Friday, December 30, 2011

A real "Buddha Bar," tended by monks?

Lucy Craft (NPR, Morning Edition, Dec. 29, 2011); Wisdom Quarterly
At Vow's Bar in Tokyo, Japan, Buddhist monks run the place and serve up advice along with cocktails. Here a monk -- going against the Buddha's most basic injunctions for lay people (Five Precepts) and for monastics (Vinaya) -- serves alcoholic drinks (Lucy Craft/NPR).

Another Friday night at this tiny neighborhood watering hole in Tokyo: By 7:30 pm, the bar stools and tables in this cozy joint are filling up; office workers settle in with their cocktails and Kirin beers. And by a little after 8:00 pm, it's time for the main act.

Vow's Bar in the Yotsuya neighborhood has no house band, no widescreen TV, no jukebox. But it does have a chanting Buddhist monk. So tipplers can get a side of sutras with their Singapore Slings or something even more exotic.

A pair of younger [Japanese Zen] monks -- conspicuous with their shaved heads, bare feet, and religious garb -- man the bar.

For a non-Buddhist American like me, they shake up an order of the house specialty, shakunetsu jigoku, or "Burning Hell," and boy, they're not kidding!

This city is said to be honeycombed with 10,000 nightspots, most no bigger than an American living room. So to Japanese, it makes perfect sense that Buddhist monks would run their own themed bars, complete with incense, mandala sacred posters, and religious altars.

As for the monks themselves, they say that tending bar is, ironically, one of the best ways of connecting with their roots.

"In the old days, temples were the center of community life," says head monk Gugan Taguchi. "But then the temples grew powerful. Monks started getting rich, running funerals. They started to feel superior to their followers. That's not what the job is about." More

No comments: