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Monk offers a taste of religion to young minds

by Takeshi Nishide

Kyodo

Gashin Tomomitsu, a 30-year-old Buddhist monk, has organized unique spiritual and cultural events over the past four years, attracting young people who would otherwise have little religious interaction in their daily lives.

Offering a chance to experience chanting, flower arrangement, sutra copying and other traditional pursuits, the latest event drew about 2,000 people in April.

That was up from 70 for the first event held in September 2011, and roughly 70 percent of the participants were in their 20s and 30s.

“Including monks, all of the 230 or so staff at the event worked on a voluntary basis,” said an assistant priest at Jogyoji, a temple of the Tendai sect in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward.

Tomomitsu named the event Kogen, using the kanji meaning “heading” and “origin,” hoping it would serve as a starting point for people striving toward an important goal in their lives.

With stalls serving Kyoto cuisine and other foods, the fourth Kogen event was held at Zojoji, the main temple of the Jodo sect, in Minato Ward.

Believing that experience is important, Tomomitsu has held several workshops and sessions, including one that allows people to experience the process of getting sick and dying, and another that let people practice Buddhist meditation and invocation.

But a particularly long line formed in front of an area in the temple where participants could discuss their problems with the monks.

“Many people told me that they came to the event because they wanted to talk to monks,” Tomomitsu said. “What surprised me was that many of them were troubled by such serious problems as domestic violence and suicidal feelings.

“I can say my efforts paid off all the more because our role is to listen to their problems,” the Tokyo native said.

Tomomitsu was not born in a family of priests, but became a monk while dating the daughter of a priest at Jogyoji. He later married her.

While learning about Buddhism, he came to realize that “Buddhism helps widen my perspectives and break the stalemate.”

Tomomitsu boasts a wide network of connections beyond Buddhism, including Shinto priests and people involved in traditional cultural pursuits.

He said he is pursuing “Buddhism for living people.”