Raving At "Pure Land", Japan's Sacred Techno-Buddhist Grounds
At an age where the youth seems to be losing touch with traditional forms of worship, a DJ-turned-Buddhist priest would rise to the challenge by incorporating rave culture in his services.
In 2017, Gyōsen Asakura, the master of the temple at Sho-onji in Fukui City, Japan, fused psychedelic lights and techno beats into his Buddhist ceremonies. They may have appeared like a warehouse rave, but these ceremonies were still religious at their very core.
If anything, the techno-celebrations were an imaginative interpretation of Buddhism’s concept of heaven: “Pure Land,” as it’s called.
Gyōsen Asakura by Caters News (Source)
“I happen to be a massive music fan,” said Asakura, who was a DJ in his twenties before he became a priest. “I think, maybe, I can use beautiful music to introduce the Buddhist ‘Pure Land’ to the public.”
Some have called Asakura’s methods “unorthodox,” but he remained undeterred. “Priests are publicity agents for Buddha,” he said in an article by The Jakarta Post. “I want to reach out to people in my own way.”
Mixing Techno with Faith
Asakura has already shown great interest in the arts far before his priesthood. After finishing high school, he worked in a club in Kyoto where he was both a part of the lighting staff and a DJ. But as passionate as he was, he could not ignore the call of his faith — which he eventually heeded dutifully.
At twenty-four years old, Asakura returned to Fukui City and devoted himself to a life of priesthood. And in time, he would succeed his father as the 17th temple master in the town.
Unfortunately, the number of visitors — especially young ones — of the temple was steadily declining. Asakura began to think of solutions to remedy the issue.
Observing the light projectors as he reads the sutras, he came up with a novel idea: why not use his music and light skills to bring life to the solemn walls of the temple?
“I have long thought the rhythm of reading the sutras can be matched with techno music,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Recreating ‘Pure Land’ Through Lights and Music
In Buddhism, the Pure Land is a heavenly realm characterized as “a world of light.” The buddha Amithaba, whose name means “Infinite Light,” ruled this domain after reaching enlightenment himself.
As the story goes, Amithaba was once an earthly king who gave up his throne to pursue an ideal life — one that is free from suffering. He then became a monk called Dharmakara and declared his spiritual resolutions in 48 vows.
He eventually became a fully enlightened being and established Sukhavati: the Pure Land. Amithaba promised his followers the same fate of residing in these heavens, as long as they practiced their belief with conviction and sincerity.
And since Pure Land was a heaven filled with light, Asakura believed that modern technology could help believers visualize it in a more tangible way.
Photo by Ellie Duncombe (Source)
“In the old days when electricity didn’t exist, people tried to recreate [the] atmosphere by lacing sculptures with gold leaf to reflect candlelight,” he said. At the time, this was technology at its peak. But this is no longer the case, of course.
“What I want to do with this project is use lightning and contemporary technology in order to make it possible to get a more accurate image of what Lord Buddha’s world looks like,” said Asakura.
‘Magic, Cosmic, Amazing’
Despite facing criticisms for his approach to faith, Asakura says that he “was happy to have gotten a response at all.”
He knew that not everyone would be welcoming to his unconventional celebrations. “Those who are against the idea say that Buddhist services have to be serious and quiet,” he said in the BBC Trending video. However, on the other hand: “[Those] who support the service think it makes them feel closer to the Buddhist Pure Land.”
And that’s Asakura’s goal in these projects — to bring back a culture of worship that’s interactive and alive. “I wanted to show the younger generation that temples are open to all kinds of people,” he said.
People of all ages — and all religions — are flocking to a YouTube video of Asakura’s services back in 2016. The section is filled mostly with optimistic and excited spectators, who praise Asakura’s work for its innovation. Among the adjectives people had written were: “magic, cosmic, and amazing.” Many also noticed how the sutras were embedded in the musical pieces.
“This is the true beauty of music and spiritualism,” a user had commented. Another had written: “I love your techno temple. I feel very close to God. It synchronizes with my mind perfectly.”
Photo by Caters News (Source)
So are Asakura’s efforts considered a faux pas in the community? It’s a your-mileage-may-vary situation. But a fact remains here: more people have begun to participate in a celebratory religious culture that seemed to be on the brink of stagnation. And that, of course, is something to celebrate.
“In an era lacking faith, I am hoping that, with effort and ideas from us priests, we can keep passing on Buddha’s wisdom from 2,500 years ago, for thousands and thousands of years,” said Asakura.