16 Nov Buddha loves Cherries
A Buddhist Monk in Monferrato could be a white fly. A Buddhist monk who built a temple following a divine dream is definitively a person we would strive to meet!
Shoryo Tarabini is a calm, intense and gentle man. He’s wearing a samue (the Japanese traditional monk’s vest) and offers us some coffee while he tells us his story.
I’m welcomed by Shoryo and Apricot, his dog, in a nice house near the Cereseto Castle. Here Reverend Tarabini built the Renkōji Temple, and attends to the different day to day duties of a monk and spiritual guide.
You know Buddhism is composed of different schools and orientation: the Renkōji community follows the teachings of Nichiren Shū (“School of Nichiren”), based on the teachings of Nichiren Shōnin: a Buddhist monk who lived in Japan in the 13th century.
Born in Oakland, California, from Italian parents, Tarabini lived in Japan for 25 years where he specialised in Buddhist studies and oriental languages, arts and literature (he speaks 4 modern languages in addition to ancient Chinese and ancient Japanese). Reverend Tarabini completed monastic studies at the Nichiren Shū School in Tokyo, attaining the Kyoshi qualification (monk and teacher).
After a long mission in India, Malaysia and Indonesia, then he served as monk at the Jogyoji Temple in London.
In 2005 Shoryo arrived in Italy. First in Rome, where he opened a study centre, and then in Monza, where he faced some difficulties and he was forced to close the temple due to high costs.
In 2009 he settled in Cereseto, a nice little village between Casale Monferrato and Moncalvo, founding the Renkōji Temple.
But the way he found this little village is very unique!
“I founded this temple thanks to a dream”
One night Shoryo dreamed about Nichiren Shōnin, the founder of his school. He was pointing to a hill surrounded by a forest of cherry trees and asked Shoryo to build a temple there and teach the Nichiren Shū to new students. So he did. He searched for a long time a place similar to the one he had dreamed about. After extensive research, on a misty Friday night, finally, he found it. “I stood dumbfounded. It was the one I had dreamed of! And since then I have settled here in Cereseto”.
Today the temple is attended by several local people and some international believers from all over Europe. When I found out there was a Buddhist temple in Cereseto, I didn’t expect it to be so relevant. Indeed, the Renkōji Temple is actually one of the three most important temples of the Nichiren Shū tradition in Europe.
Nichiren Shū focuses on practice, study and meditation over the Lotus Sutra, as well as the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. But the life in Renkōji Temple isn’t all about contemplation.
Shoryo built a strong and friendly relationship with his neighbours. Sometimes, especially in small villages, the arrival of a different religious community can be seen as something to be afraid of.
The Cherry Village
“Here in Cereseto we have felt welcome since the first day. I’m very happy and full of gratitude for that”. In order to thank the locals and to restore the former natural beauty of the village, the Renkōji Temple promotes a large cherry tree repopulation campaign: “800 cherry trees for Cereseto”.
So far 320 cherry trees have been planted, and 210 more will be planted starting from Noveber 20th: Cereseto’s festivity day.
The goal is to have 800 trees by 2022, for the 800 years celebration of the birth of Nichiren Shōnin.
The name Cereseto itself originates from the word “cherry”. Once these beautiful trees abounded throughout the area.
But time, old age and disease have decimated the trees. So Shoryo decided to promote the restocking campaign.
Cherry trees are also very important in Japanese culture and in particular during Hanami celebrations.
Literally meaning “flower viewing”, Hanami is the Japanese traditional flowering celebration, when thousands of people pour into the streets and parks to go under the cherry trees and celebrate the blossoms.
Reverend Tarabini says that even in Cereseto, when small shoots become beautiful young trees, it will be possible enjoy the spectacle of people taking a break from everyday duties and sitting under the trees for a picnic, a simple break, laugh and talk, while all around the shades of pink cherry-blossoms colour the air.
Furthermore, Sakura (cherry blossom) is a symbol of beauty and transition. The beauty of a cherry blossom is its brief moment of full flowering is a positive concept for Buddhists. It expresses the principle of Mujo: the not-eternal, the impermanent. Everything is fleeting, everything changes in this world.
With this lesson, I take leave of the Reverend and I went toward the exit, Apricot trotting at my side.
At the end of a short driveway, we say goodbye to each other. She looks at me, wagging her tail. She seems to be smiling.
You can contact the Temple to visit it and attend weekly celebrations, usually held every Sunday from 10.00 to 12:00.
Address: via Fossa 2, 15020 Cereseto AL
Tel: +39 0142 940 506
E-mail: [email protected]
Written By Paola Casulli, edited by Fiona Scull, photography by Paola Casulli and courtesy of Renkōji Temple