By Naoyuki Ogi
If you’re looking for a building with Buddhist alters in Tokyo, you won’t find it at Higanji’s Temple’s Web site.
The temple is connected to today’s world and social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube and FaceBook.
“Our temple’s online presence in English and Japanese offers something for everyone regardless of their religious beliefs, background or age,” said 32-year-old Matsumoto. “This is the first Buddhist site that I know of that offers something for people to weigh in their mind or get spiritual help online.”
The temple has a counseling service in which Buddhists priests advise people on ways to solve their problems or listen to them. He says it is important for Buddhist priests to find the cause of people’s problems and help work out a solution for them.
At any time of the day, people can click on the temple’s site.
Matsumoto got the idea after he started writing a blog in 2003. Few people in Japan were blogging then.
“I was probably the first person to start a blog as a Buddhist priest,” he said. “I began it because I wanted to help people who wished to be a priest. At that time, there were no handbooks around that explained how to go about becoming one.”
Through his blog, he came to know many Buddhist priests and expanded the project to spread the teachings of Buddha. The blog developed as a new way of introducing Buddha’s teachings and eventually evolved in the Temple’s site, where everyone is welcome as it's non-sectarian.
However, some people criticize the site because they believe that the teachings of Buddha should pass down directly through people and not technology. They disagree with the notion of an online temple. A temple is a building where people visit, and the online temple goes against this tradition. In addition, many older priests do not know how to use a computer, much less understand the Internet.
According to Buddhist priest Masanori Yamamura, 52, some older priests appreciate the online temple because younger people have adapted Buddhism to fit today’s lifestyle.
“In a sense, the online temple was created by the younger priests for younger people,” he said.
The online temple was so successful that Matsumoto recently opened a cafe within the grounds of Kamiyoji Temple where his is also a priest. Business people, couples, and students sit overlooking the grounds while listening to the Dharma (teaching of Buddha). The drinks and sweets are free; however, they have to bow to the Buddhist altar.
Again, everyone is welcome at the cafe. Matsumoto says that Buddhist temples are too strict and only allow their own circle of members to join their temples.
“I insisted that our cafe be always open to anyone regardless of religious persuasion, age, or background,” Matsumoto said. “I want it to be a place where people can meet, discuss, and share ideas with each other. Since this cafe is connected to the temple, some people even come here to meet and talk to the Buddhists priests.”