Did Nara’s Giant Buddha Statue Just Prevent A 7.8 Earthquake?

Nara is a landlocked prefecture in the Kansai/Kinki region of Japan on Honshu Island. It’s well known for the Nara Shika (deer) Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site Todaiji Temple (Eastern Great temple), the Nara Daibutsu (Nara’s giant Buddha statue), and maybe (in)famously for Sento-kun, Nara’s super creepy mascot, as well.

To me, Nara is a place that is deer dear to my heart. When I was five, my family moved from Osaka to a rural town in Nara prefecture, and I lived there until my second year of university. Nara is such a beautiful place filled with lots of memories from childhood to the springtime of my life. My parents still live there and so do many of my friends. To say the least, it is a very special place to me.

On August 8, 2013 on the LINE social network, I received a few messages from my younger brother and sister talking about an earthquake in Nara. Yet, I didn’t really care or get worried when I got them because the messages didn’t seem all that serious. Look at their conversations below:

LINE

Bro: 奈良県で地震ですか? Was there an earthquake in Nara?
Sis: 震度一もないらしいよ It seems that it was even less than M1
Bro: おっ Huh?

However, when I went online afterward to learn more about the quake, I found that it was originally reported that a 7.8 earthquake hit in Nara, but turned out to be a false alarm. Thank God, it could have been a scary big earthquake and I wouldn’t have wanted that (of course!). I’m very glad that it was just a big mistake.

Despite being a false alarm, everyone’s mobile phones went off with emergency alerts, some trains and school elevators were stopped and even Yahoo Japan temporarily went off. My Facebook wall was filled with comments about the incident as well. Some people were thankful that it was just a mistake and that it reminded themselves to be ready for a real earthquake in the future. Others just complained about the false alert.

One of the latter was my friend from high school who was hungover when it happened. He was woken up by the alert and tried to save some water in the bathtub before an actual earthquake happened (remember, he was half asleep and hungover). Of course, he turned the tap in the wrong direction and just got drenched in cold shower water. At that point, he was finally awake enough for the earthquake, but it never happened and that made him particularly upset.

The Power Of The Nara Daibutsu

daibutsu

Photo by David Offf

Meanwhile, one absurd conspiracy began rapidly spreading across the Internet: the Nara Daibutsu (the giant Buddha statue in Nara) was responsible for stopping the earthquake! I’m not sure who started saying this but I do have to say it does sound pretty silly. Before looking at some Nara-Daibutsu-believers’ words, let me tell you about the Nara Daibutsu first.

Nara Daibutsu

The Nara Daibutsu is one of three major Buddha statues in Japan and is located in Todai-ji Temple in Nara. It’s officially called Rushana Buddha, and was constructed in 752. Todai-ji temple has been designated a World Heritage Site as well as a national treasure.

national-treasure

I keep saying that it’s a “giant” Buddha statue, but do you want to know how giant it really is?

Height: 49.1 ft
Face: 17.5 ft
Eyes: 3.3 ft each
Ears: 8.3 ft
Weight: 500 tonnes

To put things in perspective, that’s twice the height of the giant in Jack The Giant Killer. Also, if you’re keeping track that’s 6.5 Yao Mings and ~8 Nic Cages. You certainly have to look up to see it.

The Nara Daibutsu is also known for its big lucky nostril. They say that if you go through the Nara Daibutsu’s nostril it will bring you good luck. There is actually an old support pillar with a hole cut exactly the same size as Buddha’s nostril inside Todaiji next to the giant Buddha statue. If you can get through this then you can get through Buddha’s nostril, at least in theory.

buddha-nostril

How lucky!

The Words Of The Believers

Regardless of whether or not the Nara Daibutsu actually stopped the earthquake, the believers’ words sound so serious that it becomes a bit silly/funny to me, so I have to share them with you all. Here’s some quotes from Twitter:

daibutsu-twitter1Earth quake? Yeah, I suppressed it down.

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter2

An earthquake early warning went out

M7.8 earthquake happened in Nara

Giant Buddha noticed the earthquake

It secretly shot a shock wave to kill the earthquake

Nara people ‘There wasn’t any shake’

Other prefectures people ‘Was it misinformation?’

The proof: the clouds were strange [shaped like Buddha]

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter3
Nara Daibutsu: “The earthquake happened, but I punched on the ground to offset it

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter4
An earthquake in Wakayama and noise in the ocean near Mie prefecture → Nara Daibutsu noticed this → Nara Buddha saved…right?

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter5

I’ve heard that even a Nostradamus book said that only Japan could avoid disaster because of the power of Nara’s Giant Buddha.

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter6

Giant Buddha: ‘I stopped it after 9 seconds’

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter7
Nara Giant Buddha SUGEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!(GREAAAAAAAT)!!!!!

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter8
Giant Buddha Platinum the world

[hr]

 daibutsu-twitter9

Giant Buddha: “An earthquake is coming, right? It’s kind of a wave, right? So if you make a wave towards the opposite direction…like this ‘Ha!’…wait…something was wrong…like this ‘Haaa!!”, yeah, it seems right. Then…yeah…you got it, right?”

Nara people: “That’s amazing and we didn’t know you speak that casually.”

[hr]

daibutsu-twitter10
Giant Buddha: ‘I stopped the earthquake’
People: ‘Wow, are you God?’
Giant Buddha: ‘No way. I’m just Buddha.’

[hr]

There are more and more quotes, but unfortunately I can’t introduce everything. According to many of them, it seems that the Nara Daibutsu stopped the earthquake by punching into the Earth to make a wave towards the very opposite direction of the earthquake and canceled it out. I’m personally happy to see that so many people are commenting on the power of Nara Daibutsu, which is the symbol of Nara where I grew up! And guess what? I succeeded in interviewing an actual monk in Nara about this Giant Daibutsu rumor!

An Interview With A Nara Monk

monk1

This is Yugaku Ikawa (井川裕覚) of Daihisen Tatsunoji Temple (悲山 立野寺) in Yagyu, Nara. He belongs to a Japanese group of Shingon Buddhism called Koyasan Shingon-shu (高野山真言宗). He started off by explaining what Buddhism is like, what kind of religion Shingon-shu is, and then talked about the Nara Daibutsu hypothesis. I translated the interview into English for you to understand.

About Buddhism And Shingon Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion to make yourself Buddha itself by coming in touch with Buddha. Buddha is not in sutra, statues or temples but inside of ourselves.

Shingon Buddhism (真言宗/Shingon-shu) is one of the few surviving Esoteric Buddhism lineages, which is called Mikkyō (密教) in Japanese. Mikkyō literally means “secret ways” and was originally started in India, spread to China and then was brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk named Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師) around 1200 years ago. By the time it came all the way to Japan, it adopted various Buddhist and other religions gods’ thoughts and became a more complex and multifaceted system. Mikkyō Monks regard gaining “this-worldly benefits” (現世利益/Genseriyaku) as the most important thing. There are so many practices to do this, including ajikan (阿字観), which is a core meditative practice. Mikkyō Monks try to experience Buddha in themselves throughout those practices and by sympathizing various Buddhas.

About The Nara Daibutsu Hypothesis And Earthquake

This time, the epicenter was reported in Nara which is not typically associated with heavy seismic activity or big disasters, so that added to the puzzlement and also caused the great [Nara Daibutsu] sensation. The Nara Daibutsu (Rushana Buddha) is not only a universe by itself but also of earthly environment, nature and all of our origins. In that kind of meaning, it could be said all the earthly activities including earthquakes are the Daibutsu’s activities as well. I would say that it’s a wonderful result of human beings’ wisdom to prove and elucidate many things scientifically. However, I would also say that it’s very important not to be into only one extreme speculation that “science is the truth” but to realize that we are allowed to live within an earth and universe such as Daibutsu and be thankful for it.

Although I say such serious things, I just find something congenial in Buddha while imagining that it is actually fighting against a plate or an earthquake like an anime character (laughs).

Finally, Japan is said to be an earthquake country, and big ones such as the Great Hanshin earthquake and the Great East Japan earthquake have occurred since I was born. I extend my sincere condolences to all the victims and wish everyone who is still suffering from the earthquake places to relax and settle down. I believe that not only recovering lifelines such as facilities and buildings but also recovering peoples hearts is very important. I wish peaceful minds for as many people as possible. I believe that the true relationships among people makes their zest for living.

monk2

[/end interview]

Since there are not any scientific evidences that the Nara Daibutsu defeated the earthquake, the reliability of the hypothesis is questioned. However, why don’t we put scientific and critical opinion aside like the monk said and close our eyes to meditate? Then, repeat the famous false Buddha quote in your mind:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Anything could be the truth depending on your own mind, it doesn’t matter whether it’s proven or not. So now, tell me your thoughts on the Nara Daibutsu hypotheses!

  • linniea

    Nara is magic u____u

  • Christopher Stilson

    Western universities’ philosophy courses do Buddhism a great disservice, I’ve always thought, by treating it as if it were one thing instead of dozens, or at best equating different Buddhist sects to different Christian denominations, rather than some of them being as similar as Sikhism and Wicca. If there were only one truth, people wouldn’t look for it in so many different places.

  • Sérgio Moço

    This was hilarious, loved the tweets ahah

  • Mami

    oh deer, it is:P

  • Mami

    So, you mean you got tired with Buddhism by the Lutheran college?? :P

  • Jojo

    My favorite is the one where Buddha punched the ground. I actually went to Nara last month and saw him in person, it was awesome.

  • Mami

    I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed them! haha

  • Mami

    Ahaha, that’s great. Did you feed those deer as well?

  • Christopher Stilson

    Well, I was hardly going to take any of the actual Christianity classes, was I? They might have assumed that I actually agreed with them…

    I had the Eastern Religions class first thing in the morning, while I was still half asleep. I’m still not sure if that was a good or bad thing for my ability to understand them. It was a fun class, though… apart from the video of the jainist monk fasting to death.

  • Mami

    Whoa, is there a video about the jainist monk fasting to death!? It could be a trauma…

  • Christopher Stilson

    Just the preparations and a few minutes from the middle of the vigil. I think it was from an old National Geographic documentary.

    At least the course didn’t talk about self-mummification as well. If I’d had to hear about monks lacquering their insides just after my breakfast… it doesn’t bear thinking about.

  • Mami

    Oh…I could toss some cookies up too, if I was showed such things…

  • wiwi

    Sengoku and Blackbeard fought for a while.. lol

  • Mami

    cool!!! lolol

  • xperroni

    I’ve been to Nara once. Wonderful place, the Todaji Temple looks like a place out of a MMORPG.

    A word of advice, though: STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM THE DEER.

    When we went there, our guide said they were shy creatures which, should we offer them a cookie, would approach us carefully and then allow themselves to be patted.

    Yeah, right. Scarcely we had left the bus, one approached my wife from behind and proceeded to unceremoniously chew on the rail pass receipt hanging from her handbag. By the time we realized what was going on the animal had already eaten half of it.

    Then one of our companions had the temerity to produce one of those deer cookies. She was soon surrounded by some four or five creatures, and when the cookie was gone one of them saw fit to start munching her coat.

    And lest anyone says I’m exaggerating or making things up, plaques around Todaji warn visitors against the deer, with graphic depictions of the things biting, head-butting or even running over helpless old ladies. It’s there for anyone to see.

    Beware the deer. Vicious beasts, the lot of them.

  • Saimu-san

    Lol, sounds like the geese from the Inveraray (Sounds kinda like “In the air, eh?”) Wildlife Park in Argyll. It’s not there anymore but they had wallabies running wild and a section called “Mugger’s Alley” where the geese swarmed around you like crazy for the bags of feed. Problem was this was near the end so you’d already given most of your feed to other animals along the way and only had a few crumbs… But they’d still chase you down for them!

    I’ve considered staying in Nara if I go to study in Japan and commute from there to other cities, but it’s sounds like an awesome place all by itself!

  • Mami

    I hear you. Who would say that they are shy? I can’t believe that your guide said that. They could be pretty aggressive though their horns(I don’t know how to call horns of deer) were cut off.

  • Mami

    Yeah, I’d say that it’s neat place as long as you like a quiet place rather than Big Apple.

  • Wittlich

    Well, it was never mentioned that the guide wasn’t a deer in disguise.

  • Mami

    Ah, I see….(>o<)

  • Mami

    せんとくん sentokun
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           ̄ ̄ヾ/  ̄ ̄ヾご/´ ̄ ̄
             /        丶
             レ⌒ o ⌒ヽ,   }
             〉 (ё, (ё ' (G)i
            {   し     ノj,'
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             ゝ .,,_____,. イヽ、
             ,< `-ー/彡/ヽ
         _/  ノ(_ //_,,.〉  ノ
         と__ゝ-''´ {//l|l _/ヽ/
               〉ニZニニ^〉i.i.i
              |/(/\\ /
              L/_(/ヽヽ_,|
                 |_|_|
              と´__.}{.__`っ

  • Mami

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  • Mami

    ∩   ∩

     |つ  ⊂|

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  • Asagao

    Years ago I studied with a Shingon monk. One evening we were discussing natural disasters and – long story short – he that after the Kobe earthquake the monks there were criticized for “not doing what they should have been doing.” I think he was trying to suggest that the monks’ meditation was lacking in some way. That’s a lot of responsibility.

    Also, what does this theory say about the Ueno Daibutsu that lost his head in the 1923 earthquake?

  • Sugoida

    仏教のタイプについて、教える事のために記事を書いても大丈夫ですか?

  • Mami

    ???どういう意味ですか???
    お坊さんのインタビューのところですか?
    詳しく教えて頂けると有り難いです。

  • Mami

    It’s not about this theory but the Ueno Daibutsu is known for a Daibutsu of examinations. As you probably know, now it only constitutes its face and head, so Japanese people think that it won’t fall down(落ちる) anymore. We use the verb 落ちる for to fail an exam…so people pray for success for Ueno Daibutsu.

  • Mami

    Do you want me to write about Buddhism types or are you worried about me writing about Buddhism because a lot of readers are not Buddhists?

  • Sugoida

    I wanted you to write about the types of Buddhism. Sorry for the confusion. I should have written it in English, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make it Japanese. :(
    How would you have worded it?

  • Mami

    No that’s fine. You should write in Japanese. That’s gonna be your practice. I asked you because I wanted to make sure what you meant! In your meaning, you would say “仏教のタイプについて解説する記事を書いてみてもらうことはできますか?” instead of ‘仏教のタイプについて、教える事のために記事を書いても大丈夫ですか?’.
    ~ても大丈夫ですか? is used when you are worried about someone’s condition or when you ask permission.
    ex
    “そんなことしても大丈夫ですか?” Is it seriously okay for you to do that? Will you be safe to do that?
    (implying ‘Won’t your parents get upset? or something negative)
    “今あけても大丈夫ですか?”Can I open this now?

    Does this make sense? That’s why I got a little confused.

  • SamuraiAvenger

    宗教の話は難しいですよね。

    日本の仏教は細かく別れていますし、他の国のあり方とも違いますから。

    また仏教そのものもキリスト教と違って、宣教師を送って布教に努めるようなタイプの宗教ではないので、外からでは分かりにくいのです。

    世界の仏教には大まかに分けて、「大乗仏教」と「小乗仏教(上座部仏教)」があります。
    起源は同じでもまったく別の宗教と考えていいでしょうネ。

    ・大乗仏教・・・日本で広まったタイプ。おおざっぱに言うと、「誰でも救われる」という教えを基本にしています。悪人でも救われるべき、と考えるのはこのタイプの仏教です。

    ・小乗仏教・・・タイなどの東南アジアに見られるタイプ、「修行したりお金を寄付するなど、善行を行えば次に生まれ変わったら恵まれた人間になれるかも!」という感じです。

    この二つを説明するだけで、とてもたいへんですね。あとは自分で勉強してね、という感じ(笑)。

    日本の大乗仏教は、「がんばれば人生 何とかなるかも!」という、自力本願タイプですね。
    小乗仏教のほうは、「ボクが運が悪いのは、前世が悪いからなんだ!カルマが悪い!!!」と、他力本願。まわりや環境のせいにするタイプです。

    よく考えると、キリスト教も他力本願タイプなんですよね、「神様を信じれば、MO~だいじょうぶ!」みたいな。

    日本人的には、宗教の細かい差異を気にするのはよく理解できませんよね。
    宗教の違いは置いておいて、まず日本語の勉強してね、と私は言いたいです。

  • Mami

    SamuraiAvengerさんすごい!Samiraiさんは日本人ですか??日本語もめっちゃうまい!

  • Sugoida

    Yes, that makes perfect sense. And I knew while writing it that it sounded a little off, but I couldn’t figure out a better way to word it.
    I’ll have to write “仏教のタイプについて解説する記事を書いてみてもらうことはできますか?” down somewhere, so I can remember that, and look back at what I did right, and what I did wrong. :)

  • Mami

    Cool! Nice try though!
    I’ll ask Koichi if we write about types of Buddhism someday.
    日本語は、いつでも挑戦and質問してね〜〜〜(^^)/

  • Paulo

    Amazing beliefs. I won’t argue as there will be times in our life that we can’t do anything about a disaster that is about to happen but to rely on a supreme being. Depends on your religion though, but I myself have experienced something like this to myself as a christian who believes in God. So true, things like this happens and miracles are happening everyday as well.

  • SamuraiAvenger

    (^o^)/ はい!日本人です

    英語ベースのサイトに、日本語を一生懸命に勉強する人が集まるのは難しそうですね。まだこのレベルか・・と少しガッカリ。

    ここに来る人たちは、「出された料理を食べる前に、あれこれ議論する」のに似ていますネ。
    食べ物とは食べるためのものです、議論するものではありません。
    見たことのない、オイシそうなイタリアのお菓子を出されたら、まず食べるでしょう?そのお菓子の起源とかを語り合ったりしてから食べますか?)^o^(

    ここは、” Japanese l a n g u a g e and culture blog”と銘をうっているので、線引きははっきりするべきだと感じます。

    まず、日本人から日本語を使うようにしないと、と思いまして。

  • B.Z.

    A statue prevented an eartgquake? That is a close approximation of Christian Baptists handling rattlesnakes. Flat out silliness. People who believe in such nonsense are close relatives of those who feel the need to fly airplanes into tall buildings.

  • Mami

    Hello Sugoida! The types of Buddhism is up today! Hope you like it:D

  • http://twitter.com/hotlimit1084 ☆☠ジェシカ☆☠

    LOL. When I first saw him in Kyoto I thought he was scary.