One is the institutional/social question -- that is, should there be a function of "priest" which is different from "monk" as was traditionally understood across the centuries? In other words, do we agree with the way this function has evolved in Japanese Buddhism? Actually it is not so new, since we can see that Shinran (12th century) had a wife and son.
Just because a precedent was set centuries ago doesn't mean it has to be maintained or even recognized as legitimate in the present day.
The deeper question is how we define anuttara samyak sambodhi and the steps that lead to this goal.
I've met Japanese Buddhist priests who reject rebirth and speak of Buddhas and Arhats as amusing literary figures. Rebirth, karma, liberation and so on are not heavily emphasized or even recognized in much of Japanese Buddhism in the present day. For a lot of people Buddhism is an intriguing study of literature and philosophy, and maybe even an "experience" of zazen up in a mountain where you surrender your mobile phone for a day or two, but it ends there.
It is like doing Aikido or something -- do it for as long and as much as you like, but there is no reason to keep going if you get bored with it.
Putting on special robes isn't, in itself, going to get you or I any closer to enlightenment.
I agree, but precept upholding Bhiksu(ni)s are a source of refuge and offerings for us lay people who wish to earn merit and bind ourselves to the sangha.
As long as someone's understanding of what they are doing is in accordance with the dharma, whatever role they are in simply sets the parameters and conditions for practice. But if the path itself has been redefined -- well, there we would be talking about radical break with the rest of Buddhism.
This assumes the person is wise enough to draw their own parameters based on their own potentially deluded knowledge.
Most of us ignorant samsara dwellers, myself included, prefer to defer to the Buddha.
Buddha specifically said that sensory desires (kama
) are a source of suffering and must be eliminated if one is to achieve liberation. Furthermore, they must be overcome if only to master the first dhyana of four, which is a mundane accomplishment (anyone including non-Buddhist yogis are capable of this), but still a prerequisite for realizations and higher knowledges.
Huseng, you're over there so maybe you'd be a position to answer such a question. I remember on e-sangha there was a Japanese practitioner (Matylda) who kept saying that, no, the view in Japanese Buddhism hasn't fundamentally changed.
My feeling is that much of Japanese Buddhism in the present day is empty rituals that are done out of habit and tradition rather than a desire for altruism or enlightenment. You must keep in mind the Japanese in general will maintain a lot of empty rituals just because they become so engrained in the fabric of life and social interactions. When somebody dies it isn't just a single funeral and that's it -- there are certain rituals that are performed after certain periods of time for the deceased and whether or not you really believe they're necessary or not, you're still expected to have a priest do it.
There are still serious Japanese Buddhists, yes, but in general they're low key and most of what I've encountered is fossilized old rituals that prop up a profitable trade of priestcraft. The public is willing to pay for that service, so the demand is met regardless of whether or not the priest really cares about the Dharma or not.
I'll add that I think the present Japanese model has great appeal in western countries where celibacy and abstaining from alcohol are considered abnormal by some and are often associated with religious traditions people either reject or despise for various reasons.
Being told by an exotic character from that enigmatic country of Japan that you can have your enlightenment without renouncing sensory pleasures like sex, alcohol and so on has great appeal. You have the freedom to enjoy yourself without any guilt stinking of Catholicism as well as participating in an exotic Eastern tradition that has few roots in the west and thus almost no skeletons in the closet.
Now in contrast that if you spoke to Chan Master Sheng Yen, who incidentally spent some years in Japan studying at Taisho University, he would have told you that premarital sex is a violation of the third lay precept and that renunciation entails complete abstinence from sex, alcohol and probably music.
The Japanese model is an easy sell to westerners. The orthodox Chinese model is a bit too orthodox for those westerners wanting to reject Christianity and Christian morality.