“Ritual is necessary for us to know anything.” ~ Ken Kesey
I recently attended a ceremony and was reminded: it’s impossible to pretend or assume you’ve seen it all.
It was held at one of Japan’s important and well-known Buddhist temples: Osu Kannon, in Nagoya. The ceremony is called ningyo kuyo, performed annually to pray for dolls, both the ordinary variety we’re used to (including stuffed animals), and many that are bought in Japan especially for various festivals and holidays.
As far as I understand it, the ceremony has several functions. One is to express gratitude to the dolls for providing their owners with pleasant times and nice memories. At the same time, burning the dolls serves to release them from their owners.
Implicit here is a belief, no matter how much at the forefront of people’s minds, that dolls have or acquire souls that need to be released when the owners no longer wish to keep them. Burning them is in effect sending their souls off to freedom, both for their benefit, and to clear the owner’s homes. In a sense, then, it’s a cleansing ritual.
Even more implicit, and this idea came along from a gracious reader of my articles and which struck a chord with my own impressions, is the Buddhist notion of non-attachment—that it is possible and desirable to enjoy and make full use of something for the time is needed, and then let it go instead of clinging to it, or being weighed down by that which no longer serves us.
The ceremony was extremely moving. I became especially emotional after the main chanting portion was over in front of a gorgeous sculpture on the temple grounds, when the monks left the altar to bless the hordes of dolls stashed away in two large tents.
There were several purple-clad women sitting on chairs by the altar with its one strong flame flanked by a few dolls; they sang and played tiny musical instruments with infinite grace and quiet passion. I don’t know what they were singing, but it was lovely and haunting and so beautiful, I was sure they were ensuring the dolls a safe passage onto the next phase of their existence.
Regardless of one’s personal beliefs, it’s integral and rewarding to regard the beliefs of others with an open mind and heart. I witnessed in a powerful, vivid way how immeasurably valuable it is to show respect for and honour the things you have used and that have provided for you in this life.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have come upon this ceremony, to confront a ritual that allowed me to see—right in front of me, and by way of the camera’s eye on things—a way of life, a perspective on being, and a community gathering together for such a positive and exultory occasion.
Here are some photos of the ceremony. I hope they capture some of the ethereal magic I witnessed that day. To see more, please check out my album here.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Tammy T. Stone
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Author’s Own