Japan Today

Japanese Buddhists adapt to Western views of their religion


What do you think of when you hear the word Zen? For most people, “organized religion” probably isn’t a phrase that pops up immediately. This can be a bit of a predicament for Zen Buddhist missionaries working in places like Europe and North America.

The word, which comes from a Japanese translation of the Chinese word "chan," literally means meditation, and has developed a romantic sense of being purely in the moment and devoid of all thought. This concept has been focused on by various artists in Western culture like Jack Kerouac, with a diminished emphasis on the less sexy doctrines and worshiping of Buddha that are very much a part of the whole religion.

This image dichotomy is something that the Headquarters of Missionary Work for the Soto School of Buddhism in Europe has to deal with all the time.

Excite News Japan recently went to interview them on the state of modern Soto Zen Buddhism abroad.

The Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SOTOZEN) explains that they have around 4,600 members around Europe, with nearly half of them concentrated in France. Second place is tied for approximately by Italy, Germany and Spain.

They use the term “members” loosely, however, to refer to anyone who shown an interest in and participated in the meditation aspect of the religion. Even so, they have a significant enough presence on the continent to function.

In addition to the well-known meditation, they are also able to offer equally important rituals such as chanting sutras, eating meals in conformity with the dining rules of "oryoki," and performing intense 3-day to week-long meditation session referred to as "sesshin" in the summer.

SOTOZEN explains that their presence in Europe was partly due to getting in at the right time.

“In 1967, a Soto monk named Taisen Deshimaru had set up a Zen dojo in Paris to bring Zen to Europe. At the time the Vietnam war was waging and hippie culture was firmly entrenched. People were quickly losing faith in their current social foundations and were looking for anything new. Along with India’s Hinduism, Zen was another well that they could take pieces from to fit into their ideological puzzle. Zen’s focus on sitting (zazen) and meditating was very accessible for people. You didn’t even need knowledge of Japanese, just a body.”

Although people didn’t need to know Japanese to participate, it seems it would have helped to recognize it as a religion rather than just a philosophy. And yet, ironically, this may have been the cause of its success in the largely secular nation of France.

“As opposed to the faith-based Zen meditation, many people have incorporated Zen meditation as a purely physical act. That could be the reason many people join the Zen meditation in Europe. They want to meditate but cannot worship Buddha, and when they enter the main hall many people refuse to pray.”

For some religions this may be considered a grave insult, but for Soto Zen Buddhism as well as many other branches of the religion, adaptation is the key to survival. SOTOZEN are well aware that what Zen is depends largely on the when and where.

While many critics claim that this is Zen’s biggest weakness, there probably wouldn’t be a European Soto school without the ability to change and respond to the people around it.

Source: Excite News

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I don't think it's necessary to adapt the people around Zen. Principle is not to bargain. What the need is patience and steadfastness on the part of the Zen Monks engaging there. There must be some decent French there who would pray before the Buddha. However, the numbers be small initially, that could grow in the passage of time. If Zen could be thrive in America, Europe is no exceptional. As I understand, the people who are initially not Buddhists could confuse the practice of Zen Monks who drink and wed and sleep with women the original rules of the Buddha. If Japanese Zen Monks such kind of crimes to their religion is known to the Southeast Asian Buddhists, they will never accept the establishment of Japanese Zen organisations in their countries. Those Zen Monks and other Monks from other sects should be disrobed and stay as devoted lay Buddhists if they could not comply the original Buddhist rules or Vinaya. I strongly encourage Japanese Monks and the citizens to purify their religion. Otherwise, what is the difference between the ordinary worldly citizens and the Monks?

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I strongly encourage Japanese Monks and the citizens to purify their religion.

Ah, swivel-eyed fundamentalism. Exactly what the world needs more of right now.

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Correction! Sorry, in my previous comment, I miss a crucial word in line six that could confuse or change the meaning of the sentence. Please read as . . . . . . . who drink and wed and sleep with women the against the original rules of the Buddha, instead of . . . . who drink and wed and sleep with women the original rules of the Buddha.

Thank you for your understanding sir/madam.

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Sorry nyunshwe, but you seem to think that American Buddhist do follow the original rules of the Buddha. They most certainly do not.

Fundamentalism, much like any form of exclusionism, has never shown itself to be a socially unifying force. If anything, it has a greater history of leading to sadness.

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Monk can married?

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In true Buddhism, the Buddha isn't worshiped.

In that case, what does the true Buddhism worship?

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Buddhism isn't about worship at all. It is the process of perfecting the self through selflessness. Westerners understand it as a religion but it really is a misnomer. Buddhism revolves around the subject rather than a deity, and it revolves around the subject, the individual, through the opposite of worship. It is easier to compare true Buddhism to philosophy, to a form of secular idealism.

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