Thu, Aug 20, 2020

From Nara: Remembering Ganjin’s achievement in medicine at Toshodaiji

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

Visitors take their masks off on the premises of Toshodaiji as they have no need to worry about crowdedness or close-contact with other people. (Yomiuri Shimbun photo)

Toshodaiji (Nara) — the head temple of Risshu, or the Ritsu school of Buddhism — was founded in the Nara period by Ganjin Wajo — a high priest from the Tang Dynasty in China — who, after having gone through many hardships, brought Buddhist precepts to Japan.

On the premises of the temple, the trees seem more verdant than the usual years. The screeching cicadas sound as if they are singing in praise of the lingering summer heat.

“Perhaps because economic activities are limited, the air is crisp, and the animals and plants seem more lively,” says Taichi Ishida, 53, the vice secretary general of the temple. Bush clovers, which tell the arrival of autumn, are beginning to bloom here and there.

The quaintness of the temple and its surroundings has attracted many a literati including Hakushu Kitahara (poet) and Yasushi Inoue (novelist). In a normal year, the temple would have as many as 300,000 visitors, but this summer, people are sparse due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“This may be a good opportunity to review the ways of temples that have been dependent on admission fees, and to think about the pure and peaceful world that Buddhism pursues,” says Ishida.

Ganjin also brought advanced medicine to Japan. The temple has plans to make an herb garden on its premises to grow the medicinal herbs associated with the first abbot. The wish of the temple is for people to also think about Ganjin’s achievement in this respect, heretofore fairly unknown.

From the Aug. 20 evening edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun (Osaka)

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