NEW PUBLICATION: Engaged Buddhism in Japan

In Two Volumes

Vol I: An Engaged Buddhist History of Japan from the Ancient to the Modern

April 2023

Jonathan S. Watts

International Buddhist Exchange Center (IBEC)

Published by Sumeru Books (Canada)

These volumes offer a unique perspective outside of the normal scholarly or sectarian historical presentations of Japanese Buddhism. Volume I uses a socially engaged Buddhist lens to examine keys themes in the development of Buddhism in Japan, particularly in their socio-political context. The latter half of this volume then charts the struggles of modern Japanese Buddhists to develop a socially engaged perspective and practice amidst the trials and tribulations of modernity, imperialism, war, and postwar economic boom. In this way, Volume I offers the critical historical perspectives for understanding contemporary Japanese Buddhism, which so many in Asia and elsewhere find incomprehensible with “monks” who marry, drink, and live largely secular lives.

Out of the distortions of modernity, Volume II offers a series of contemporary case studies of Socially Engaged Buddhist priests (both male and female) who are redefining Japanese Buddhism, and perhaps even Japanese society in the 21st century. Since the Japanese economy began to falter in the 1990s, Buddhist priests have begun to come out of their temples and their once lucrative Funeral Buddhism activities to engage directly in the suffering of the common people. Volume II offers an intimate look into this work in the areas of end-of-life care, suicide prevention, disaster trauma and chaplaincy, poverty and homelessness, anti-nuclear activism and Buddhist development, and peace and social justice. This second volume is the culmination of over fifteen years of participatory research by the International Buddhist Exchange Center (IBEC) of the Kodo Kyodan Buddhist Fellowship in Yokohama.

Vol II: Contemporary Exemplars from Intimate Care to Social Ethics

Introduction: The Rise of the Karmically Disconnected Society (Mu-en Shakai) in the 21st Century Japan

Chapter I: Reforming Funeral Buddhism through Compassionate End-of-Life Care in Contemporary Japan

Chapter II: Rewriting Culture: The Suicide Prevention Priests of Japan

Chapter III: Entering the Zone of Suffering: Disaster Relief, Grief Care, and Buddhist Chaplaincy

Chapter IV: Rebuilding Karmic Bonds amidst Japan’s Disconnected Society: A Buddhist Path through Rural Decline, Migrant Laborers, Poverty & Homelessness

Chapter V: Aspiring for Enlightened Development: The Disaster of Nuclear Energy & The Potential for Buddhist Development (kai-hotsu) Using the Four Noble Truths

Afterword: Where Are the Women? Gender Justice as the Next Wave in Japanese Socially Engaged Buddhism?

Meet some of the priests and laypeople in Vol. II in our podcast series!

Meetings with Remarkable Buddhists: Socially Engaged Buddhism in Japan in the 21st Century

About the Author: Jonathan S. Watts began working at the main office of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) in Bangkok in 1990 shortly after graduating Princeton University in the United States where he was born and raised. Under the tutelage of renowned Thai engaged Buddhist Sulak Sivaraksa and the teachings of one of the earliest articulators of a progressive modern Buddhism, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, he has spent the last thirty years immersed in the international engaged Buddhist movement. Moving to Japan in 1993, he has worked in a variety of Buddhist settings including nineteen years at the research institute of the Jodo denomination, whose teacher Honen was the first of the great Kamakura Buddhist revolutionaries; the last sixteen years at the Kodo Kyodan Buddhist Fellowship, a modern lay denomination emerging from the ancient Tendai denomination from which the Kamakura masters all sprang; and the last fourteen years the Zenseikyo Foundation and Rinbutsuken Institute for Engaged Buddhism, a non-sectarian foundation formed in the post-war area that is training Buddhist chaplains. He has also taught contemporary Buddhism in Japan and Asia at Keio University since 2008. This volume documents his own work during this time to support Japanese Buddhists to develop their own Socially Engaged Buddhist movement in connection with similar movements in Asia and the West through the Japan Network of Engaged Buddhists (JNEB).

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