Kyoto, Japan

We are in Kyoto, Japan. We give a Buddhist amulet that we “rented” in Bangkok to Carl. I have an amulet for you.

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The Kyoto Tower is behind us.

We visit two Buddhist temples: the Higashi Hongan-ji (the Eastern Temple of the Original Vow). It is the mother temple of a branch of the Pure Land Buddhist sect. The original building burned down — it was rebuilt in 1895, one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Local people call it “Dear Mr. East.”

To the west is the Nishi-Hongan-ji (the Western Temple of the Original Vow), the present head temple of this branch of Pure Land Buddhism. Local people call it “Dear Mr. West.”

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Dear Mr. East was established by the daughter of the founder Shinnran. Shinran helped establish Pure Land Buddhism in Japan, a doctrine with many modern followers. Although modern Japan is very secularized, some people, with spiritual propensity, support this type of Buddhism.

Practitioners purify themselves by washing their hands and mouth.

A group sits before the altar which has a wooden statue of Shinran (1173-1263). Shinran’s parents died when he was young and he was intensely interested in the afterlife. He became a Buddhist monk and, due to a vision, became a follower of Honen, founder of what became Jodo Shinshu. Shinran was instrumental in spreading Pure Land ideas — the belief that the Buddha of the West, Amida, will take those who believe in him to a Pure Land after they die where they can become enlightened. This denomination is known as Pure Land Buddhism.

We visited the garden associated with the temple. Shinran shaped Pure Land Buddhism in a way that popularized it. He got married and ate meat — something monks were not allowed to do — showing that Amida’s salvation was for everyone, not just monks.

We walk through the garden.

Many Pure Land Buddhists have reported near-death experiences during which they see Amida and the Pure Land. Their accounts contributed to belief in Pure Land doctrines.

In the West, some people believe that the Christian notion of the afterlife is the only one supported by near-death experience but this is not the case. All over the world, people’s near-death experiences tend to fit their own culture.

Here is what I say: people in all societies have near-death experiences which tend to fit the concepts within their own society (but not always!). It is logical to believe that these visions are created by the mind — except that some reports have paranormal characteristics — things beyond scientific explanation. People see distant and future events — things they could not have known about through normal means. There have also been cases where people have had experiences while their brains were inactive — this suggests that consciousness is not always connected to the physical body.

It is logical to believe in an unseen world — it is the specifics of belief that are probamatic.

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A sign in the garden: “Beware of the bee.”

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I see the bee.

There are problems and errors that can emerge within the practice of meditation. You can be stung.

Ideas, thoughts, visions are mental formations which have illusionary characteristics — even your feeling of self has these characteristics. Do not get caught up in delusions. Things are not always as they seem.

Mental formations arise but all are temporary.

The fish live in the water. They cannot understand life on land. In similar fashion, we cannot understand life after death or ultimate reality.

Some people will tell you that their way of believing is the only correct way…but traveling helps you see things more clearly. There are many different ways of seeing and believing — and each of us has our own way of creating mental formations shaped by our culture.

We visit “Dear Mr. West.” It rains.

I watch a woman meditate. A child and her mother arrive. Another woman arrives. The original woman leaves.

When you meditate, thoughts come bubbling up from your subconscious. These thoughts are generally not complex but they are mental creations — like dreams. Dreams are also mental creations which are more fully formed to make a story. Visions are similar to dreams — they are also mental creations.

All these things — thoughts, dreams, visions — are connected but not well understood.

Inside the eastern temple is a calligraphy that says “Human beings do not know themselves. Knowing oneself is the most difficult of endeavors.”

We are going on a pilgrimage to three Shinto shrines south of Kyoto — on a route known as the Kumano Kodo — an arduous pilgrimage traveled by retired emperors, aristocrats, and common people for over a thousand years.

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