Disaster victims haunted by ghosts

03/12/2012
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For many survivors of the disaster, Buddhist priests help to lay the ghosts of the past

Buddhist priest Kobo Inoue


TOKYO (majirox news) — For many who lived through last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the horror lives on – in the form of the ghosts of those who died. More than 15,000 victims perished in the disaster, but the bodies of 3,700 additional victims are still missing.

Some survivors claim to have seen and heard the ghosts of their absent relatives and friends, who implore the living to allow the spirits to rest by finding the bodies and giving them a proper funeral.

An elderly man in Miyagi prefecture in the Tohoku region told a priest that he saw a clear image and heard strange sounds of someone walking on the surface of the ocean. A woman staying in temporary housing said a ghost visited her on the grounds. “I believe something happened here,” she said.

As might be expected, there is no government organization whose duty it is to comfort and counsel those who claim to have been contacted from beyond the grave. Nor are those who are experiencing such visions keen to confide in their families, and so religious groups are stepping into the breach to provide support for these people.

Buddhist priest Kobo Inoue, who acts as secretary general of the Young Buddhist Association of the Pure Land School, says that seeing ghosts is a natural thing for those who have suffered intense trauma, such as that of the March 11 disaster.

“Visions after facing death are more common than people think, and cut across nationalities, religions and cultures,” he said. “I don’t know if they are really ghosts or not, but I don’t deny that they have seen some things that they call ghosts,” he said.

He added that these people are not hallucinating, and are aware of their surroundings while they see these things. He cites stories in literature and historical biographies of such visions seen by those who have faced death or who were on their deathbed.

The chanting of Buddhist sutras seems to help to ease the pain and grief, he says, and many survivors feel a sense of relief after they have chanted alongside the priest.

It is impossible for Inoue to forget what he saw up in Tohoku. “I cannot get my mind in order. After I went to the disaster area in Miyagi, I saw cars covered in dirt and dust, darkened stores, Self-Defense Forces helicopters flying around me, and the shocked residents everywhere.”

He added that many of those suffering cried, and they gained some hope when they saw the Buddhist priests who had come to help them.

Other priests take different views of the phenomena. Tokyo priest Ryonosuke Fukumoto emphasizes the “realistic” teachings of Buddhism.

“I do not believe in any superstitious things such as ghosts,” he said. “The reason why one sees such things is that one’s mind is confused as a result of fear and worry. In my experience, such a troubled mental state has always brought me bad results.” For example, Fukumoto said he made a trivial mistake in his work, which he would never have made in his usual mental state.

He believes that Buddhist teachings help calm our emotional agitation, and see the truth – the reality, restating his believe that “ghosts” or “voices” are a reflection of one’s mental and emotional states.

Although the communities flattened and destroyed by the earthquake are slowly being rebuilt, rebuilding the spirits of the residents and healing the scars caused by their losses will take longer, and this is an area where religion provides comfort and helps to lay the ghosts of the past – whatever they may be – to rest.

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