August 26, 2010

Buddhist Cafe Culture and "Happiness Classes"

Monks from Mt. Koya (Koyasan), a center of Shingon Buddhism, are coming into Tokyo to offer classes to harried city-dwellers in cafe setting. This immediately made me think of the city centers of American Zen Centers, where one can go during the week before heading out to the mountains for retreats and so on. But here, it's usually the more serious students who do the calligraphy as the women are doing in the photo above.

The purpose of the café, which remains open until Sept. 12, is to promote travel to Koyasan. Last year’s edition, the third, drew about 3,500 visitors in just six days. And organizers — the event is led by the Kongobuji temple and the Nankai Electric Railway Co. that links Osaka to Koyasan — say it’s a particular hit with female office workers in their 30s or 40s stopping by after work, accounting for more than 80% of all visitors.

Interesting. Zen practice as tourist attraction!

Japan, like most "advanced economies" has an amazing rail network. The United States had an amazing rail network a hundred years ago, but more recently the government and taxpayers have proven reluctant to spend money on infrastructure and education, a shortsighted decision that will prove very costly to coming generations. Instead we have manufactured culture wars and arguments about "mosques."

Meanwhile in Belfast, San Francisco Zen Center's Ryushin Paul Haller, a Belfast native, is visiting a local healthcare center (a "health trust") to teach stress-reduction and mindfulness—Happiness Classes:

Mr Haller, originally from Belfast, specialises in teaching the practice of “mindfulness” to help participants deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

The Buddhist monk visited Antrim Area Hospital yesterday.

Earlier this month, Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson slammed the initiative as “an appalling waste of money”.

However, the trust confirmed that Mr Haller was offering the sessions free of charge to local health workers.

Read the whole story here.

Image: Nankai Electric Railway. A monk oversees two women practice calligraphic copying of Buddhist sutras at last year’s Koyasan Cafe event in Tokyo.

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