Matsuri - Japanese Festivals
Most Matsuri today have lost their religious significance and are enjoyed by participants and onlookers more for the fun and excitement they bring. One origin of the word Matsuri is the verb, matsu meaning to wait for, to welcome or to invite God. When one meets God, one`s Higher Self, one needs to be clean so before the festival there are purification ceremonies. The inner meaning of a Matsuri is a ceremony to attract the arrival of the state of Divine Presence, the God within. In order to experience this state of awareness, one needs to clean oneself of the many thoughts and emotions that distract one from focusing one`s attention on the present moment.
On the evening of December 31, Japanese people traditionally visit a Buddhist temple and ring the temple bell one hundred and eight times. It is hoped that with each reverberation the bad experiences, wrong deeds, and ill luck of the past year will be wiped away. Thus, tolling heralds the start of a joyous, fresh New Year.
One can find the number one hundred and eight in all Eastern religions and it refers to the passions. In Buddhism, they speak of the one hundred eight defilements.
In the Chinese novel Journey to the West, the Journey from Chang`An in China, to Vulture Peak in India where the Buddha lives, is also one hundred and eight thousand miles. This implies that if one controls the passions, one can reach a state of prolonged presence, which is symbolized by Amida`s Pure Land. All multiples of nine, such as eighteen, thirty-six, seventy-two, eighty-one and one hundred and eight are used to symbolize the passions.
Japanese people express their good wishes for the New Year by saying Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu. （明けましておめでとうございます）There is only one Japanese character in this phrase (within the first word). This character is a combination of the characters for sun and moon, and refers to the sun and the moon creating brightness. The sun symbolizes Divine presence, while the moon refers to the steward, the part in us that tries to create this state.
The New Year is a symbol of renewal. Before the Meiji Restoration (1873), the Japanese New Year was celebrated according to the Chinese lunar calendar (February 3 for the year 2011). The Chinese New Year goes together with the end of winter and the beginning of spring, symbolizing the end of the state of sleep and the beginning of the state of Divine presence.
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu could be translated as: new life begins ... darkness (sleep) gives way to light (presence). Congratulations! When the passions are under control, prolonged presence can occur.
A Shimenawa is a straw rope used to mark a sacred place and is also used as a New Year`s decoration. One of the meanings of the left character for shimenawa is to concentrate one`s spirit or strength on. The middle character means to connect while the right character means rope. One can translate Shimenawa as a rope to connect one`s attention. By keeping one`s awareness focused on oneself and the present without letting it deviate, one awakens the god within.
Before sunrise on January 1, Japanese people often drive to the coast or climb a mountain so that they can see the first sunrise of the New Year. The first sunrise of the year is called Hatsuhinode and the tradition of viewing it, has been practiced since ancient times and was originally performed at the new year based on the lunar calendar, going together with beginning of spring.
Many Esoteric Traditions use the sun as a symbol for the state of Divine Presence. Examples are Amaterasu from Shinto, Maha-Vairocana (Sanskrit for Great Sun Buddha) in Tibetan and Japanese Esoteric Buddhism and the Egyptian Sun God Ra.
Another festival that also used to occur at the New Year when the Japanese New Year was still celebrated according to the Chinese lunar calendar is Setsubun. Setsubun is celebrated on February 3rd. The most common custom in celebrating Setsubun is the traditional Mame Maki or throwing of beans, to chase away the evil spirits and demons.
Evil spirits and demons symbolize the many I`s, the 'evil' thoughts and emotions that distract one from focusing one`s attention on the present moment. Even if these thoughts and emotions are in itself useful and good from an everyday life point of view, they are evil because they lead us away from Divine presence to the state of psychological sleep. Good thoughts are thoughts that remind us to be present.
Mamemaki is usually performed by the male head of the household who chants Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!, meaning Demons out! Luck in! The beans symbolize reminders to be present. In the state of presence we see the many `I`s or demons, and we just ignore them and not listen to them, so they go out. Good luck refers to the state of presence. There is no greater luck than experiencing this state; when presence is prolonged one can experience true happiness and love.
The male head of the household is a symbol of the ruling faculty or steward in us, which keeps trying to bring us back to the state of presence bycontrolling our internal household, the many `I`s.
Traditionally a wooden measuring cup called fuku masu meaning happiness box is used to carry the beans during the ritual. The box is square and the square is a symbol for the state of prolonged presence.
A Mikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine, which people bear on their shoulders during a Matsuri , a Japanese festival. The practice of carrying a Mikoshi started around the middle of the Heian Era (794 to 1192 A.D.) People did this because they believed that evil spirits were the cause of plagues that were common at that time. In order to get rid of these evil spirits, people began to carry a Mikoshi around the neighborhoods that worship at the shrine. A Mikoshi serves as the vehicle for a Shinto God.
The basic shape of a Mikoshi is a cube with a roof, although there are also other shapes such as rectangles, hexagons, and octagons. The Kaaba is the central shrine of Islam and is also cube-shaped. It already attracted pilgrimages as the most important sanctuary in pre-Muslim Arabia. The name Kaaba means square. For Muslims, the Kaaba is the House of God, where the divine touches the mundane. (It`s original name was Beth-el which means House of God)
A Mikoshi symbolizes the spiritual house where the God within lives, it is the heart that has engaged Divine Presence. The heart doesn`t refer to a physical heart but to the Heart of Heaven.
When the God within is awake in the spiritual house, the many thoughts and emotions going around in our head cannot influence our state anymore and one is awake in the glorious present. This is the inner meaning of carrying around a Mikoshi to get rid of evil spirits who cause a plague. A plague or sickness is a symbol for the state of sleep that we spend most of our life in.
There is usually a phoenix on top of a Mikoshi. The Phoenix is a symbol of rebirth, immortality, and renewal.
A phoenix is a symbol of the state of presence, which is immortal because it is out of time. The phoenix rises out of it`s own ashes after it dies, symbolizing the state of presence rising out of the state of sleep again and again.
Tutanhamun`s canopic shrine symbolizes the same as a Mikoshi and the Kaaba.
The shrine contains four containers with organs of the deceased, which ancient Egyptians believed were required in order to be reborn in the afterlife. The afterlife symbolizes the state of presence, while the mummified body symbolizes the body of spiritual effort to reach this state.
This body is in Mahayana Buddhism called the Sambhogakāya or the reward-body, whereby a bodhisattva, a steward, completes his vows and becomes a Buddha.
The physical body already has a heart, so in this Egyptian quote, the body doesn`t refer to a physical body. It refers to becoming emotional when making a prolonged effort to remember the God within. Egyptians could reach the afterlife, the state of Divine Presence, if the heart was lighter than a feather. This means that by leaving behind all other desires, by not having any other desire than being present, one can reach the state of presence.
Life in the afterlife, was a natural continuation of life in Egypt. The pharaohs remained pharaohs, the Gods were the same, and the workers had to work. They ate, loved, married and worshipped. It was a land very much like one's life on earth save that there were no problems, there was only happiness. This is a very good description of the state of Divine Presence.
Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) takes place on March 3 and celebrates Girls' Day. This is the day families pray for the happiness and prosperity of their girls to ensure that they grow up healthy and beautiful.
Hina Matsuri traces its origins to an ancient Chinese practice, in which the sin of the body and misfortune are transferred to a doll. Sin refers to listening to thoughts that take us away from our efforts to be present.
The straw or paper hina dolls were set afloat on a small boat and sent down a river to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them. This is still practiced in some places in Japan and is called Hina Nagashi Matsuri or Floating Dolls Festival.
The Hina Matsuri festival symbolizes purification of the heart from the dust of the many `I`s. Dust symbolizes the many thoughts and emotions that pollute the mind.
In this image, the Chinese Zen monk Hanshan has a broom to sweep out the heart.
The samurai on the Hina Matsuri display, holding a rake and a broom, symbolize the same idea.
In chapter sixty-four of the Chinese novel Journey to the West, Sanzang and his disciples reach a ridge that is overgrown with brambles and creepers.
This passage symbolizes that the way to the state of presence is blocked with imagination, the random thoughts and emotions going round in our head.
During the festival families set up a Hina doll set and pray for the happiness and prosperity of their girls. They hope that their daughter will grow up healthy and can find a good husband. The inner meaning is the heart (symbolized by the daughter) finding a good steward to create the state of presence. The Emperor and Empress in the Hina doll display also symbolize the mind — the steward — and the heart.
The dolls set afloat during the Floating Dolls Festival are male and female, again symbolizing the steward and the heart.
In this proverb, the parents symbolize the mind and the heart. A child of the mind and the heart, is a reminder to be present, e.g. Be. However, if the child doesn`t look like the parents — meaning that it is not a reminder to be present, but a thought unrelated to being present — it is a child of a demon, a child of the lower self.
In this quote the father relates to the Higher Self, God the father. The higher Self wants to be present and sends an impulse to be present to the heart. This impulse is symbolized as a child. The Hina dolls symbolize Breaths of Life, or breaths taken with self-remembering. Once one has reached a prolonged state of presence and one is separate from the ten-thousand I`s, one doesn`t need to sweep them away anymore. One has reached Amida`s Pure Land and one can simply observe the many I`s, because one`s sense of 'I' is no longer in them. However, as soon as one forgets remembrance, one becomes the many I`s again and one has to start sweeping again.
Heaven is not the wide blue sky, but a heavenly palace born of the body, symbolized by a Mikoshi. In fact, Heaven is the state of Divine presence, which has no shape or form and is only known to the person who experiences it.
Fire festivals occur all around Japan. Fire is a symbol for the awareness of the Higher Self that occurs in the state of Presence. The sun, another symbol for this state, is nothing but a seemingly never-ending fire that gives of the light of awareness.
Fire burns everything that is not pure and transforms it into the light of conscious awareness. This light is the Higher Self.
Without fuel, fire cannot burn.
That which rules within, also called the steward, uses the lower self which opposes presence, as fuel to create a state of awareness in which the Higher Self awakens.
Imagination refers to the many thoughts going round in one`s mind. If one listens to them, one becomes them and the Higher Self disappears and goes back to sleep. If one doesn`t pay attention to them and keeps one awareness on the present moment, in other words, if one prays purely, the Higher Self or the God within, is able to be awake and the lower self is rendered passive, or 'dies' for as long as one can keep up this awareness. This awareness is the fire that consumes the lower self.
If there is nothing left to be burned away, the fire goes out, because there is no more fuel. This is a different way of looking at the symbol of fire, and it is the meaning of Nirvana. Nirvana is extinction, or the blowing out of the fires of the passions, the many`I`s; the blowing out of the lower self. Negative emotions are also symbolized by fire, but not the fire of presence but the fire of hell. Hell refers to the state of sleep, while paradise or heaven refers to the state of Divine presence.