Japanese Temple Buddhism

Japanese Temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation

Copyright Date: 2005
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    Japanese Temple Buddhism
    Book Description:

    There have been many studies that focus on aspects of the history of Japanese Buddhism. Until now, none have addressed important questions of organization and practice in contemporary Buddhism, questions such as how Japanese Buddhism came to be seen as a religion of funeral practices; how Buddhist institutions envision the role of the laity; and how a married clergy has affected life at temples and the image of priests. This volume is the first to address fully contemporary Buddhist life and institutions—topics often overlooked in the conflict between the rhetoric of renunciation and the practices of clerical marriage and householding that characterize much of Buddhism in today’s Japan. Informed by years of field research and his own experiences training to be a Tendai priest, Stephen Covell skillfully refutes this "corruption paradigm" while revealing the many (often contradictory) facets of contemporary institutional Buddhism, or as Covell terms it, Temple Buddhism. Covell significantly broadens the scope of inquiry to include how Buddhism is approached by both laity and clerics when he takes into account temple families, community involvement, and the commodification of practice. He considers law and tax issues, temple strikes, and the politics of temple boards of directors to shed light on how temples are run and viewed by their inhabitants, supporters, and society in general. In doing so he uncovers the economic realities that shape ritual practices and shows how mundane factors such as taxes influence the debate over temple Buddhism’s role in contemporary Japanese society. In addition, through interviews and analyses of sectarian literature and recent scholarship on gender and Buddhism, he provides a detailed look at priests’ wives, who have become indispensable in the management of temple affairs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6313-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Reign Periods
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction: Snapshots of Buddhism in Today’s Japan
    (pp. 1-10)

    Shōshin and I sat on the floor in his room at the temple. Records were scattered all about, guitars leaned against the walls, and books cluttered the desktops. Coltrane played through old speakers as we sat working our way through a bottle of Japanese vodka(shōchū)and discussed Amida Buddha’s vow to save sentient beings. We talked through the night. Shōshin earnestly strove to teach me about the truth of Amida’s vow. In the morning, we made our way downstairs to have breakfast. Shōshin’s young son greeted us loudly. Shōshin’s father, the head priest of the temple, and mother were...

  7. 1 Temple Buddhism Today: Scholarly and Popular Images of Corruption
    (pp. 11-22)

    Temple Buddhism has been described as a “corrupt” or “degenerate” form of Buddhism throughout the modern period. Most recently, priests have been portrayed in a negative light in popular films such asOsōshiki(The Funeral) andOhaka ga nai(I Have No Grave). This image of Temple Buddhism as a degenerate form of Buddhism is by no means simply a popular construct. Scholars of Buddhism, Japanese and Western (many of whom are ordained as priests), have long painted a bleak picture of Temple Buddhism, as have many Buddhist priests. The corruption paradigm of interpretation can be seen in five areas:...

  8. 2 Laity and the Temple: Past and Present
    (pp. 23-42)

    The bedrock of Temple Buddhism is thedanka.³ Some temples survive with small lay memberships, or even none at all (large prayer temples, major pilgrimage or tourist sites), but the majority of temples in Japan fall into thedankatemple (dankadera, lay-member-supported temple) category. It takes approximately two hundred to three hundred households to support a temple, the head priest, and his family; any less than that and the income from temple-related duties alone (primarily funerals and memorial services) will not suffice.⁴ Just as few young doctors in the United States opt for a career in rural areas where there...

  9. 3 Trying to Have It Both Ways: The Laity in a World-Renouncer Organization
    (pp. 43-61)

    Despite having other places to go for religious needs, most Japanese still turn to the temple for funeral and mortuary rituals. As we have seen, however, even the shelter of the funeral is being taken away from Temple Buddhism. What are the temples and the sects of Temple Buddhism doing to respond to new religious trends, new funeral options, and the effects of urbanization and changing family structures? The sects of Temple Buddhism have been very slowly reengineering their organizations and their practices to meet contemporary needs. Let us examine the Tendai sect’s attempt to create new roles for the...

  10. 4 The Contemporary Priesthood: Images of Identity Crisis
    (pp. 62-89)

    Priests today live trapped between images of the ideal—“true Buddhism”—and images of the corrupt—“funeral Buddhism”; between the fiscal and ritual necessities of everyday temple life as it has developed since the early modern period and popular dissatisfaction with that way of life; and between calls to retain “tradition” and calls to address contemporary needs and demands. Conflicts such as these are not new to the postwar period. They have existed in various forms since premodern times. However, it is particularly in the modern, and especially postwar, period that the images of “real” or “true” Buddhism have come...

  11. 5 New Priests for New Times?
    (pp. 90-108)

    Counselor, ritual master, world-renouncer, or world-embracer, the roles of priests are under much debate today. Officials of Tendai and other sects are aware of the need to breathe new life into the priesthood and to overcome negative images associated with the temple as a family business or as a funerary services provider. This chapter will explore the contemporary efforts of the sects of Temple Buddhism to widen the net cast for new priests and to broaden the roles priests are actively engaged in.

    Although they still rely on temple-born recruits and emphasize in their literature to priests and temple wives...

  12. 6 Coming to Terms: Temple Wives and World-Renouncers
    (pp. 109-139)

    In previous chapters, I have shown how the sects of Temple Buddhism struggle to redefine the relationship betweendankamembers and the temple and to re-create priestly roles. I have also shown that despite their best efforts the sects have yet to achieve real success because of failure adequately to remedy underlying problems. Most important, they remain trapped between their sincere desire to meet the needs of modern society and their equally sincere desire to continue as world-renouncing defenders of tradition. There is perhaps no point at which this conflict is more pronounced than in the debate over the place...

  13. 7 Money and the Temple: Law, Taxes, and the Image of Buddhism
    (pp. 140-164)

    I have identified a variety of difficulties in maintaining a world-renouncing institution while continuing householding practices. I will now explore the difficulties of maintaining a nonsecular institution, the temple, in a secular world. Much of the criticism currently aimed at Temple Buddhism stems from the economic activities of priests. Religion and money, it is commonly assumed, should not be overly familiar partners. And yet religious organizations, like the people who create and join them, need some measure of financial stability. I begin by reviewing the history of temple funding in Japan and then go on to examine the economic activities...

  14. 8 The Price of Naming the Dead: Funerals, Posthumous Precept Names, and Changing Views of the Afterlife
    (pp. 165-190)

    Tourism, property rentals, and the sale of religious objects are major income sources for temples, and, as we have seen, are also sources of conflicting images regarding the nature of Temple Buddhism. However, as the term “funeral Buddhism” connotes, funerals and memorial services are the primary business of temples. While the major temples of Kyoto, Nikkō, and elsewhere are able to support themselves financially by charging entry fees and relying on donations given during New Year and other festival seasons, the vast majority of temples derive their income from funerals (see table 5). The reliance on funeral income is a...

  15. Epilogue: The World of Householding World-Renouncers
    (pp. 191-198)

    The sun shone hot and bright on the clearing between the Light Up Your Corner Hall and a grove of trees overlooking Konponchūdō, one of the great halls on Mt. Hiei. A couple of hundred chairs sat empty in the scalding heat as those gathered to attend the annual Gathering to Pray for World Peace, held in commemoration of the religious summit meeting on Mt. Hiei, slowly drifted in but still lingered in the shade under the eves of the hall or the outstretched limbs of the tall pines. The director-general of the Tendai sect, clad in black robes, stood,...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 199-238)
  17. Sources Cited
    (pp. 239-250)
  18. Index
    (pp. 251-256)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-258)