Tue, Aug 18, 2020

From Nara: As deer look on, visitors pray for peace of mind in quietude at Kofukuji

SPECIAL FEATURE: Praying for an end to COVID-19 (Part III)

Deer eat grass on the premises of Kofukuji. Chukondo, or the central hall, is seen in the background (Yomiuri Shimbun photo)

A small herd of deer, looking adorable, appeared on the premises of Kofukuji, where people are sparse. The head temple of the Hosso (Hoso) school of Buddhism in Nara had been bustling with worshippers and foreign visitors before the COVID-19 crisis emerged. Not many people visit the temple now, and some say even the fawns are seemingly wary.

“Looking back, it was pretty much like this 20 or so years ago. It might even be better this way, nice and quiet. You can come and pray in peace.” So says Moriya Eishun, 70, the chief abbot.

The temple was established in 710 CE, when the capital moved to Heijo-kyo (present-day Nara). Since then, the institution has withstood many a crises including the plague, wars and the movement to abolish Buddhism.

The abbot says what the temple can do now and what it has done in the past are essentially the same. “That is for us to share in the sufferings of the people and recite the sutra for them.”

Chukondo, or the central hall, which was reconstructed two years ago after a 300-year absence, has been closed to the public since April. Every day at around noon, however, priests gather at another hall to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors stop by, but not so many in number, to put their palms together in prayer as the hall echoes with the recitation of the sutra.

From the Aug. 18 evening edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun (Osaka)

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