Over the course of our visits to the different temples in Kyoto, we had the opportunity to see a lot of people both worshiping at the temples as well as monks and nuns who work full-time at these sites. I kept thinking, “I’m so sorry for you!” particularly whenever I saw the monks about their work. The thought hit me that they have chosen to devote their lives to the worship of an idol. “Did no one ever tell you about the real God? I’m so sorry!”
The Bible speaks many times of idols as “worthless” and it also speaks of those who worship them as becoming “worthless themselves.” Our worth is tied in only through our relationship with the true and living God.
At the “Chion’in” temple, we viewed 16 monks ringing the annual new year’s bell. We were told that perhaps it is to purge the sins of those who hear the bell tolling. Perhaps it is to round up the spirits who have died within the past year. (Our source wasn’t sure…) Here is a video Mike took of the big event:
” In him [the living God] we live and move and have our being.” Listening to the bell tolling I realized that it is with the breath and muscular strength & impulses from the one true God that those 16 monks rang the 108 bell calls. This true God sustains them while they persist in avoiding him with every fiber of their being. He made them .
On our last day in Kyoto, viewed the 1001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, at “Sanjyuusangendou” temple. At first, I was pretty amazed by the statues — how impressive they were in their vast, uniform array. Crafted by many different artisans over a period of a couple hundred years, they were collected into a single worship site at this temple. We discovered as we walked through the temple, that those who wish can offer money to the goddess, burn candles as a sacrifice, or purchase a slat of wood on which to write a prayer. The temple staff then burns your slat before the dieties for you, assuring that your prayer will be heard. Below is a picture of a portion of the display:
It took us about 20 minutes to walk the length of the entire display area. The further we walked along, the more I had a sense that the collection of statues represented an army of darkness , marching rank by rank to steal the souls of men. Mike perceptively noted cobwebs clinging to the back of one of the idols. It could not clean itself. It is no more able to act than someone who is completely comatose, and the idol does not even have the breath of life in it!
It was good to be able to take time to think about the spiritual realities behind the sites we were seeing while in Kyoto. I found it was easy to get swept away in the novelty of just “being a tourist” and taking in all the history and culture, without being conscious of what it all truly signified. I’m grateful for those little glimpses of reality along the way.