Chebetken Buddhist Monastery6 min read

While I was teaching at the Waseda University in Tokyo, I received an invitation to visit a monastery called Chebetken. I went there and was received by the Abbot, an old man of deep classical learning and a most kindly heart. I took an interpreter with me.

The monks were Buddhists, mostly Tibetan Lamas, but the Abbot was a Japanese. The monastery was not in a flourishing condition, but the hospitality which was offered to me was impressive.

I was taken to see the cells of the monks. Each was about nine feet long and four feet wide, with no furniture except a mat and a coarse blanket. On one side was a statue of Padma Sambhava, a rosary, incense and a small bottle of dried ginger. The cells were very peaceful. I asked the monk : “ Do you study any Sutra here ? ”

“ No ” he replied, “ in our cells we only meditate and pray, and invite the blessings of the World-Honoured One on every living being.”

“ Can you tell me something about your method of meditation ? ” I asked through my interpreter. “Yes, Sir,” replied the young monk, and he spoke as follows :—

“ First we put aside all earthly thoughts and desires, by saying to them as they appear : ‘You are unreal ; you are a source of pain ; there is no room for you in my heart Then we say to the heart : ‘ You are a seat of the Buddha, do not allow yourself to be defiled, by harbouring worldly desires, affections and aversions ’. Sometimes it takes thirty minutes to quieten the mind, sometimes less. Then we meditate on compassion. We recall the acts of mercy of our Lord. We imagine that clouds of compassion cover the earth. We say to ourselves :  ‘ I am compassion, nothing but compassion’

The second subject for meditation is wisdom—that is enlightenment, called Nirvana. By Nirvana we mean that spiritual light which is implicit in the heart, and which, when made manifest, dispels the darkness of passions and prejudices. It is a state of consciousness, serene like a cloudless blue sky, flooded with the light of the sun.

The third subject for our meditation is Anata—“ I am not ; there is no abiding self ”. In this state the mind loses itself and all consciousness disappears. It is not a condition of sleep or day-dreaming.

“ The final subject for our meditation is : ‘All are freed from ignorance ’. We imagine a mountain of fire ; all darkness has disappeared, perfect friendliness prevails among beings. Then we prostrate ourselves before our Guru, in imagination.”

We were sitting in the little cell at the time of this conversation. Peace filled the atmosphere. I said : “My friend, you are young ; how do you ward off the attacks of passions ?”

He replied : “They become less frequent as we meditate deeply. If they arise, we stand up, walk up and down repeating our mantram. Sometimes our repetition becomes very fast. We do not think of the passions as real, they are phantoms of our past karma which assume mental forms. We are not afraid of them.”

After about three-quarters of an hour, having visited the main temple in which there were many images of Tantric origin, I came to the main Hall, which was called “ The Pavilion of Enlightenment ”. Some thirty monks were there. I offered them salutations, and they responded. I sat down, the bells rang, and a Sutra in the Tibetan language was recited. I learnt it was the “ Guru-Sutra ”, which was a form of welcome to the Abbot.

The old figure, rather heavy and feeble, appeared from behind a blue curtain. All bowed to him in silence. He blessed them and then spoke in Japanese : “ May the compassion of Shakyamuni ever embrace you ”. Holy water was sprinkled on the Abbot by two old monks.

He introduced me to the Assembly with suitable words. Then he said : “ We worship learning and wisdom. From whatever quarter they come, we welcome them. Our guest is not a Buddhist, but a Brahmin Pundit. We will hear from him our Prajnaparmita…..

They all offered”salutations, and I responded. I spoke through my interpreter. A Japanese monk gave the substance of my talk in Tibetan language. They were most appreciative, and gave me a silent, reverent hearing. After the meeting the Abbot invited me to his private cell and offered me a simple meal of macaroni, rice, pickled radishes and spinach fried in vegetable oil.

It was a most pleasant time. The old monk related many incidents of his early life. He had devoted five years of his youth to pilgrimages, and ten years to the service of the Guru, under whom he studied. This Guru had been a Tibetan. After the meal the Abbot presented me with a small bundle which, according to the Japanese custom, I did not open then.

A bell rang ; all the monks re-appeared and stood in two files. As I passed they recited Tibetan Sutras, and as I was about to go through the main gate, a monk presented me with a brass image of Padama Sambha, saying in Japanese : “ This is a little token of the reverence of the Ashramins of this monastery”,

I walked out with a feeling of great peace. I saw thousands of men and women running in the street. I asked the cause of this commotion and was told that the Crown Prince was expected to review troops, and that the crowd had come to see him.

What a contrast ! On the one side I had seen peace, pursuit of wisdom, annihilation of all worldly desires, the light of compassion and a fraternity in which the guiding principle was mutual love and a deep common devotion to the ideal of enlightenment. On the other I saw a procession of guns, cavalry, soldiers with drawn swords, a high and mighty prince riding a white charger, and the people madly shouting : “ Banzai ! ”

I said to myself: “ Whither goeth humanity ? Is military glory the goal of life ? In order to live, must Japan conquer the world ? Why this mass hysteria of military worship ? Life can be lived in a very simple way.

Is it not better to live a noble compassionate pure existence, devoted to the higher spiritual pursuits, than to be the slaves of guns, shells, love of pillage and the fever of conquest ? ”

I began to reflect seriously whether people could be educated in the science of peace, and taught to devote their energies to the creation of forms of beauty and of art. Could they not follow the great Shotoku Taishi, who filled Japan with schools and colleges, art and learning, and who, although a mighty regent of the Empire, lived as a renunciate ?

Material riches encumber the soul. The true riches are adoration, compassion, wisdom, self-conquest, and love of that Whole of which we are tiny fragments.

I returned to my hotel and passed the afternoon in deep thought