In 2004 I was invited by my Japanese Buddhist sensei (teacher) to Japan. I travelled with a female fellow Buddist and our english teacher. We stayed near Chiba New Town which is in the countryside about 2 hours from Tokyo. It was the September equinox just before the rice harvest. The weather was wonderfully hot and was about to turn cooler. Sensei asked us to join him at the small village of Torimi where he had been invited (along with the local Shinto priest) to attend the Lion Dance. Although I do not know much about the origins of this dance I could see, at once, that it was all to do with fertility and the blessing of the coming harvest. The dance took place in front of a small Shinto shrine.
Local people provided the music.
Three male dancers appeared representing lions
Last Edit: Sept 27, 2010 20:39:23 GMT by spindrift
I think this dancer represented the God of Fertility. You can see that he sports an enormous penis. The white paper at the tip of it represents sperm. Lots of these papers (sperms) were strewn within the dancing area.
The 'god' danced around the arena flourishing his phallus and touching selected people with it sitting in the audience. The music was loud, people were wrapt up in the dance and I felt quite nervous. Suddenly, out of the blue, the dancer touched me with it. I was startled but pleased. Then, tired from his exertions, he fell down on the ground like this
Then he got up and danced away.
There was no way that we, as foreigners, would have seen this spectacle if we hadn't been staying with Sensei and gone along with him. I would love to know more about the dance but I rather think that it was solely an ancient fertility right.
The dance took place in front of the Shinto shrine (jinjya); there was nothing Buddhist about it and it was clearly linked to ancient animist beliefs. But Buddhism and Shintoism go hand in glove in Japan and one fits in with the other.
I was certainly privileged to be present that day.
Last Edit: Sept 27, 2010 20:40:24 GMT by spindrift
Most of the spectators in the background seem to have no interest whatsoever in what they are watching. Or perhaps they are paralyzed with emotion?
I am very curious about all of the various 'lion' dances throughout Asia, since none of the lions ever has the remotest resemblance to a lion, and of course anyway, there are no lions in Asia. I'm wondering if 'lion' is the proper translation of the creatures depicted or if indeed the Asians are having strange fantasies about African animals.
Spectators - I was paralyzed with emotion but the rest were obviously not. These people have been watching this ritual every September all of their lives and are well used to it.
THE LION AND SNOW-LION. (Skt. singha, simha; Tib. seng-ge) (Note: many Indians are called 'Singh' for obvious reasons i.e. they consider themselves or families to be important. Many aristocratic families are named Singh).
The lion, as the king of all beasts, is an ancient Indian symbol of sovereignity and protection. Early Buddhism adopted the lion as a symbol of Shakyamuni Buddha, who is also known as Shakyasimha (the Lion of the Shakya Clan). As a symbol of his sovereignity the Buddha is represented seated upon a throne supported by eight lions. Simhanada (the Lion's Roar) is a name given to a form of Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva), where the term 'lion's roar' refers to the supremacy of the Buddha's teachings.
The lion of Indian art found its cultural representation in Tibetan art as the mythological snow-lion of Tibet. This white snow-lion with a turquoise mane is the presiding local deity of Tibet's snow mountain ranges. Like Buddhism, which 'leaped' over the Himalayas from India, the white snow-lion may be auspiciously glimpsed leaping playfully from one snow peak to another. The snow-lion is Tibet's national animal emblem.
The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols
by Robert Beer.
(there's a lot more but this is enough for general information).
Last Edit: Sept 27, 2010 20:42:13 GMT by spindrift
The Snow Lion is an archetypal thoughtform confluence or personification of the primordial playfullness of 'joy' and 'bliss' (Sanskrit: ananda; Tibetan: dga' ), somewhat energetically comparable to the western unicorn, though without a horn. Though paradoxical, the Snow Lion does not fly but their feet never touch the ground; their existence is a playful 'continuum' (Tibetan: rgyud) of leaping from mountain peak to mountain peak. The energetic potency (wisdom or shakti) of the Snow Lion is expressed in the attribute of the gankyil/gakyil ('bliss+whirling' or 'wheel of joy') that the Snow Lion keep in eternal play. The gankyil is a vriddhi derivation of the dragon's fiery 'pearl of great price'. The gakyil is the principal polyvalent symbol and teaching tool of all the doctrinal trinities of Dzogchen, and is the energetic signature of the trikaya. The gankyil is the inner wheel of the Dharmacakra of the Vajrayana Ashtamangala path of Buddhism.
I would love to go see the snow leopards in the Himalayas. Did you ever read Peter Matheissen's book,The Snow Leopard? A fellow Buddhist, of the Renzai school,I believe he may be a sensei by now. He has a zendo in NY,Ocean Zendo it's called. Very beautiful.
Peter Matheissen also wrote a book about his journey in the early 1990s to Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal. I have recently posted photos of the Teji Festival in Lo. I will find the book tomorrow and post the correct title. I couldn't see it on Amazon.
I believe The Snow Leopard was 'set' in Upper Mustang.