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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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]
I’ve heard that even a Nostradamus book said that only Japan could avoid disaster because of the power of Nara’s Giant Buddha.
Giant Buddha: ‘I stopped it after 9 seconds’
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.”
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
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.
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!