An “experimental Buddhism” marks a growing number of temples in Japan, as priests seek to adapt their organizations to changes in society, while often bypassing their denominations in the process, according to an article in the Journal of Global Buddhism (Vol. 12, 2011).
John Nelson writes that it is widely recognized that the traditional Buddhist temple system, where generations of “parishioners” supported temples’ upkeep, has been destabilized. Even if temples continue to conduct business-as-usual in conducting funerals, memorial services and the sale of graveyard plots, increasing individualism and globalization are likely to put into question even such nominal devotions and obligations.
To make matters worse, there is a disinclination among priests to seek new converts and members, mainly due to the religious disaffection still remaining from the Aum Shinrikyo incident in 1995 (and over fear of being labeled a “cult”).But Nelson notes that alongside such consumerism and indifference there is a pattern of innovation, where priests “sidestep the restrictions of denomination and doctrine to use religious traditions selectively and strategically.”
Examples of such innovations include the creation of outreach programs for individuals isolated from meaningful human contact and suicide prevention programs, restoring transparency to temple finances, and establishing hospices for the elderly and shelters for victims of domestic violence. In some cases, NGOs and cultural organizations will partner with temples to better serve their communities.
These innovations have reached denominational headquarters; in the case of the Jodoshu (or Pure Land Buddhist) headquarters in Kyoto, administrators have championed such programs as a way to foster a new model of temples playing a role as community centers.
(Journal of Global Buddhism, http://www.globalbuddhism.org)