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Illuminating Buddhism in a high-tech light

Gyosen Asakura performs a “techno hoyo” ritual in Fukui. He said he hopes that the ritual will invoke the Buddhist version of paradise in each attendee. (The Japan News/File)

Fukui, Japan | Mon, April 17, 2017

Faced with declining attendees among the young, one temple priest in Fukui has found a unique way to help them see the light. His “techno hoyo” fuses traditional religious images projected in brilliant lights with Buddhist sutras set to a techno beat.

Gyosen Asakura, 49, the master of Shoonji temple in the city, has experience as a DJ. Using his high-tech equipment, his ritual expresses images of life after death in the paradise that Buddhism says awaits us.

With many young Japanese shunning religion these days, Asakura hopes this creative take will stoke interest in Buddhism.

“Priests are publicity agents for Buddha,” he said. “I want to reach out to people in my own way.”

Asakura became interested in music around the time he was a first-year student in junior high school. His father, who also loves music, gave him a stereo system.

At that time, “Rydeen,” a piece by the techno music group Yellow Magic Orchestra, was all the rage. The priest was fascinated by it.

After graduating from high school, Asakura got a job in a club in Kyoto, working on the lighting staff on weekdays and as a DJ on weekends. He immersed himself in music.

At 24, he returned to Fukui and began working as a Buddhist priest. Since then, he has noticed a decline in families supporting the temple and worshipers. Most worrying to him was the lack of young temple supporters.

With encouragement from his family, Asakura decided to use his skills to promote Buddhism after he succeeded his father as the 17th temple master in 2015.

In Buddhism rituals, candles are used for lighting altars.

“After someone saw how the gold leaf on altars can shine so beautifully when bathed in light, people started to illuminate it with candle flames,” Asakura said.

If the olden days found their lighting through candles, Asakura thought modern times could find its lighting through colorful illuminations. Continue reading

The Buddhist art of living in Nepal : ethical practice and religious reform

41HB8vuNeZL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Buddhist Art of Living in Nepal Ethical Practice and Religious Reform
By Lauren Leve
2016 – Routledge
268 pages
Hardback: 9780415617345
pub: 2016-07-28

Theravada Buddhism has experienced a powerful and far-reaching revival in modern Nepal, especially among the Newar Buddhist laity, many of whom are reorganizing their lives according to its precepts, practices and ideals. This book documents these far-reaching social and personal transformations and links them to political, economic and cultural shifts associated with late modernity, and especially neoliberal globalization.

Nepal has changed radically over the last century, particularly since the introduction of liberal democracy and an open-market economy in 1990. The rise of lay vipassana meditation has also dramatically impacted the Buddhist landscape. Drawing on recently revived understandings of ethics as embodied practices of self-formation, the author argues that the Theravada turn is best understood as an ethical movement that offers practitioners ways of engaging, and models for living in, a rapidly changing world. The book takes readers into the Buddhist reform from the perspectives of its diverse practitioners, detailing devotees’ ritual and meditative practices, their often conflicted relations to Vajrayana Buddhism and Newar civil society, their struggles over identity in a formerly Hindu nation-state, and the political, cultural, institutional and moral reorientations that becoming a “pure Buddhist”—as Theravada devotees understand themselves—entails.

Based on more than 20 years of anthropological fieldwork, this book is an important contribution to scholarly debates over modern Buddhism, ethical practices, and the anthropology of religion. It is of interest to students and scholars of Asian Religion, Anthropology, Buddhism and Philosophy.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Seeing Things As They Are

Chapter 2: ‘A Garden of Every Kind of People:’ Newar Buddhists in Hindu Nepal

Chapter 3: The Revival of “Pure Buddhism”

Chapter 4: What Makes A Theravada Buddhist?

Chapter 5: Becoming “Pure Buddhist” (1): Practices of Personhood

Chapter 6: Becoming “Pure Buddhist” (2): Vipassana Meditation and the Theravada Care of the Self

Chapter 7: The Best Dharma for Today: Post-Protestant Buddhism in Neoliberal Nepal

Conclusion: The Buddhist Art of Living, in Nepal and Elsewhere

8 rock carvings from the Tubo period found in Tibet

180373d2873019fef5f608By Palden Nyima in Lhasa | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-02-03 12:08

Eight rock carvings found in the Tibet autonomous region’s Markham county have been confirmed as dating to the Tibetan Tubo Kingdom more than 1,000 years ago, according to the county’s cultural relics bureau.

A survey of the archaeological finds began in the second half of last year and was carried out by four experts from Sichuan University’s Tibetology Institute while working alongside representatives from the county’s cultural relics and tourism bureaus.

“More than 20 people took part in the survey, as the carvings are distributed across eight sites in the county’s three townships,” said He Fanhua, from the cultural relics bureau.

“Our bureau will now propose to higher cultural relics units that measures be taken to protect the petroglyphs.”

He said preservation was essential because some of the petroglyphs are located less than 600 meters from the nearest villages.

Many stone carvings have been uncovered in Markham county over the years, including a giant statue of the Vairochana Buddha found in 2011 – one of the three biggest in the whole of Tibet.

Zhang Yanqing, or Palchen Dorjee, a professor at Sichuan University’s Tibetology Institute, said the petroglyphs dated to either the reign of Tibetan King Trisong Detsan (AD 755-797) or Tride Songtsan (AD 798-815).

“They include cliffside carvings, circular engraved statues, ancient Tibetan texts, and Mani stones,” he said.

The carvings reflect the long history of cultural exchange in the region and are influenced by a number of styles ranging from Indian to Chinese, according to Zhang.

“As both Buddhist art and a historical find, these carvings are of great value and should be protected,” he added.


Jamal Garhi Buddhist complex, Mardan, Pakistan (2nd Century AD)


Salvaging Rajagala from being lost forever


Daily News (Sri Lanka)
Friday, October 7, 2016 – 01:00
Zahrah Imtiaz

Within the dense forests of Rajagala in Ampara, a team of Archaeologists from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura are uncovering an 800 year old Buddhist monastery, bringing it back to life- one dig at a time.

The site spanning over 1,025 acres of forest, rocky hills, Stupas, Refectory, Uposathagra (Building devoted to religious observances), a hot water bath house and cave dwellings is said to have been built during the 1st Century BC. The team has been successful in discovering over 50 cave dwellings, leading them to believe that around 500 monks would have resided in them.

“It is interesting that some of these caves have the inscription “Seethalena” which depicts the name of cool cave,” said Director of Conservation and Maintenance, Prof Prashantha B. Mandawala.

According to Prof Mandawala’s research, the monastic complex was vacated due to the South Indian invasions in 1215 AD and it has since then gradually deteriorated due to natural causes and also due to vandalism by treasure hunters in the recent past.

Among other unusual inscriptions found at the site, Prof Mandawala also highlighted that they had found inscriptions on one of the Stupas which read that, the ‘ashes’ or ‘relics’ of Arahat Mahinda was enshrined within the stupa. Continue reading

25 historical sites identified for inclusion in VUDA Master Plan

The Hindu, October 31, 2016

The Department of Archaeology and Museums has identified 25 archaeologically important sites in the three districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam for inclusion in the VUDA (Visakhapatnam Urban Development Authority) Master Plan 2030.

The sites identified will be provided with basic amenities for tourists, roads, other infrastructure faculties.

The identification of archaeologically important sites in East Godavari district, which also comes under VUDA, will be done by the Kakinada-based Department of Archaeology and Museums.

Ancient Hindu temples, Buddhist heritage sites and Jain caves in Srikakulam and Vizianagaram, a megalithic burial site, Chalukyan temples, war memorials, a Dutch building and a 17th century Jama Masjid were among the historical sites identified for inclusion in the Master Plan 2030.

“We have identified 25 heritage sites in the three north Andhra districts and we will submit the list to VUDA in the next few days,” Assistant Director of Archaeology and Museums Chittibabu told The Hindu.

The district-wise sites identified are: Visakhapatnam – Appikonda temple.

The only shore temple dedicated to Lord Siva in AP, the group of three temples with five natural springs at Panchadharla near Elamanchili, the Buddhist heritage sites at Pavuralakonda, Thotlakonda and Bhavikonda, the temple of Sri Varaha Lakshmi Nrusimha Swamy at Simhachalam, the war memorial of Sri Krishna Deva Raya at Padmanabham and the pillar at Potnuru.

Vizianagaram – Ramatheertham, Neelavathi (Buddhist site), Jayathi temple, Eastern Chalukyan temple (20 km from Gajapathinagaram) and the Bobbili war memorial.

Srikakulam – Dutch building, Jama Masjid (17th century), Arasavilli and Sri Kurmam temples, Salihundam and Kalingapatnam (Buddhist sites) and Sri Mukhalingam temple.

The main objective of the whole exercise is to integrate the erstwhile Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region (VMR) and plans prepared with the extended VMR with the Master Plan for the Visakhapatnam-Kakinada PCPIR region.


San Francisco: Buddhist Cosmology: A Visual History of Enlightenment

January 10, 2017 at Against The Stream: San Francisco in San Francisco.


Buddhist Cosmology: A Visual History of Enlightenment
A four-week class series with Michael Owens
Tuesdays, beginning January 10th
San Francisco

Cosmology is perhaps the oldest and broadest of the sciences because it explores the very extent and limits of reality – from the macrocosm of the size and age of the Universe to the microcosm of the smallest known particles. This class is a general introduction to Buddhist Cosmology based on a survey of Buddhist art and iconography from India, Central Asia, China and Japan. Each nights’ class includes a dynamic slide-show presentation of works of art that exemplify different aspects of Buddhist cosmological thinking.

Open to all.

Cost: $80 ($20 per class) or $70 if paid in advance. There will be an opportunity to offer dana to the teacher at each class (teachers receive a portion of the reg fee and are supported by dana). Some scholarships and work-study are available. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Michael Owens is a writer and teacher working at the convergence of art, education and philosophy. After exploring an academic career in Buddhist Studies at Princeton University, he began teaching meditation and giving lectures at Buddhist temples and monasteries domestically and abroad. In 2006 he founded the Red Lotus Society, an educational non-profit organization to promote meditation as an inter-faith practice. Michael has translated several Chinese Buddhist texts into English and teaches regularly on Buddhist history and philosophy.