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Barbara O'Brien

West Meets East

By September 6, 2009

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Begging in Times square

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The photograph, taken in October 2007, shows Buddhist monks practicing takuhatsu in Times Square, New York City. Takuhatsu is alms begging; "request" (taku) "with eating bowls" (hatsu). I'm not sure what school of Buddhism the monks represent, but I've seen sashes like that in photos of Shingon priests. (Shingon is an esoteric school that's something like Japanese vajrayana.) [Update: Reader Jeff tells us in comments that the takuhatsu crew is Jodo Shinshu.]

Knowing New Yorkers, I suspect the irritation you see on the face of the man in the rumpled suit has nothing to do with the monks' foreignness or Buddhist-ness. It's more likely he's irritated because the monks are blocking pedestrian traffic flow. (Hey! I'm walkin' here!)

Comments
September 6, 2009 at 4:34 pm
(1) Jeff says:

They are Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, members of the New York Buddhist Church. Technically, none of them are monks: the one in front who you see is a married Buddhist priest, while the others behind him are laypeople. The sashes are common to every type of Buddhism in Japan, but the specific denomination can be discerned by the crest (symbol) on them–in this case, the double wisteria of the Jodo Shinshu Honganji-ha denomination.

September 6, 2009 at 8:06 pm
(2) Jack Daw says:

Very cool picture. I can’t imagine New Yorkers being too phased by anything.

@Jeff – I didn’t realize that Jodo Shinshu practitioners participated in Takuhatsu.

September 6, 2009 at 8:20 pm
(3) Jeff says:

As a matter of fact, they don’t usually do so, Jack. This practice is rare throughout Japan, being mainly an occasional ritual rather than a normal way of gaining alms and bestowing merit. I seem to recall that this particular temple did it as a way of raising awareness of Buddhism’s presence in NYC, and to give its members an experience of a different sort of Buddhist practice than they usually engage in. But my memory may be wrong here.

I agree that that picture is pretty priceless! What it doesn’t show is actually that this was a racially diverse group, with Japanese-Americans, European-Americans, and African-Americans. So while the costumes surely looked unusual for America, the participants themselves would’ve looked unusual for Japan. I can imagine a Japanese businessman balking in the same way if he saw the monk-robed gaijin strolling down the street in Tokyo…

September 8, 2009 at 3:45 pm
(4) Jack Daw says:

Thanks Jeff. I was figuring that it would be a racially diverse crew. Very cool that they provide experiences outside of their usual routine.

I do believe that I have a new poster for my office.

Cheers,

September 10, 2009 at 5:18 pm
(5) TFitz says:

Great photo and good for them!

Although Jodo Shinshu does ordain priests they have none of the lineage traditions other than the poorly thught out hereditary temple priests system that controls the local temples in Japan. Jodo Shinshu began as a lay organization (loosely organized) and is trying to return to those roots.

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