Societies of Sustainability and Sufficiency:
Learning from Fukushima & Building Green Temple Communities
Purpose & Goals
Japanese Buddhism has two principal roles to play in creating a sustainable development model for Japan to shift towards at this critical juncture in their history.
1) The first is to reinvigorate the ethical and cultural standards of Japanese society, which have deteriorated under decades of hyper-industrial economic development. The devastation of traditional Japanese community, the destruction of its environmental integrity, and the sharp decline in its psycho-spiritual well being over the last 50 years is easily identifiable and well documented. While leaders like Rev. Kono have openly talked about these problems and extolled Buddhist values and culture in rebuilding the fabric of Japanese society, a number of priests at the grassroots level have shown the ability to actual realize this vision. As mentioned above, priests working on a variety of social issues have had significant impact in attending to the needs of the suffering and traumatized, who not only belong to their own temple communities but importantly belong to the wider public sphere of civil society. In Fukushima, in particular, we can see Buddhist priests remaining in highly contaminated areas to continue to serve their communities and hold together communal bonds.
2) The second potential role for Buddhism is to act as a role model and initiator of sustainable living from its base in the community temple. Although there are only a few examples of this work at present, we can see some highly significant initiatives of Buddhist temples educating their communities on the consumption of resources and alternative livelihoods and, even more importantly, creating community initiatives to shift into sustainable livelihoods. Rev. Hidehito Okochi, a Jodo Pure Land priest and representative of the aforementioned Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, is the most outstanding example of this work from his Juko-in temple in a working class section of Tokyo. With a population of 290,000 priests and 76,000 temples widely distributed throughout the nation, fostering an actual movement of such “green temples” can serve as a major contribution to Japan’s overall shift into an environmentally and economically sustainable development policy. Further, such a movement would also serve the attempt to restructure Japanese economic and political systems away from the highly centralized one towards more federal and democratic models of local governance. The potential of Buddhism to make such contributions to Japan’s future development model has already been recognized by important economic development experts, such as Waseda University’s Jun Nishikawa.
As mentioned above, the potential to share and develop these initiatives among like minded Buddhists and clergy from other religions in the world is highly significant. Buddhists in South and Southeast Asia have already developed compelling movements in sustainable development based in spiritual values, albeit in largely rural contexts. On the other hand, Japanese Buddhists can offer their particular expertise and experience in highly industrialized contexts, ones that are emerging now in the global South. The sponsor of this project, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), has over two decades of experience in networking together not only Buddhists but social activists from other religious backgrounds as well as non-religious groups working for sustainable development. In September 2012, INEB in partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held in Sri Lanka the 1st Inter-Religious Dialogue on Climate Change and Biodiversity Conservation, which Rev. Okochi attended and where a model of networked “green temples” sharing known-how and skills was proposed. This proposal is a continuation of this initiative and the vision of not only building sustainable society and culture in Japan but engendering such change across Asia and in the West as well.
Summary of Goals:
- Expose foreign Buddhists, other religious professionals, activists, and media to: a) the realities of life in Fukushima, b) the dislocations caused by nuclear energy in other parts of Japan, c) community support and activism by Japanese Buddhists and other religious professionals in these regions, d) renewable energy initiatives by Japanese Buddhist groups and other religious organizations.
- Share through experiential workshops the perspectives and skills of: a) South and Southeast Asian Buddhists in community development and b) Japanese Buddhists and other religious professionals in anti-nuclear activism and renewable energy.
- Create an international network for sharing best practices on building “green temples” and “green temple communities”