In some Japanese temples, there are glass cases in which are displayed ancient manuscripts, relics of the founder, and so on. There are no professional guides, and young monks learn the information by heart, stand beside the case, and recite it. I remember in one temple the guide stood upright beside the case, saying his piece without himself looking at the exhibit. At one point we moved on to a certain case from which the exhibit had been removed, for cleaning or some research. The monk did not notice, but gave his description in a firm voice: “Here is …” Only after about a minute did he notice that we were not looking at the case, and himself peered into it. “Oh,” he said, “oh, it’s gone away …” and led us on to the next.
I was reminded of this when I heard a teacher say how many of the temples in China early in this century had been still magnificent, but “the gods had departed.” The majesty of the buildings, and the splendour of the services, and the sonorous syllables of the holy texts were saying, “Here is the truth; come and worship.” But the thing they were describing had gone away.