BUDDHISM, CHRISTIANITY AND ZEN
are many religions in Japan and also there are no religions at all. This
is best explained in the Japanese openness to all religions, often only
paying lip service to all of them. People may visit a Shinto shrine
during the New Year celebrations, or a Buddhist temple. Visits a temple
in the spring and fall to attend the family grave. The birth of a new
child, may warrant a visit to a Shito shrine with the baby in a special
ceremonial gown (see drawing below). The Shichi-go-san (7-5-3)
cerebration usually means a visit for the whole family to a shrine.
Death is dealt with in the Buddhist fashion, while marriage is tackled
quite often still, by Shintoism, or as is becoming increasingly
fashionable a "Christian Chapel service".
The Japanese seek answers and relief from this world's problems and not
for a the world hereafter.
is easy to understand if you visit a shrine or temple. You will usually
find Japanese throwing money into a large barred coffer and then
for what? Success in business, passing exams, their future child's well-being,
a safe home and on and on.
The religious organizations in Japan are by and large rich, visit Kyoto,
see the Buddhist monks driving around in BMW's, maybe with a pretty girl
at his side. A not unusual sight around Japan.
Shinto derived from the Japanese worship of earthly and ancestral gods
at the beginnings of history. Every clan had its own god (Ujigami). The Shinto
gods are collectively known as the eight million deities (yaoyorozu no
kami). Shrines were not erected until the 3rd or 4th centuries.
There are many Shinto sects around Japan, quite few Japanese people
identify with Shinto as a religion, only on those special occasions,
Buddhism is thought to have been introduced in 538 from Korea, at a time
when Japan started to become an unified country. The Japanese took
Buddhism and molded it to their own beliefs and desires.
At the end of the 6th century Buddhism became the main faith of the
Imperial court and other clans. Buddhism had a big impact on culture and
philosophy in Japan with new Buddhist teachings coming from China, adding
to Japanese culture, from the Heian to the Edo periods. Today there are
many Buddhist sects, some of the largest are Soka Gakkai, Rissho Koseikai
Francis Xavier and his missionaries brought Christianity to Japan in 1549.
He was welcomed by the rulers of that time, as they thought it would
present new trading opportunities for them. This was a fairly brief
honeymoon with the new religion, because in 1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned
Christianity and in 1637 under the Tokugawa regime a Christian rebellion
was savagely put down. It was not until 1873
when religious freedom was granted by the Meiji government, that
Christianity made its comeback. All through this period small groups of
Christians kept their beliefs alive in secret.
Today Japanese Christians are quite small in number, especially when
compared with other South East Asian countries. Many Japanese think that
Christianity is an anathema, maybe because of Shintoism which has
dominated from the earliest periods of Japanese history.
Although there are few true Christians in Japan, Christianity has made
some impact on the culture, especially during Japan's modernization at the
end of the 19th century. There are also quite many Christian schools,
starting from kindergarten upwards. Some missionaries are still actively
trying to convert Japanese people, perhaps the most dominant would be the
Mormons. Many Japanese have told me that they would not trust them. One
reason they give is that they all seem to dress alike, have the same
haircut and so on.
Other Christian cults are active, you can sometimes see them outside
stations in Tokyo trying to interest people with pamphlets. Even at very
crowded times the Japanese tend to keep them at arms length as they rush
Christmas is celebrated in Japan, but without the religious trappings. It
is a time for people to enjoy, giving Christmas presents has also become
fashionable, pushed by businesses, it is a purely commercial occasion.
December 25th is not a Public Holiday.
wedding chapels are enjoying good business in Japan. Christian style
weddings are all the rage with young people, even though the couple may
have no knowledge of Christianity, or care in the slightest about the
religious aspects of the service.
An American acquaintance of mine took a job as a Christian priest at one
of the chapels in Tokyo. The only qualification for the job was to read
from a card in English and Japanese. In fact he is not even a Christian,
he said it is easy money, so why not!
A Buddhist meditative posture called zazen has always been a technique for
attaining enlightenment. It was a Zen sect from China that taught that
everything in life could be used for meditation, from sleeping to eating.
In the late 12th century a monk introduced the Rinzai sect of Buddhism
from China and the monk Dogen introduced what was to become the Soto
school of Buddhism in the early Kamakura period.
The Rinzai sect was popular with the nobility and upper class samurai. The
sect stresses meditation, using zazen and koan, paradoxical riddles put by
a master for use in meditation. The Soto sect use only the zazen method to
attain enlightenment. Dogen was not interested in power, he therefore
decided to build his temple in Fukui prefecture, in the mountains, which
was for away from the seat of power in the capital, He taught that
everyone can seek enlightenment, he had many followers.
Zen had a strong influence on Japanese culture, The Rinzai monks
introduced Chinese culture during the Muromachi period. Zen culture
affected literature, influenced ink paintings and portraits, the tea
ceremony has a strong Zen influence. Perhaps the most famous for
foreigners is the Zen rock and sand gardens, considered to be typical
Deshimaru Taisen(1914-1982) is responsible for popularizing Zen in Europe,
he established 60 Zen centers in Europe and North Africa, for the Soto
you have a serious interest in Zen Buddhism, then I would suggest that you
contact the Soto sect for advice.