In an effort to make his Buddhist temple more accessible to the wider public and draw younger generations to religion, a former DJ turned Buddhist priest has been holding “techno memorial services” at his temple in Fukui City, Japan.
Attending one of the unconventional memorial services organized at the Shō-onji Buddhist temple by 49-year-old Gyōsen Asakura feels more like a warehouse rave than a traditional religious experience. A kaleidoscope of psychedelic lights bathes the golden decorations of the temple, and electronic music ranging from IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) to breakbeats blends with chantings of Buddhist scripture.
The sight of a Buddhist priest wearing his traditional garb, but also sporting a pair of large headphones while operating a DJ station during his sermon only adds to the psychedelic feel of attending a techno memorial service at Shō-onji. It’s definitely a strange experience, but one that it is fulfilling its purpose of bringing people, especially youths, back to religion.
For Gyōsen Asakura, a big fan of electronic music and a former DJ, blending techno and Buddhism was a no-brainer. Despite some criticism to his “unorthodox” ways, the 49-year-old priest only sees this combination as a modernized recreation of the image of the Pure Land of Perfect Bliss, and an interpretation of the divine land of Amida Buddha that can resonate with the people of today.
“Buddhism says ‘The Pure Land (a heaven-like celestial realm) is a world of light.’ It is said people used to use the most advanced technologies available to them at the time in order to ornament temples with gold leaf and thus recreate this ‘world of light.’ What I want to do with this project is use lighting and contemporary technology in order to make it possible for people to get a more accurate image of what Lord Buddha’s world looks like,” Asakura says.
However, his techno memorial services, which combine colorful lights, projection mapping, and techno music with Buddhist scripture are an expensive affair that require a variety of high-tech gadgets and software. The high cost of organizing such an event, have only allowed him to hold two techno memorial services so far – once in May and once in October of last year. The response has been very positive, but in order to keep his project going and improve it, he needs money.
Gyōsen Asakura recently started a crowdfunding campaign on Japanese website Readyfor, asking 300,000 yen ($2684), but with 14 days to go, he has already surpassed his goal. 38 backers have already pledged 373,000 yen to his cause.