Japanese Buddhism in Reality

Japanese Buddhism in Reality

Postby plwk » Mon May 27, 2013 2:29 am




You may think that these boys are in a reformatory. No! They are young BUDDISTS PRIESTS in a classroom of a Buddhist university in Japan! All of their fathers are Buddhist priests. The hereditary system of Japanese Buddhism is often viewed as a deviation from the original Buddhism. But that is not a fault of these boys. They were born into the system and have to live with it. How do they build their sense of identity and gain pride in their work, while most of other young Japanese pay little attention to Buddhism?

It's always good to hear from the younger crowd and what they think & experience, although I think their responses are somewhat scripted lol.
These vids reminds me of near similar cases back in one of my former Christian traditions, the Protestants, where in independent groups, some churches are 'inherited' via the family lineage and the next generation is trained up to take over to serve and ensure the continuity of the community.
Criticisms aside though, on the current state of Japanese Buddhism, these vids do give an impression that there is still hope and progress for its future on the shoulders of these younger generation, especially in times of greater choices and distraction.

What do you think? :popcorn:
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Re: Japanese Buddhism in Reality

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 27, 2013 3:14 am

Tokyo/Kanto is a bit different from Kansai, and there are regional variations, so we should keep that in mind.

My experience in Tokyo as a graduate student in Buddhist studies with such priests was overall positive. I thought they were all friendly and accommodating people, though I had to wonder if they'd be studying Buddhism if they really had a choice in the matter.

One of them explained to me outright that he was told he'd study Buddhism. Another one said he'd like to have a normal job for a few years before taking over his father's position. He didn't sound enthusiastic at all about it. I suspected he was rather ashamed of being held to such responsibilities. In Tokyo society it won't impress many young women when you say you're a priest and live out in the countryside looking after funerals and graves. Young women from the countryside come to Tokyo to escape the countryside.

There's actually a lot of temples in the countryside that have no resident priest. The local community might try to find one, but so few people want the job. It isn't necessarily an easy task. You have to maintain the building, grounds and graves, plus do ceremonies on request. You won't pay any taxes, but you might be rather poor by Japanese standards.

As there are so few youth who want to become priests, it is seen as a necessity that one get married to produce an heir disciple and also have one extra set of hands for looking after the place. The greater community might even encourage this. So, even if you wanted to remain single for life, you'd be under pressure to get married and have kids (that's an understandable concern given the circumstances, so we can't be too harsh in our judgement).

Actually in other places in the world like Ladakh there are similar concerns. There are fewer monks than before and those who do sign up (or are signed up) are almost all from poor families. In the old days, as it is today, orphans are often sent to monasteries. You can live your life okay doing pujas for people and maybe even studying, but there's a lot of monks who never really wanted the job in the first place (curiously there's a lot of enthusiastic nuns, but their potential contributions and abilities are usually overlooked). The same thing happens all over the Buddhist world.
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Re: Japanese Buddhism in Reality

Postby BuddhaSoup » Mon May 27, 2013 3:02 pm

Thanks, plwk, for posting these videos. It is very interesting to see the perspectives of these students.

I'd be interested to learn the curriculum at Taisho University for the would-be priests. While it may be true that Japanese Buddhism is associated, in part, with funerary practice, each of these young men and women seem possessed of a lot of sensitivity and emotional intelligence, as well as what seems to be a sincere reverence for Dharma and their practice. I'd like to think that their educations at Taisho will give them training in other aspects of 'ministry,' such as counseling, teaching, and other aspects of engaged practice....take their temple duties away from solely a funerary focus (not ignoring that, of course) and into their communities offering a whole range of other pastoral service. Then, the life of a priest in Japan might be something that many of the next generation are truly drawn to and inspired by.
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Re: Japanese Buddhism in Reality

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 27, 2013 3:14 pm

Unfortunately "religion" in Japan is sometimes associated with cults, especially amongst younger generations.
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Re: Japanese Buddhism in Reality

Postby MalaBeads » Mon May 27, 2013 6:48 pm

It all sounds very familiar. If you read the biography of Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, there are echoes of this situation throughout.

His father was a zen priest in a poor country temple that he inherited. Funerary was the mainstay, etc. etc. He had a dream to come to America and he finally did when he was in late 50s I think.

He was devoted to the essence of Zen practice and wanted to establish something in America that could return to that essence and be without the rigidities and corruptions of the modern Japanese structures. Or at least that is how I read it.

This was already 50 + years ago but life changes somewhat slowly in many ways in Japan.

A anyone interested in reading more can find plenty of material in "Crooked Cucumber" by David Chadwick.
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Re: Japanese Buddhism in Reality

Postby PorkChop » Mon May 27, 2013 8:07 pm

Maybe I see things different, but I didn't see their responses as scripted; they're typical Japanese optimism if anything.
I also don't get the vibe that they just don't care, I think they genuinely seem to.
Taisho's in Toshima, so it's Tokyo afaik. Tokyo people are known for being more reserved and putting on a good public face. Like you, I also imagine Kyoto & the rest of Kansai would be a much different scene given the number of temples in Kansai and the fact that Kansai people are known for being more outgoing. That being said, I don't know "naichi" (Japanese mainland) that well, only Okinawa - which is an entirely different ballgame (most of the older generation don't really consider themselves Japanese).
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