to understand this and to build upon it. It is time, in fact, for the world to learn from the peaceful and civilised outlook which is rooted in ancient India and in the culture of countries like Japan. People of “modern” outlook need not be concerned that looking to ancient culture will lead to less economic development. In fact, culture provides the discipline, meaning and concentration in life that makes people truly successful in all that they do. Japan is the one country where Buddhism is flourishing in all its facets. Here, technology and transcendence live together. The deep-rooted spirit of the Buddha’s teachings energises the Japanese people.

Buddhist temples are numerous and vast numbers of people visit them every day. Besides the Buddha, so many ancient Indian deities and practices are preserved in these temples. An Indian will feel quite at home in Japan.

I did the research for and took most of the photographs used in this feature in spring 2015 with the support of a Japan Foundation Fellowship. I am deeply grateful for this valuable support. I have also made a film for the Ministry of External Affairs on the subject of “Hindu Deities Worshipped in Japan”. My partner Sujata Chatterji is the assistant director of the film.

This is the final part of a three-part feature.

Benoy K. Behl is a film-maker, arthistorian and photographer who is known for his tireless and prolific output of work over the past 36 years. He has taken over 46,000 photographs of Asian monuments and art heritage and made 132 documentaries on art and cultural history. His exhibitions have been warmly received in 54 countries, and he holds the record in Limca Book of Records for being the most travelled photographer.

The vastness of Behl’s documentation presents a wide and new perspective in understanding the art and culture of India and of Asia. He has been invited to lecture by most of the important universities and museums around the world that have departments of Asian art. His landmark book The Ajanta Caves is published by Thames & Hudson, London and Harry N. Abrams, New York. It is in its fifth print run.

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