Picture Serendipity

Last April, a fellow in Singapore named Clement, who was making a documentary film about the life of the Japanese Buddhist priest, Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), came across my posts about the temples Sainen-ji and Daikaku-ji here in Ibaraki Prefecture where Shinran spent a great deal of time and wrote his most important work. See "In the Footsteps of Gutoku - the Foolish Baldheaded One" and "Change of Heart".

Clement asked if he could use some of the pictures for the film and also if I had any pictures of Zenko-ji temple in Nagano where Shinran also lived for a while. Of course, I said yes he could, and yes, I did have pictures of Zenko-ji which I took when K and I visited that temple in 2003. But as the pictures of Sainen-ji and Daikaku-ji were taken in winter and with my old camera to boot, I offered to retake them in the beautiful month of May with my newer Canon camera. So, K drove us up there again and I photographed the temples with more greenery.

A beautiful May day near Daikaku-ji.
Click picture to see the larger image. Zoom in and note the person walking along the paddy, a small truck and the wind turbine on the mountain.

Some of my pictures were utilized in the documentary which has been translated into other languages for Jodo Shinshu audiences in Australia and other countries in southeast Asia.

Main gate of Sainen-ji

Then, last November, I was contacted by the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts and was asked if they could use some of my pictures from Sainenji in an article for their magazine 'Insight Journal'. Again, I agreed, but offered the more recent pictures which I had taken for the film. They then told me that the article was being written by Dr. Taitetsu Unno and his son Mark Unno. Now, that really got my attention!

I have heard Dr. Unno speak a few times in Hawaii, asked him (ignorant) questions over lunch, and also attended a seminar on the island of Lanai in October of 1987 (pilot's logs are good for looking up dates) for which he was the featured speaker. I even have some of his books.

Dr. Unno is the Jill Ker Conway Professor Emeritus of Religion at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. A priest ordained in the Shin Buddhist tradition, he is the author of Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold, Tannisho: A Shin Buddhist Classic, and River of Fire, River of Water. He is considered by many to be the foremost authority in America on the subject of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism.

Mark Unno is currently Associate Professor of East Asian Religions at the University of Oregon. He specializes in medieval Japanese Buddhist thought and the philosophy of religion. He is the author of Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light, and the editor of Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures. He is also an ordained priest in the Shin Buddhist tradition.

(above mentioned books available from Amazon and other booksellers)

Dr. Taitetsu "Tai" Unno on Lanai, October 1987.

I am very privileged to have my pictures used in an article by these two. How wonderful that an inquiry from someone in Massachusetts to me in Japan should turn out to involve an article being written by someone I knew when I lived in Hawaii. Small world department. Anyway, if you are interested, you can read the article (and see my three photos) by downloading it as a PDF file from Insight Journal, Volume 31: Winter 2009 from the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. The article is titled "Shin Buddhism".

But this story doesn't end there. One of the pictures (Lotus pond at Zenko-ji Temple) that I sent in for the documentary about Shinran Shonin, is now on the cover of a new book - Liturgy for Birth, Ojoraisan - Compiled by Monk Shan-tao (613–81) and translated from Chinese to English by Zuio Hisao Inagaki, an eminent reverend and professor with the Horai Association at Ryukoku University in Kyoto. The Horai Association was founded by his father to spread Shin Buddhist teachings in Australia. The book is available by mail from Singapore by contacting stanton_tan (at) hotmail.com .

Lotus at Zenko-ji Temple, Nagano

Are my pictures worthy of such heady company? Not really. I think it is more a matter of the fact that there are not so many people who take pictures of Sainen-ji, Daikaku-ji or Zenko-ji and post them on the internet, especially in an English language blog. Regardless, I am very happy that they have attracted some attention and found a greater purpose, and that I was able to contribute in some small way to help spread the Buddha Dharma.

"The more ice is bathed in the light of compassion,
the more it becomes the flowing water of reality."

~ Shinran Shonin

Namu Amida Butsu.


Mick's Page. said...

Hi Pacific Islander.
Very many congratulation for getting your photographs published especially as they asked you instead of you submitting your work. - Well done.

No one knows better then me how satisfying it is to see one of your photograph[s] published in a magazine or used in a book. Most of my photography was geared for financial reward however I could wall paper my lounge wall with the rejection slips I got.

Money aside it gave me immense pleasure and satisfaction to see my name in print and being give the credits for the photograph when any ever any of them got published .

Once again - Well done - Mick

Hypatia said...

Wow! You're famouser than famous! ;^)

But that is neat, and fun to share your pictures with a wider audience.

Strangely one of Snabby's most visited post is one on Marriage..and which has a picture of Jan Van Eyck's "The Anolfini Wedding"-weird.

Word verification-gyril
A kind of girl...but in the Medusa kind of way!

Don Snabulus said...

I think that is wonderful. A bit of posterity which is well deserved.

I've always been impressed by your photographs. They tell the story and are always well composed.

Now I am off to check the links!

Pandabonium said...

Mick - thanks for visiting. Hope all is well with you in the UK.

Hypatia - Infamous perhaps. But yeah, it's fun have some pictures out there. gyril? Is that a female gerbil?

Snabby - thanks. good subject matter always makes it easier....

HappySurfer said...

PandaB, I couldn't agree more with Hypatia, you are famouser than famous. Well done!

Martin J Frid said...

I wonder how people in Europe and North America regard Buddhism these days. You photos are a case in point. The Lotus flower (not familiar to most people in the "West" yet a huge point of reference if you want to understand Asian philosophy.

The parable is straight-forward: a huge, lovely lotus flower emerges from mud. Yet, we have no similar image do we.

I also wonder how photos of wooden temples (that I also love) make any sense at all to people who are used to thinking of churches built in stone, with the remarkable (free-masonic?) arcitecture of European cathedrals, like Notre Dame ("Our Lady" - peculiar name)...

Pandabonium said...

HappySurfer - nah, just little fish in a big pond...

Martin - good questions. My impressions... I could be wrong, many people often tell me so. ;^)

I can't address the European view, other than to point to the gulf between Western and Eastern thinking at the roots, but I'll try the American one.

There are only a few million Buddhists in the US, most of Asian decent. In Hawaii and some communities on the West Coast of North America, Japanese immigrants brought Buddhism with them and there are temples and events which make people in those communities at least tangentally aware of it. Most Americans though have only a passing awareness through the Zen and Shin outreach efforts of D T Suzuki a century ago, and more recently Tibetan Buddhism made visible by the (CIA asset) Dalai Lhama. So most Americans think of Zen or Tibet in connection with Buddhism.

As for wooden temples and cultural symbols such as the lotus, I don't think it registers at all. The USA does not have a long cultural history of its own and its brief existence has revolved around the conquest of the land, native peoples, and resources. A Colt 44 revolver has perhaps the deep cultural icon for them, instead of the lotus blossom. The American sage is the cowboy. And of course, the central object of worship in the 20th Century - the automobile.

The emptiness of consumerism has however in recent years led some people to look into Eastern religions in a search for a more meaningful life.

Robin said...

Clement?? do I know him?

haha, fame is not important for someone as wise as you, sir.

Pandabonium said...

Robin - that would be amazing if you did know him. The email address should be a clue.

Maybe not so wise, but enough to know that fame, as all else, is impermanent and not something to crave.