Honestly, I was a little nervous about it. I wasn't sure what to expect. I haven't exactly spent a lot of time in Japanese temples or conversing with Buddhist priests and monks. I didn't even know what door to knock on or where to enter! But I immediately felt better when the priest greeted us at the door and ushered us in. He showed us to a small seating area and poured us some green tea. He asked about how long we'd been living in Japan, what we thought of it, and then we jumped right in asking him all sorts of questions about himself and Buddhism.
I could have stayed for hours! I took introductory classes on Buddhism and other world religions in college, but his explanations of Buddhism were so interesting because of the intersection of Buddhism with Japanese Shintoism and Japanese culture. It was a lot more informative than any class I had taken! And the priest was so welcoming, friendly, and conversational. He was very easy to talk to and seemed eager to help us learn more about his religion and culture.
Listening to his views about Buddhism and other world religions was extremely refreshing. He emphasized the importance of acceptance in Buddhism. Not just acceptance of other Buddhists, but acceptance and respect of all other religious beliefs. He said that there have often been visitors to his temple that are of another religious tradition and they are always welcomed and even invited to use the sacred space for their own spiritual needs. When Muslims came to visit and it was time for them to pray (Muslims pray 5 times a day), they were invited to use the Buddha hall for their own prayers. "It does not bother us at all," he said. "They are welcome and accepted here."
And when we asked about the concept of evangelizing, he seemed a bit confused by our question at first. I explained to him that most Christians feel it is their duty to convert the world to Christianity and with a puzzled look on his face, he asked, "Why do they believe everyone must also be Christian?" He explained that in Buddhism, there is no belief that everyone in the world must follow the Buddhist path. (Check out my friend's blog for more about this conversation!) There are many paths to the same destination. Buddhists call it "enlightenment." Christians call it "salvation." Both want to live as better human beings - as Christ or Buddha. How refreshing.
The priest told us to come back anytime, to bring our children to visit, and he invited us to bring friends if we'd like to learn more about zazen or have another zazen session. There was no feeling of being asked to come back because he wanted us to convert to Buddhism, but simply an openness to help us learn more about the world and Japanese culture. I will definitely be going back and hope to have many more conversations with him. I feel so blessed to live this life and have these opportunities!
"If everyone thought about all the ways
In which all the different religions are the same,
Maybe people wouldn't have so many fights,
About all the different answers to the question,
'What is God?'"
- "What is God?" by Etan Boritzer (a children's book)