Religion Buddhism in Modern Japan

By JREF · Nov 6, 2012 ·
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    Statistically, Japan is a country of Buddhists. More than six-sevenths of the population profess the Buddhist faith, though three-quarters claim to be nonreligious. Buddhism in Japan, divided into 13 principal sects, maintains around 75,000 temples (86,586 in 2000, 85,994 in 2006) with over 100,000 priests. Several colleges and institutes in Kyoto and Tokyo are chiefly dedicated to the study of Buddhist theology.

    The following criticisms, however, may be made of present-day Buddhism: Buddhist influence on Japanese intellectuals has been rather insignificant; its dogmas have become unintelligible to the public, and few people show an active interest in the religion. Priests chant sutras and other holy scriptures with due solemnity in rituals, but these are regarded as empty formulas. The Buddhist ideals of human life have been forgotten, and the religion is thought to possess little spiritual or moral value. Although publications concerning religion are increasing in number, students of religious studies are diminishing.

    The future outlook of Buddhism in Japan is hard to predict because it depends mainly upon the efforts of Japanese Buddhists themselves, both priests and laymen, and the efforts of scholars. The scientific study of Buddhist philosophy, which in recent years has made remarkable progress in Japan, is still far beyond the understanding of the public because of the tendency of some scholars to focus on the technicalities of dogma. Even the so-called “funeral Buddhism” is on the decline, as more and more Japanese conduct their services in funeral homes.

    Hopeful signs for revival, however, have developed. New organisations for the practice and spread of Buddhism have been formed; sermons and lectures, Buddhist books, and even kindergartens and nurseries run by Buddhist priests are increasing in number. Many of the new religions which have arisen in the past few decades show Buddhist influences.

    International activities by Japanese Buddhists also are steadily increasing: missionaries are being sent abroad, mainly to North America; an abundance of books and articles are being published in Western languages, and Japanese scholars are collaborating with foreign scholars in compiling Buddhist encyclopedias in Western languages. The entire body of the Tibetan scriptures has been published by a Japanese institute, and a complete bibliography of Buddhist articles published in various countries has now been published in Japanese. Scholars and students from all over the world come to Japan for Buddhist studies. Several groups have set up relief organisations for refugees and projects for helping developing countries.

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