Huseng wrote:However, the numbers continue to decrease and few people I know under 35 have any interest whatsoever in religion. Buddhism is largely associated with death.
Even in the academic world the number of people researching Buddhism is on the decline.
The numbers may be decreasing for the old schools of Japanese Buddhism - but that's definitely not the case for the new interpretations of Japanese Buddhism. And you have to be cautious, when Japanese say, that they are atheists or have no interest in Religion. What matters is what they do - and they do in fact take part in religious rites, like pilgrimages, festivals, temple visits for praying etc. That Religion in Japan has a negative connotation and everyone claims to have no interest in it, is one of the recent research themes in religious studies. It probably has roots in the ideology of State-Shinto, which claimed, that Shinto is not a religion, that the Shinto Ideas about the creation of Japan and the enthronement of the Tenno is not mythology, but historical fact and that the rites are not religious acts, but the natural behaviour of Japanese people (which made it easier to force people, who had other beliefs to do Shinto rites, and accuse them of unpatriotic behaviour if they chose not to take part in Shinto rites). That is exactly the way some Japanese would argue today, that taking part in Shinto rites is not religious at all.
That doesn't mean people do it to gain merit or for religious reasons. People like hiking up Mt. Fuji, which historically was a religious activity. Waling around Shikoku is likewise originally a religious activity, but now is more of an activity for tourists and retired people.
Do you really think people go to 88 Temples - most of them being not very outstanding from an architectural or artistic point of view - spend all this money and effort, learn how to recite the Heart Sutra etc. just for tourist reasons? I don't think you do justice to the pilgrims by making wild assertions. Can you give some evidence, that the pilgrims on Shikoku don't do the pilgrimage for religious reasons?
Also the larger temples are full of visitors - even students go there to pray for good grades
Sure, they go there to take photos and do sightseeing. That is no more religious than going to Disneyland in Chiba.
Well they actually go to offer incense and pray there. I'm sorry I don't see the connection to Disneyland, Huseng.
Funerals are important, yes, but I disagree with charging anything at all for them. If a family offers a donation, that's fine, but having set fees for such rituals is base.
Set fees for funerals are normal around the world. There is no formal membership to Japanese Buddhist Schools, so there is no regular income unlike other religions so the fees are not just normal, but also existential for the priests.
I think having an abortion and praying to Ksitigarbha to take care of the murdered baby so that you don't get some pissed off ghost coming after you and your family is absolutely disgusting. People think offering some toys to a Ksitigarbha statue and paying off a priest will somehow dissolve them of their past misdeed. That is adharmic.
There is not one passage in the Jizoukyou mentioning, that the ghosts of the deceased will come after you - making rituals for them is out of pure compassion. And the Jizoukyou is the basis for those rituals. And you have to think about the psychological trauma after an abortion. A ritual can help you deal with this and the "ghost coming after you" is nothing more than the bad conscience. I absolutely do not support abortion, but I think helping those, that have troubles after an abortion is not "adharmic" but compassionate and a buddhist thing to do.
Also the service in front of a Butsudan (buddhist home-altar) twice a day, conducted by mainly older people, is a huge commitment and proof of the role Buddhism takes in many personal lives. Not to speak of the culture, which is full of reference to Buddhist ideas.
The older generation is going to rapidly die off and the youth of today will probably not care to have a butsu-dan in their living room.
How do you know that the youth will not have a butsudan in their living rooms? What tells you, that they will not be interested in Buddhist practice when they are older? Most young people I knew had much more interest in other stuff than "religious stuff", which changed after they grew up...
Don't you think, that one reason for that could also be, that new interpretations of Japanese Buddhism like Sōka Gakkai, Risshō Kōsei Kai, Reiyūkai, Shinnyo‘en, Agonshū and Sanbō Kyōdan are considered to be "new religions" (shin shūkyō 新宗教) rather than Japanese Buddhism?
The perception of old guys in robes doing funerals for money is still there regardless.
That doesn't change the fact, that these new forms of Buddhism are not regarded as Buddhism. There may be the perception of some people, that Buddhism is about funeral, but what they mean is traditional Buddhism in their home town and not the Buddhism of large temples, the pilgrimages, newer forms of Buddhism etc.