I was fortunate to stumble across this short article from the Guardian on Japanese Buddhists trying to be more trendy to attract younger people who aren’t particularly interested in religion. There’s a lot of great stuff in this piece (and plenty of other folks have already picked up on it including the ever-wonderful worst horse and Kyoshin), so I’m not sure where to begin. I think, for starters, I’ll start at the end.
At the bottom of the article is brief little bit about the development of Japanese Buddhism. It’s surprisingly accurate in its brevity, and one of those times that I’m happy to read about Buddhism in the mainstream press. It doesn’t foreground “Zen” as the Japanese religious experience. And the article in general spends all of its time talking about Shinshu.
That said, let’s talk about Shinshu. The priests in this article are doing, among other things, participating in fashion shows, hanging out in jazz clubs, drinking, smoking, and (presumably) cutting hair. Hmm. Let’s see. Fashion. Food and wine. Music. And Buddhism? What? Have they realized the radical notion that enlightenment isn’t somewhere else but right here, in this world?
I kid, of course. I kid because I love this stuff. I love it when Buddhists are actual people. Because, surprise surprise, we are. And this so wonderfully flies in the face of the old (American) stereotype of Buddhists sitting around in meditation acting so godamn serious all the time. Get. Over. It.
But, and more importantly, I think this is a good way to start thinking about Buddhism out here in the wild frontier of America. The Worst Horst put it bluntly. It ain’t happening here, and if the Dharma is to spread, it’s up to us. (I find myself agreeing with that guy a whole lot. Gotta read him more often.) The future of Buddhism in America (or Buddhism in anywhere) is up to the people who like to call themselves Buddhists (whatever the hell that might mean), so we’d better get down to business and make it happen.
This little rant, for me, is directed squarely at the Buddhist Churches of America. Since I profess to be a Shin Buddhist, and since the BCA is the largest organized representative of Shin Buddhism in the States, and since, if you follow the paper trail far enough, they pay my rent, they’re my community-colleagues-co-conspirators-employers. And very often they miss the mark in remaining attractive to people. And their recent attempts to be attractive to non-Shin Buddhists have been to foreground what we don’t do very well (meditate) and to disregard what they’ve traditionally been pretty damn good at (raising Buddhist kids).
Oh how I wish I could get into that. But it’s just about time for me to pick up Dana, so off I go!
(It’s been a hectic week, by the way. Turned the dissertation in and have been teaching all week. But class ends tomorrow and then I’m taking a well-deserved break.)