From one of the readers of this blog, I have received over the year-end the question about why a temple bell in Japan is chimed 108 times at the end of the year. Actually in Japan the Year End and New Year celebration is a rather big event compared to abroad, which last for several days. Furthermore this is one of the few times when more or less everyone is enjoying a few days off from work and the focus is on family and relaxing.
Coming back to the question, ringing the temple bell can be perceived as a symbol to finish the old year and welcome the new one. At midnight on December 31st, no matter where you are in Japan, you will hear the “joyanokane” (除夜の鐘), the ringing of a temple or shrine bell 108 times before the new year starts. The origin of this ritual ending the old year, is thought to help to overcome all temptations a human being can face. Actually each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana. The ceremony is said to have originated in a Song Dynasty (960-1279) as a Chinese custom and was then brought over to Japan later on.
The Buddhist explanations of this number is the multiple relations of the six senses. According to the local Year End Oedo Newspaper the number 108 is created by a matrix of the multiple of the senses (6), the differentiator (3), the outcome of the condition (2) and the time line (3). More in detail then:
Senses: eyes, ears, tongue, nose, touch and mind
The respective perception of the senses: color, voice, taste, smell, touch and logic
Differentiator with its respective two feelings: not hard/painful (like/feeling good), not unhappy (mad/unhappy feeling), not unhappy (balanced/neutral)
Condition: pure, dirty
Timeline: previous life, present life, future
Although the concept is rather complicated, I hope I could shed some light on the background of some aspects of the Japanese culture. In case of any further questions, just go ahead and ask!
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