Love in the Time of Morita

Just three days after the serenity of Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya (Bihar) was torn to shreds as serial bomb blasts hit the site, the Nipponzan Myohoji temple, the historic Buddhist temple in Mumbai, diagonally opposite the Podar Hospital in Worli, still has a cloak of tranquility thrown over it like a protective shawl.

Fight Hinsa with Ahinsa: Bhikshu Morita lets a golden silence envelop him at the temple in Worli. Pics/Madeeha Attati

The temple’s light brown stone exterior has dark brown patches thanks to an intermittent drizzle resulting in several wet smears. Cool, white marble steps and interiors seem to beckon the weary, for soul searching and solace.

One may not have noticed it earlier, but now, an absence of security guards here, seems particularly conspicuous given that the temple complex in Bihar was targeted so recently. “I have not asked for any extra security,” says Bhikshu T Morita, chief priest of the temple, eventually emerging from his office tucked away at the back of the temple. “If there is any problem, the police (he indicates the direction of the Worli police station with a shake of his head) I believe, will respond, adequately.”

Tree’s company and there’s no crowd: The Banyan contributes to the solace the Mumbai temple offers   

Bhikshu Morita, who still looks spry, despite his years, (he would not say how old he is) has seen violence on an upward trajectory since he left Hokkaido Island (Japan) and arrived in India in 1976. He said that, “We have been following the news ever since Sunday July 7, morning. In fact, on Sunday, after news spread about the blasts, there was a huge crowd here at this temple. Many were followers and most of them were worried about what we are supposed to do. I sent a message of calm in the evening prayer that day.”

Hurt: An injured Buddhist monk arrives at Gaya Anugrah Narayan Magadh Medical College, following the blasts

According to Bhikshu Morita, “It is always hurtful when a place and its people are made terror targets, yet, when a place of peace and enlightenment is targetted it is doubly so. After all, that temple is a symbol of peace. Enter it and you will feel the vibrations in the atmosphere itself are different.

I have seen this country rocked by violence, especially in recent years. In fact, when there were riots in the city, following the Babri Masjid demolition and subsequent serial bomb blasts (1992-93), we too had got some direct threat calls. There was a threat letter sent to this place all those years ago. I was in the public eye too, as I had participated in a peace march years earlier, with the late Sunil Dutt. Yet, I would say that right now, because a place where humanity is given importance and put above aIl, has been attacked, I feel even more pain. Currently, I have to question where this world is heading.”

Treatment: An injured Buddhist monk receives medical treatment. Multiple small bomb blasts hit the historic Bodh Gaya Buddhist temple complex on Sunday, July 7 morning

Bhikshu Morita rewinds to memories of his visits to the Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, “A group of us go there every October. When I heard the news, my first thoughts were with the injured and I prayed that nobody was dead. Then, sadness engulfed me as I thought of that familiar place splattered with blood. It was so often a sea of marigold orange or saffron more precisely, as monks from all over gathered there for conventions and meetings. I thought of the tree, where we go to do darshan, underneath which Buddha himself sat to gain enlightenment.”

Protect: Armed Indian security personnel (background) stand guard as Buddhist monks walk past in prayer at the Mahabodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya. The historic site is a premier destination for Buddhists all over the world. Pic/AFP 

Bhikshu Morita speaks in Hindi, sometimes straining to make himself understood as he stresses, “There was anger here on Sunday evening, as followers asked me: what should we do? How do we respond? I told them and I say to all the others who were not there that day, do not retaliate because you do not know who is responsible.

Sloganeering: Activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) hold up banners, during a protest in Ahmedabad on July 8, 2013, in reaction to the July 7 bombings of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya

Even if you do, you cannot retaliate through violence. That is not the way or the ‘do’,” explains Bhikshu Morita sounding very Japanese. The Japanese stress on ‘do’ which literally translates as ‘the way’. That is why Japanese have ‘do’ affixed to martial arts.

Discovery Bihar: Bomb disposal personnel recover an unexploded bomb from the great statue of Lord Buddha following low-intensity serial blasts at the Bodh Gaya Buddhist temple complex

For instance, karate is ‘karate do’ in Japan. ‘Kara’ means empty, ‘te’ means hand and ‘do’ means the way. Put together it translates to: ‘The way of the empty hand’. There is nothing martial though about Bhikshu Morita’s response. “I have appealed to all, not to spread the hatred.” Yet, that response does not spell submission or docility. “I am following some news about one person being detained for questioning for the attacks.

Though, revenge is not the response, law has to take its course and the attackers have to pay for what they have done. After all, two monks have been injured, so it is important that the attackers learn a lesson and be brought to justice.”

Scrutiny: A policeman looks at debris left after several low intensity explosions took place at the Bodh Gaya Buddhist temple

The sprightly monk agrees that the issue is highly politicised right now; it is not just a matter of faith. Tensions are ratcheting up between Islamists and Buddhists in pockets of the world. “There is Myanmar (Burma) of course, there are problems in Thailand, in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, one can feel the hatred simmering and the embers of those different conflicts have started to scorch people everywhere,” he says.

Revealing a bit of the philosopher in him, he sees a pattern in the abyss we seem to be freefalling into, “It is ironic that the pull of all religions which basically teach love, tolerance, acceptance and unity is growing but simultaneously darkness seems to engulf us.

I returned from a family visit to Japan this year and while there are Buddhist followers there, there is a great tidal wave (a tsunami) of materialism pulling people away from the spiritual path. Here, we see people-manufactured-terror like what has happened at Bodh Gaya and we also see nature’s wrath, look at Uttarakhand.

Then, take into account the corruption eroding everything today. We are moving towards destruction and narak (hell). For redemption, there needs to be a spirit of sacrifice in everybody today.”

Bhikshu Morita’s grim words are tempered somehow, like sunlight piercing through grey rain clouds gathering over the temple. He smiles as he says, “I may sound very pessimistic but I also want to point out one vital fact -- most reports state there were 10 blasts. The furniture was damaged but isn’t it something that no statue was damaged? Nothing inside the sanctum sanctorum was destroyed? I believe there was a higher power there, that could not be touched.”

Today, Bhikshu Morita believes everywhere the world needs such a power to quell the rising tide of violence. A spirit of sacrifice, he says, “Would make each person look inside him or herself and realise that this very power is within them.”

Meanwhile, latest news reports from Bodh Gaya state that there are a number of meetings being held to discuss better implementation of security at the site. Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Tibet monastery heads are said to have participated.

Back to Mumbai, this Worli temple is preparing for evening prayers. A number of visitors walk in looking on curiously as this press photographer readies to take pictures of Bhikshu Morita.

One of them nudges another and whispers, “I think this is the press. They are here because of the recent blasts.” The photography session ends and as reporter-photographer exit, Buddhist chanting struggles valiantly to hold its own against the roar of traffic outside.

The monk (not Bhikshu T Morita) may have sold his Ferrari, but Mumbai still has its Balenos, BMWs and BEST buses.

About the Temple
The temple was built in 1956. It is funded by the Birla Trust, and dedicated to the Japan Buddha Vihara Temple Trust. The main marble statue was crafted in Kazakhstan.

Where is it?
Dr Annie Besant Road, opposite Podar Hospital, close to City Bakery, Worli Naka.
Timings: 6 am to 12 noon, 3.30 pm to 8 pm 

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