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 its 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.”
The cafe and online site is an effort to bring people to Buddhism. The priest says it is crucial in the process of promoting Buddhism. He hopes the online temple and site will draw people back to Buddhism in Japan, where Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s statistics show that the religion lost 6 million followers between 2005 and 2009.
“The priests should also understand that the promotion of Buddhism is based on deeds of the Buddhist priest in their daily lives and forming relationships with people,” he said.
He noted that people may be selfish and think of their own individual fulfillment to feel relief.
“But without individual change, there is no societal change,” he said.
He also aims to help people become less selfish, less competitive for social status, and less attached to money through his online temple and cafe.
“I also recommend doing something that will bring a smile to someone,” he said. “What do you feel when you see a smile? You feel pleasure and pleased and a sense of relief.”
Link to the Higanji Temple Web site is http://english.higan.net/