Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Little Boy and his Prayer at a Buddhist Temple in Japan

There's a few things I was hoping would happen on our extended stay in Japan but it is the little surprises that are making our trip meaningful and memorable above and beyond what I had expected on our hunt for things to do with little kids.

I had anxiously anticipated some blogging inspiration and a cultural education that one can only get from full immersion. We've been here for a few days, now, and I can honestly say I've been getting all that and more.

Each day we have breakfast at the hotel with Daddy. He helps us gather food for the whole family at the buffet, then scarfs down a quick meal, kisses us all goodbye and takes off for work.

After the baby and I sleep off a little post-breakfast jetlag with a short nap while the 4 year old watches Cartoon Network, I've been taking the kids on a little adventure. We've been to the Science Museum, the Electricity Museum, and today, I decided to take them to Osu Kannon Temple.

From what I had read the Buddhist temple was surrounded by shops and restaurants so I thought it would be a great way to incorporate a little culture and pass the time with the kiddos while doing one of our favorite things - shopping!

We are not religious. My husband is a "recovering" Catholic, as he puts it, and I grew up celebrating Christian holidays in a very pagan way ultimately finding myself and confirming that we were both atheists.

I have not talked to our son very much about religion. I may have told him that some people believe there is an old man in the sky who is in charge of things. I liked that nobody forced a religion on me as a child and actually took some time in my teens and early twenties to explore what different religions were all about on my own to help me make my decision about religion and connect with others.

I want my children to have the same freedom to think critically and act accordingly from a foundation of "do unto others" with animals included in "others" just like I was taught growing up.

When we arrived at the striking red Buddhist Osu Kannon Temple, I wasn't really sure what to do. I had a Buddhist friend once, and understood some fundamentals about the religion. I decorated a Buddhist wedding when I had my flower business. I had never been to a temple.

While wearing the baby, I held my 4 year old's hand while ascending the stone stairs. I ran through some ground rules that seemed like they would work for this situation.

"This is a special place. You must be quiet inside. This is a place where you should be on your best behavior." I briefed him. He has never been in a place of worship. I held my breath because he is a big personality who does what he feels and says what he thinks.

Once inside, I took a quick look around. There was incense burning and a monk chanting at an alter beyond the entryway where we and 10 or so other tourists milled around in silence.

My son must have seen someone pull and release this thick rope that hit a gong. Much to my horror, he walked right up and did it too. My anxiety elevated. Then like the guy before him, in typical Japanese style he bowed.

He walked back over to me and said in a firm whisper,"Momma, you are supposed to bow. BOW."

I complied and bowed to keep him quiet, feeling like all eyes were on us - the rude American tourists.

Then I noticed another person drop a coin into the box where the gong would hit. I panicked and thought,"oh no! We probably need to pay before we bang the gong! Of course we are doing it all wrong and are one step away from getting asked to leave, right?! Just get me out of here..."

I fumbled for a coin in my purse, making sure it was a small denomination (there was still much shopping to do!) and I handed it to my boy who walked over and dropped it into the box.

At this point I thought we were good to go. Phew.

My little boy looked over at me, then as a man pulled the gong rope, he grabbed my hand with tears welling in his eyes. As he started to say something out loud, I immediately pulled him out the door and tried to find out why he was crying before noise interrupted a sacred ritual and lighting struck us down.

"Mommy, he took my turn!" He said quietly. "That man took my turn."

I hugged him to me, asking him what he meant as the tears streamed down, while fumbling for another small coin (not really wanting to drop all our cash at this place. Couldn't we just get out of here???).

"Here you go, baby, it's okay, here, go!" I said handing him another coin. He's a passionate little bug. There was something he needed to do. I always try not to be too bossy, even if I was in a nervous sweat.

I followed him as he walked back inside, clenching my teeth as he pulled the gong rope, and waiting to be told to leave.

My boy placed his little hands together in prayer, bowed, and stood there with his eyes closed, facing this Buddhist alter for what seemed like an eternity. With the incense burning, the chanting, the sounds, the smells it brought tears to my eyes.

What was happening, here?

How did my little guy know to do this?

I'm sure he must have seen someone else doing it. His observation skills are spot on, but it still baffled me a little bit because there were only a few others in the room and most of them were standing around looking as clueless and touristy as I was.

I waited until he was done. He turned, grabbed my hand and we walked outside and started down the stairs together.

"What were you doing, baby?" I asked him.

"Saying a prairie," he said.

"You mean a prayer," I corrected. "What were you praying for?" I asked.

"Mister Cat," he responded. "I was saying a prairie for Mister Cat."

Now the tears were in my eyes. Our cat had passed away about a month ago. We had buried him with a special blanket and flowers in our backyard. I don't remember mentioning prayer when we said kind words as we buried him.

We had talked about how the cat's stiff, lifeless body was going to help our Acacia tree grow, therefore, his death was also life in a slightly confusing and non-religious way. Fertilizer. Worm food as my grandma would have put it.

I'm not sure how or why my son was so moved to join this religious ritual. I am dumbfounded that he seemed to know what he was doing, walked right up and with confidence and intensity and stood there, eyes closed, hands clasped, and thoughts focused.

"That is so sweet of you, honey," I said. "We loved Mister very much and it is so kind that you are thinking of him. Let me snap a picture of you in front of this temple, so we can always remember your prayer for Mister Cat."

"Is Mister Cat still here?" He asked.

"He's growing in the Acacia tree and in our hearts. He'll always be here." He's killing me at this point. The cat sadness, the profound experience, the Japanese cash becoming more and more meaningless in my purse, the reminder that atheists feel deeply and love fully, too, how no one religion is right or wrong, and how we are much more the same than different from those around us no matter how far from home we are.

With hands together and eyes closed he stood there on the stairs, warming his momma's heart to the fullest. I remembered that my Buddhist friend was a vegetarian, just like my son and my family, because some believe that Buddha did not want his followers to kill and eat sentient beings, as do we.

My son is adamant about not eating meat. As he always says, "It may taste good to you, but it's not good for them." I have no clue where he got this sentiment, either. Grandma? Is that you I hear???

Namaste, little boy. We may have a Buddhist on our hands, and we have a lot to learn from him.

After our shopping experience, it was the first time we walked back to the hotel without GPS. Guess who guided the way...

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