Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Japanese Buddhism: In Trouble?

An article in the July 14 New York Time discussed the possibility that Buddhism might be dying out in Japan.

Some of the reasons given:

-The Japanese have an eclectic view of religion. They move easily between Shintoism and Buddhism and aspects of Christianity. The implication is that they are not wedded to Buddhism.

-Buddhism has more or less lost relevance to everyday lives in Japan.

-Buddhism suffered a blow to its credibility when it closely aligned itself with the militaristic government and policies of WWII Japan. Now its words of peace ring hollow.

-Buddhism's last stronghold was in funerals but people are increasingly avoiding the high cost of a Buddhist funeral by going to a secular funeral home or simply cremating the dead and skipping the funeral.

-Buddhism was strongest in the rural areas, where the population is fast dropping.

In universalist Quaker circles, Buddhism is more or less revered. I was told, however, by a professor Eastern religion at McDaniel College, that the Buddhism liberals love is an American cultural construct that bears little resemblance to the Buddhism practiced in most Asian countries. For example, while American Buddhism is a highly individualistic faith practice rooted in a 1960s zeitgeist, Asian Buddhism (and clearly that is a broad and varied field!) typically is based in the community, such as in ancestor worship. Asians who come to this country, he said, will often import Buddhist priests because the religious community creates good karma by serving the priests.

According to adherents.com, roughly six percent of the world population is Buddhist. It is the smallest of the four largest world religions: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism all have more than double the adherents. There are more adherents to "no religion" than to Buddhism.

What do you think can "save" Buddhism or any other religion that is losing numbers? Or to put it another way, what makes a faith strong?

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