Day: July 14, 2008

Confessions of a Small-Temple Buddhist Priest

Title sound familiar? Well, apparently Buddhists in Japan are facing the same challenges as small churches in the US. Listen to this from the New York Times article, “In Japan, Buddhism May Be Dying Out:”

Across Japan, Buddhism faces a confluence of problems, some familiar to religions in other wealthy nations, others unique to the faith here.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

Over the next generation, many temples in the countryside are expected to close, taking centuries of local history with them and adding to the demographic upheaval under way in rural Japan.

Sound familiar? Not enough priests, urban temples declining, rural temples declining due to death of older members and population shift, and many temples in rural areas expected to close.

What should we make of this? My take is that in a postmodern world religions of all sorts are taking a hit. The NYT article goes on to mention that even Buddhists funerals, preferred by many Japanese, are also declining as many in Japan have either secular funerals or none at all for loved ones. I read several months ago of the trend in England to non-religious life celebrations instead of funerals.

If the thing religions do is to give meaning to the great events of life — birth, growth, maturity, and death — then how is it that all religions seem to be losing the numbers battle in our increasingly secular world? Oh, I also read that young Buddhists monks are hanging out in bars to engage young Asians in theological discussions. Sounds like “theology on tap – Buddhist style” to me. There is truly nothing new under the sun.