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Thứ Sáu, tháng 10 27, 2006

No. 1203 (Hạt Cát dịch)

Wutai Mountain to apply for world natural and cultural heritage
www.chinanews.cn 2006-10-24 10:26:04

Chinanews, Taiyuan, Oct. 24 - The Chinese National Commission for UNESCO, the Ministry of Construction and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage have jointly decided to nominate Wutai Mountain for next year’s world natural and cultural heritage site. They hope that the application will be approved by UNESCO in 2008.

Wutai Mountain is regarded as one of the five major Buddhist mountains in the world and the most important Buddhist mountain in China. For a long time, Han-Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhist have co-existed there, producing over 20 kinds of religious schools, the most in the world.

Located in the northeastern part of Xinzhou City in Shanxi Province, most parts of the mountain have an altitude of over 2,700 meters. Its highest peak, with an altitude of 3,058 meters, is also the highest peak in northern China and therefore nicknamed "the roof of northern China". Covered by thick forests, Wutai Mountain has a relatively low temperature all year round, therefore it is also called Cool Mountain. The mountain has unique ecological environment and rich biodiversity. It has always been called a natural botanical garden and zoo. According to related statistics, there are altogether 595 kinds of plants and animals living in Wutai Mountain.

In order to better protect the ecological environment of Wutai Mountain, local government has decided to move 21 work units around the mountain area to a new place and relocate some 961 local villagers in some other places as well. In addition, officials will take a comprehensive approach to improve the landscapes in some key scenic spots in Wutai Mountain.

No.1202 (Minh Chau dich)

Buddhism Lagging in Japan
Associated Press

TOKYO, Oct. 26 - The Kamiyacho Open Terrace cafe in central Tokyo has all the trappings of a trendy establishment - good coffee, homemade dessert, an airy terrace.

But what makes the cafe truly interesting is its setting: inside the Buddhist Komyoji temple, one of many across Japan offering new services - concerts, discos, yoga classes - in a struggle to stay relevant despite an increasingly secular society.

"For Japanese, temples were once a part of daily life," said 24-year-old owner, and monk, Keisuke Matsumoto. "I want Kamiyacho Open Terrace to be a place people can drop in casually ... and perhaps become a little curious about Buddhism."

The young priest will need patience and optimism. More than a millennium after it first arrived from mainland Asia in the sixth century, Buddhism is in crisis.

About 94 million Japanese were registered as Buddhist in 2005, almost three-quarters of the country's population. But for many, the only time they enter a temple is to attend a funeral - driving many of the country's 75,000 temples to the verge of bankruptcy.

"Some priests can't even put food on the table from their temple-related work," said Takanobu Nakajima, an economics professor at Tokyo's Keio University. "Their congregations are so small the priests take second jobs and still barely manage to scrape by."

So young Buddhists like Matsumoto are trying to turn that around by reaching out to new groups - and employing some clever entrepreneurship.

At Matsumoto's cafe, which overlooks a garden dotted with gravestones, visitors don't pay with money, but with prayer. All the coffee, tea and sweets served by robe-clad monks in the open terrace are free. Instead, the monks - all volunteers from nearby temples - suggest patrons put their hands together in prayer at the temple's grand altar before they leave.

Some temples are branching out in other ways.

The Tsukiji Honganji temple in central Tokyo, for instance, offers theological seminars in English for foreigners, and has fitted its main hall with a pipe organ and conducts Western-style weddings to attract young couples who prefer a white dress and tuxedo to a traditional Buddhist ceremony.

Zenshoan temple in central Tokyo streams Buddhist sermons on the Internet, while Higashi Honganji temple aired games from the World Cup in Germany to attract local soccer fans.

In addition to his cafe, Matsumoto's Komyoji temple offers weekly yoga classes. He also spearheads higan.net, a Web-based movement of young monks who organize festivals, discos and meditation sessions, and write daily blog entries on everything from Buddhist cuisine to music.

For priests who are stumped for ideas, help is increasingly at hand.

Hideo Usui, an editor at Gekkan Butsuji, a Buddhist monthly journal, has launched a Web site offering advice for priests trying to modernize their practices. Recent entries include "Buddhist rites for the modern lifestyle" and "Using the Internet to take funeral orders."

"Priests got so used to easy money, so they didn't make an effort to innovate or to recruit new parish members," Usui said. "Now, that's changing."

Indeed, the money troubles are a major comedown for a Buddhist clergy that in the 1980s was known for its flashy lifestyle.

Awash with cash as Japan's postwar economy boomed, temples once extracted huge donations from their congregations and charged exorbitant sums for lavish funerals - often over 2 million yen, more than $17,000 at today's exchange rate.

But the good times ended when Japan's economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, making elaborate funerals and other extravagances a thing of the past. And while Japan's aging population has meant more funerals, the departed now typically have fewer descendants to share the bill, putting a premium on discount services.

Buddhist leaders also face some cultural roadblocks.

Few Japanese strictly stick to one religion, instead picking and choosing as they please from many. A family might celebrate births at a shrine of the native Shinto religion and weddings at a Christian church, for example. Buddhists have specialized in funerals - which hasn't helped their image.

And Matsumoto's cafe, which opened in 2004, hasn't led to many recruits so far. An office worker who often eats her packed lunch at the cafe said while she was now more interested in the religion, she didn't have immediate plans to join the temple's congregation.

"I hadn't even thought of it," said Sayaka Miura, a marketing assistant at a broadcasting company.

Matsumoto is undaunted. He recently put on a free rock concert at Tsukiji Honganji temple for 1,000 twenty- and thirty-somethings who went wild to the beats of the Zazen Boys before settling down for a Buddhist sermon.

"I want temples to become a part of everyday life again," Matsumoto said. "There's a lot Buddhism can offer modern society. ... It's just a matter of what temples are going to do about it."