Interview with Toryo Ito, Vice Chief Monk, Ryosoku-in Temple
1. Choosing a monastic lifestyle is a major life decision few make. When did you become a monk, and why did you choose this path?
My father and my father’s father were both monks. Yet, the path was not straight. My entire life I have been interested in education. After a few forays in different fields of learning, I realized that the temple can be a prime site of education.
2. We understand the customs of Buddhist monks in Japan differ somewhat from monks in other parts of Asia. Could you compare Buddhism in Japan to elsewhere in Asia?
Maybe the biggest point of contrast is that we can marry! We also enjoy a lot of exchange with the so-called ‘lay’ world. Some monks even hold occupational roles outside of the temple. Therefore, it is very important for us to connect and maintain the teachings of Buddha in everyday society. We try to avoid being cloistered away in the temple and, instead, take up an active, social role.
3. Aside from your own beautiful temple, which other places in Japan would you recommend as places to meditate and cultivate inner peace?
I would have to recommend visiting the Kamo River. Flowing through Kyoto, the Kamo River offers a long path to walk and many places to sit. The river offers a remarkable balance of size and pace, nature and culture, foreground and background.
4. If you didn't become a monk, what other career path would you have chosen?
I might have ended up as a copywriter or doing PR work for some company. I’m fascinated by names and naming. There is a lot of power in how we pick out something with a name.
5. What advice can your faith teach us around the world during this very stressful time for many amidst the global pandemic?
We can learn the importance of being grounded—that is, paying attention to what lies right at your feet—and the importance of community, of learning the true meaning of trust. Life is uncertain; the ground we tread is uneven. Even a path we’ve walked many times will bring new obstacles each time we encounter it. As we face what appears to be a completely new and perhaps frightening path, we can learn to be more grounded, to pay closer attention to what lies right at our feet. At the same time, we should look to our left and to our right, to the people that surround us and who can support us. By acknowledging our community, we can learn the true meaning of trust