The Buddha Vanishes?


It is a headline seemingly so odd that, upon reading it, one’s first thought is that it must be incorrect: “In Japan, Buddhism May Be Dying Out.”

The New York Times reported on this, noting that, in funerary matters,

the Japanese have traditionally been inflexibly Buddhist — so much so that Buddhism in Japan is often called “funeral Buddhism,” a reference to the religion’s former near-monopoly on the elaborate, and lucrative, ceremonies surrounding deaths and memorial services.

But that expression also describes a religion that, by appearing to cater more to the needs of the dead than to those of the living, is losing its standing in Japanese society.

“That’s the image of funeral Buddhism: that it doesn’t meet people’s spiritual needs,” said Ryoko Mori, the chief priest at the 700-year-old Zuikoji Temple here in northern Japan. “In Islam or Christianity, they hold sermons on spiritual matters. But in Japan nowadays, very few Buddhist priests do that.”

Mr. Mori, 48, the 21st head priest of the temple, was unsure whether it would survive into the tenure of a 22nd.

“If Japanese Buddhism doesn’t act now, it will die out,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait. We have to do something.”

The piece adds that

Not only has the number of temples in Japan been dipping — to 85,994 in 2006, from 86,586 in 2000, according to the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs — but membership at many temples has fallen.

In a distant way, it reminds me of the way Roman Catholic churches have been threatened with closing in Harlem, due to declining numbers.

I’m curious where this story is going, what the upshot will be, and if there will be any sort of ripple effect in Asian Buddhism from this development.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 hal on 03.18.11 at 12:05 pm

…and replaced by what?….false western religions?

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