Experimental Buddhism

Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan

JOHN K. NELSON
Copyright Date: 2013
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqjvs
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    Experimental Buddhism
    Book Description:

    Experimental Buddhismhighlights the complex and often wrenching interactions between long-established religious traditions and rapid social, cultural, and economic change. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and archival research, it is one of the first studies to give readers a sense of what is happening on the front lines as a growing number of Buddhist priests try to reboot their roles and traditions to gain greater significance in Japanese society.The book profiles innovative as well as controversial responses to the challenges facing Buddhist priests. From traditional activities (conducting memorial rituals; supporting residences for the elderly and infirm; providing relief for victims of natural disasters) to more creative ones (collaborating in suicide prevention efforts; holding symposia and concerts on temple precincts; speaking out against nuclear power following Japan's 2011 earthquake; opening cafés, storefront temples, and pubs; even staging fashion shows with priests on the runway), more progressive members of Japan's Buddhist clergy are trying to navigate a path leading towards renewed relevance in society. An additional challenge is to avoid alienating older patrons while trying to attract younger ones vital to the future of their temples.The work's central theme of "experimental Buddhism"provides a fresh perspective to understand how priests and other individuals employ Buddhist traditions in selective and pragmatic ways. Using these inventive approaches during a time of crisis and transition for Japanese temple Buddhism, priests and practitioners from all denominations seek solutions that not only can revitalize their religious traditions but also influence society and their fellow citizens in positive ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3834-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  5. Conventions
    (pp. XI-XII)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. XIII-XXIV)

    It is reasonable to ask why anyone should care about the state and fate of Buddhism in contemporary Japan. An obvious response is to point out that like Daoism in China, Christianity in Europe, or Islam in North Africa, understanding the influences of diverse Buddhist traditions upon Japanese culture and society helps us read an entire civilization. From beliefs about causality to the spiritual and social dimensions of human existence, from aesthetic sensibilities to orientations to the natural world, one would be challenged to find aspects of Japanese culture that have not been shaped by some interaction with Buddhism. This...

  7. 1 Experimental Buddhism: Contexts and Trajectories
    (pp. 1-27)

    It was hours before dawn when the smell of smoke roused the Buddhist priest from his sleep. As he jumped out of bed and raced from his sleeping quarters down a long corridor, a persistent fear that his family’s 400-year-old temple and its treasures would suffer damage by fire snapped into a panicked reality. The smoke thickened as he approached the main hall of the temple, and he heard the popping sound of burning wood. When he flung aside the sliding door to the sanctuary, he saw its tatami floor, multicolored silk banners, and black-lacquered main altar with its drums,...

  8. 2 Japanese Versions of Buddhism
    (pp. 28-69)

    This chapter’s brief survey of the histories, practices, attitudes, and reputations of Buddhist priests in Japan may be somewhat subversive to idealized expectations of these individuals and their traditions. Readers who cherish personal memories of a tranquil temple garden, an encounter with a kindly priest, the awesome spectacle of a Buddhist ritual or festival in full swing—or who have found certain teachings by renowned Buddhist teachers to have significance in their lives—may experience this chapter’s observations as inconsistent with their views of Buddhist beliefs and practices. Cognitive dissonance often arises when a grand theme or preconception confronts the...

  9. 3 Social Welfare and Buddhist-Inspired Activism
    (pp. 70-111)

    For people living in a fast-paced and information-saturated age, it is not surprising that desires for tranquility, emotional control, and spiritual awakening are projected onto the traditions of Buddhism. Buddhist monks and priests are thought to embody these qualities, with the Internet, television, self-help literature, advertising, Hollywood, and self-promotion encouraging the association. Popular trade magazines likeTricycle(60,000 circulation) orShambala Sun(70,000) focus especially on a privatized spirituality, brought about primarily through the practice of meditation. But are mindfulness,zazen, or visualizing Tibetan deities really characteristic of the many types of Buddhism active throughout history? Readers familiar with Buddhist-inspired...

  10. 4 Four Prototypes of Experimental Buddhism
    (pp. 112-140)

    What causes a person to awake to the suffering of others and then engage in efforts to make society more humane? If education, upbringing, or intelligence were key factors, then Japan’s Buddhist priests should be world-renowned as guides and activists of compassion. After all, many of today’s priests have been raised in spacious, aesthetically pleasing settings (the temple) premised upon the teachings of a religious order. They have attended high-quality schools during the day and most are graduates of respected universities. They and their families have lived on the monetary donations of others, so it would seem only natural they...

  11. 5 Alternatives and Innovations in Buddhist Religious Practice
    (pp. 141-187)

    In the span of a few short years, the digital revolution has enabled individuals from all social and economic classes to position themselves within expansive networks that are quite unlike anything the world has seen. Just as individuals and businesses can extend their digital reach, so too can churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, or other religious organizations muster technological resources and IT skills to reorient themselves socially and globally.

    One of the defining features of globalization is that local organizations like banks, markets, schools, or religious institutions can be reconfigured and repositioned to align with more expansive systems that transcend and...

  12. 6 The Future of Buddhism in Japan
    (pp. 188-216)

    When thinking about where Japanese Buddhism will be twenty or more years from now, it is important to recall that in whatever context it is found, “Buddhism” is anything but a singular institution, religion, or philosophical system. We can, of course, find evidence within Japan’s Buddhist denominations for a basic set of religious ideas about spiritual awakening, salvation, and causality (to name a few major themes). But as a number of scholars have observed, these concepts are made manifest and multiplied through the prism of 157 denominations, sects, subsects, and branches. By and large, Japan’s major Buddhist schools privilege the...

  13. Appendix: TEMPLES VISITED
    (pp. 217-218)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 219-260)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-276)
  16. Index
    (pp. 277-292)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-297)