108 bongs

I was just proofing the magazine’s events pages and found my curiosity piqued. Ouch. The events listing contained several references to the Buddhist custom of ringing a bell 108 times on the night of the new year. Every new year, throngs upon throngs of people head out into the night time cold just to dong or ding or bang or bong (depending on your local) a Buddhist bell 108 times — that number being the number of Buddhist temporal distractions from Nirvana. As evry fule kno, according to Buddhism, the world doesn’t exist at all, but is nevertheless a vale (or veil) of tears and only by separating ourselves from earthly desires can we hope to attain enlightenment and reach Nirvana. Or, in other words, it is our attachment to this realm through desire that keeps us in the corporeal poo.

One hundred and eight temptations? That is an awful lot? Or is it? If it is distraction by the here and now that keeps us from enlightenment then everything must be a temptation and everything is a lot bigger number than 108, doh! But Buddhism is very specific that there are 108 of them, not an infinite number, not 107, not 109.

I began to wonder what these 108 temptations are.

A quick rummage online produced approximately nothing. Not even Wikipedia could help, lamely telling me, “108 is the natural number following 107 and preceding 109”, and that 108 is the number of times Japanese people ring the bell at the end of the year and that each ring represents, etc, etc.

Eventually, I found out from Sherman, a on a manga site:

Turns out there aren’t actually 108 named temptations — the number is just generally significant in those religious circles. It’s more symbolic than an actual list, it seems.

So that’s that for enlightenment. The notion of a non-specific list of temptations to avoid in order to achieve Nirvana suggests that you need to have reached enlightenment to know what it was you didn’t do to get there. And enlightenment seems to require a big petulant streak that forbids you from revealing the path to pure, elevated being.

No, shan’t! It’s my enlightenment, yar boo sucks! Etc.

So, I decided to compose a tentative list of 108 earthly temptations that might keep me here rather than in an ethereal otherworld.

So here goes.

  1. Twiglets.
  2. Cats. Whenever I sit down, mine’s running all over me. Up over the legs to the window sill and back again and threatening to knock over my drink, then walking on the computer keyboard before curling up on my lap or head butting me with affection while purring like a loony. And frankly, when the mogg is doing these things I don’t give a toss about Nirvana or enlightenment, I’m just happy to give him a fuss and a tickle. Cats must be the ultimate anti-enlightenment temptation. Hence, presumably, the Henry Cow song: ‘Nirvana for Mice’ — with no cats around, the ultimate home of the soul must be a pretty cool place for rodents.
  3. A nice cup of tea (as opposed to a horrible cup of tea). Honestly, when life is feeling too lifey, nothing beats a cuppa for getting you back on top of things. Apart perhaps from a pot of magic mushrooms.
  4. Magic mushrooms.
  5. Glorious sunsets.
  6. Mountain vistas.
  7. A cold, crisp, clear winter day, preferably experienced walking by a river in England with the prospect of a stop in a pub just up ahead.
  8. Outer space.
  9. Chatting with my daughter.
  10. A good book.
  11. Hugs.
  12. Randomly inserting ‘erm …’ into a list to make it sound like I’m stuck for ideas when I’m not really.
  13. Anchovies.
  14. Ice cream — especially a cocktail of Häagen-Dazs grown up flavours like Belgian chocolate, walnut, honey, macadamia, etc. (Not including anchovy flavour ice cream, which anyway isn’t in Häagen-Dazs’s repertoire, though I believe there’s a place in Taiwan that does it).
  15. Giving up on time-wasting lists before you’ve finished.

No, I don’t really want to plod on to number 108. Judging by the list I have here, I have enough things to keep me happy here, so I’ll postpone Nirvana to another life.

But what about other people? What are your 108 temptations keeping you from rapture?

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2 Comments

Filed under Japan, Mortality

2 responses to “108 bongs

  1. Adam Grundy

    An amusing blog, Chris, as always…
    It would be ‘useful’ (I was going to say ‘interesting’, but thought better of it) to know what the 108 ‘temptations’ are. I realise, of course, that this is a tongue-in-cheek entry, written for amusement and, in that scenario, it works very well 🙂 However, I think that things like ‘Glorious sunsets’ and ‘Mountain vistas’ feature strongly in a list of things that Buddhists take great pleasure in. Whilst I’m certain that you know a great deal more about Buddhism than I, I believe they shun materialism and take on an enhanced appreciation of the beauty of nature and all that it bestows. Equally, a simple cup of tea, or a stroll on a crisp cold morning (perhaps not the pub bit, though!). About 30 years ago, I read bits and pieces from one of their magazines that was thrust into my hand in Solihull, of all places. A section of one article described the simple pleasures in life, such as taking a dump! Being 18 (and in a pub), I found this most amusing and proceeded to regale my friends with the article. However, on reflection, and having experienced around 30 years of taking a dump since, I think I must agree with them! 🙂

    • I quite agree with you — about wanting to know what these temptations actually are. I probably agree about the dumping bit too. And I was quite serious that there doesn’t seem to be a list, and that the number seems to be symbolic. I mean, with Christians, you’ve got your Ten Commandments and your Seven Deadly Sins and it seems as clear as the Highway Code. But being a Buddhist seems to be a bit complicated, not to mention confusing.
      It depends what kind of Buddhism we are talking about, but to many, renouncing the material world means the whole material world as in all of it, not just the world of materialism as in consumerism. So out go the mountain vistas and outer space along with the Twiglets and the tea as distractions from the real reality and I thought that was kind of curious. I mean, Nirvana must be really fucking brilliant if it’s preferable to space or cats 🙂
      Meanwhile thanks for reading 🙂

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