The world has changed dramatically since the beginning of Buddhism but the religion has stayed the same. Most would argue that this is how it has to be and people have to respect tradition. But the truth is, there are fewer and fewer young people interested in religion every year. A monk in Japan called Gyosen Asakura has seen first hand the declining numbers of attendees over the years from his temple alone. He wanted to do something about the fact that more and more young people are shunning religion these days, so he came up with a unique plan, a very modern way to help people see the light.
The story really begins from when he was young. He has grown up all his life at the temple because it’s been in his family’s for hundreds of years. His temple belongs to the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha sect. It was established in 1475 in the Ichijodani district in today’s city of Fukui, and later relocated to its current location. He found it rather boring so after graduating from high school, Asakura got a job in a club in Kyoto, working on the lighting staff on weekdays and as a DJ on weekends, completely immersing himself in the music.
Then, at 24, he realised he missed the temple and returned to Fukui and began working as a Buddhist priest. One of the things that was very important about his experiences at the club was that he realized music and meditation brought about a similar feeling of ecstasy. In 2015, he succeeded his father as the 17th temple master and decided (with the encouragement of his family) to use his skills to promote Buddhism.
“Priests are publicity agents for Buddha. I want to reach out to people in my own way.” – Asakura
Another thing he realized was that lighting plays a significant role in the temple experience. People started to illuminate alters with candles after they saw how the gold leaf shine so beautifully when bathed in light. So if in old times they were using lighting as a way to enhance the brilliance effect and illuminate the experience, why not do the same now but in a modern version of lighting through colorful illuminations?
He told THUMP:
“Originally, golden decorations in the temple are expressions of paradise light. However, the light of a traditional temple has not changed its form from 1000 years ago to use candlelight, even after electricity was invented. I felt doubtful about that, and then I thought about expressing paradise with the latest stage lighting such as 3D mapping.”
So during his ceremony, as he reads the sutras over electronic beats while a projector displays geometric light patterns of various colors inside the temple rooms or over Buddhism statues in ways that glorify it’s splendor. Asakura hopes this creative take will stoke interest in Buddhism and guide people back to the faith.
“I have long thought the rhythm of reading the sutras can be matched with techno music.” -Asakura
Techno Hoyo rituals will be held on May 3 and Oct. 25. Those dates are when the temple holds a “Hoonko” ceremony to commemorate Shinran, who founded the Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Admission to the techno hoyo ritual is free but limited. Only up to 100 visitors can be admitted. He hopes that the rituals will invoke the Buddhist version of paradise in each attendee and serve to strengthen people’s interest in the religion.
Here’s a video of a past service in action: