July 14, 2008

If there is no soul, can Buddhism (in Japan) die?

According to this NYTimes article by Norimitsu Onishi, many Japanese no longer find Buddhism or Buddhist traditions, such as elaborate funeral rites, relevant. The article also mentions how many people became disillusioned with Buddhism in the wake of WWII, a time when Buddhist temples, alligned with the state and military, gave fallen soldiers honorable Buddhist names. I know a little more about Chinese Buddhism then I do about Japanese Buddhism (which is one semester versus, well, nothing), so I am hesitant to analyze this nuanced and thought provoking piece, however, I found myself lingering on the page long after I finished reading.

I turned to Eastern religious thought because Western religious philosophy lacked relevance to my life. When my maternal grandfather died during exams my junior year, I found enormous solace in a paper I happened to be writing on the influence of the Bhagavad Gita in Walden. Last year, I began to meditate when I realized that drinking milkshakes is not a valid coping mechanism for a bad breakup (clearly I didn’t spend Yom Kippur fasting). The milkshakes made me happy for all of about 5 minutes; meditating made me thankful instead of resentful. But this isn’t about me (really, I swear), it is about religion and spirtuality, and regardless of the religion being discussed, the issues raised in this piece speak to the role (or often lack thereof) traditional religion plays in modern (or should i say post-modern?) life.

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