Re: [ineb] GETTING BEYOND GOOD vs EVIL -- A Buddhist Reflection on the New HolyWar by David R. Loy
- Also check out the Think Sangha homepage for a recent report on socially engaged Buddhism in Japan
The Blooming of Socially Engaged Buddhism in Japan? by Jonathan Watts
Socially engaged Buddhism in Japan is somewhat of an enigma. It does not have a single hi-profile person who leads a major social change organization like A.T. Ariyaratne and Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka, Sulak Sivaraksa and his many small NGOs in Thailand, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile, or even Aung San Suu Kyi and her democracy movement in Burma. Although some have painted Daisaku Ikeda and Soka Gakkai in a similar light to these figures, it is an erroneous comparison as Soka Gakkai inside of Japan largely devotes itself to its own organization expanding activities and very partisan political organization. Amidst highly secularized and highly western influenced Japanese society, many socially engaged Buddhists keep their Buddhist side to themselves. Further, there has been very poor networking among socially engaged Buddhists due to this discrete Buddhist identity and also due to the difficulties of cross organization cooperation in traditional Japanese social groups. Part of this difficulty in being overtly Buddhist in a modern Japan is perhaps the warranted distrust of the way Buddhism and authoritarian power have made bed fellows in the past. In this way, priests and lay Buddhists have certain hesitations in reaching out beyond the typical social activities of religious organizations which are largely confined to proselytization of new members and basic social welfare activities like running kindergartens. In this way, numerous individual priests and lay organizations have journeyed overseas using Japanese Buddhismユs economic largesse to engage in supporting social welfare activities abroad, mostly in South and South East Asia, but also commonly in Africa and the Middle East. However, without a public identity and a network to unite themselves, the individuals and organizations operate in relative ignorance of each other, often retracing each other's steps and making donations to the same organizations.
It is from this unfocused and disunited situation that the leaders of the most significant Buddhist NGOs have decided that socially engaged Buddhism in Japan needs to come out of the closet. It needs a clear and strong social identity that is known to others. It needs to not be afraid to apply Buddha Dhamma teachings and practice to social problems. It needs to learn from the secular world as well as to offer its potential to a Japanese society that is ideologically and existentially groping for a new identity. This identity needs to be one that joins it significantly with its Asian neighbors and crawls out from under the paternalism of the United States which has so profoundly shaped everything in Japan over the last 55 years.
In this way, these Buddhist NGOs have launched an effort to make a non-sectarian Buddhist NGO network in Japan which will not seek to dictate the activities of assorted socially engaged Buddhist groups. Rather, it will seek to help them find a common identity and develop what we could call a sangha of socially engaged Buddhists who can draw on each other for information, resources and wisdom. The first modest attempt to get this network off the ground was a symposium held on July 6 in Tokyo entitled メBuddhism, NGOs, and Civil Societyモ. The program was headed by two prominent guests: Phra Phaisan Visalo, a development monk from Northeast Thailand, and Jun Nishikawa, Professor of Economics at Waseda University. Phra Phaisan was here in Japan finishing a four month stay to study religion and globalization and had been invited to offer his insights on Buddhist activism from his long time experience in Thailand. Prof. Nishikawa is one of the most prominent economists in Japan who in recent years has become more and more interested in various models of alternative development. He has translated both of David Korten's books (When Corporations Rule the World and The Post-Corporate World) into Japanese and has recently co-edited a comprehensive book on Buddhist-style alternative development in Thailand.
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