Partly as an attempt to express Buddhism’s relevance in today’s Japanese society, a number of Buddhist NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have emerged and are expanding following the events of 9/11 and the developments in Iraq.
In a report on Buddhist NGOs in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (Vol. 13, No. 2, 2004), Jonathan S. Watts (Jodo Shu Research Institute, Tokyo) stressest NGOs in Japan in the latest issue of the the specific meaning of the NGO in the Japanese context: it refers to groups involved in international cooperation activities, and not on domestic Japanese issues.
Japanese Buddhist NGOs originally were a response to the crisis in Indochina (boat people, refugees at the Cambodian border). Not only critical questions were asked about what Buddhism was doing practically for the well-being of fellow human beings, but Japanese priests who visited Indochina were embarrassed to see that mostly Christian groups were active in humanitarian relief there.
In a second step, the Hanshin earthquake saw a number of “international” Japanese NGOs helping in their home country following the disaster. Then, in 1998, the Non-Profit Organization law was introduced and allowed Japanese taxpayers to deduct donations to humanitarian efforts from their taxes.
Over the years, Japanese Buddhist NGOs have also become active outside of Asia (Middle East, Africa). A Buddhist NGO Network was formed in 2002. The impact of the Iraq crisis is still difficult to assess, observes Watts, who is also the coordinator of a Buddhist think tank, “Think Sangha”. People from many corners – religious and secular – speak much of peace, but Buddhist organizations seem rather to be attempting to catch up with the general movement in society than to lead it.
(Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 18 Yamazato-cho, Showa-ku, Nagoya 466-8673, Japan. Website:http://www.nanzan-uc.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religoscope (http://www.religion.info)