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Japanese Temple Buddhism

Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation

Stephen G. Covell

Publication Year: 2005

There have been many studies that focus on aspects of the history of Japanese Buddhism. Until now, none have addressed important questions of organization and practice in contemporary Buddhism, questions such as how Japanese Buddhism came to be seen as a religion of funeral practices; how Buddhist institutions envision the role of the laity; and how a married clergy has affected life at temples and the image of priests. This volume is the first to address fully contemporary Buddhist life and institutions—topics often overlooked in the conflict between the rhetoric of renunciation and the practices of clerical marriage and householding that characterize much of Buddhism in today’s Japan. Informed by years of field research and his own experiences training to be a Tendai priest, Stephen Covell skillfully refutes this "corruption paradigm" while revealing the many (often contradictory) facets of contemporary institutional Buddhism, or as Covell terms it, Temple Buddhism. Covell significantly broadens the scope of inquiry to include how Buddhism is approached by both laity and clerics when he takes into account temple families, community involvement, and the commodification of practice. He considers law and tax issues, temple strikes, and the politics of temple boards of directors to shed light on how temples are run and viewed by their inhabitants, supporters, and society in general. In doing so he uncovers the economic realities that shape ritual practices and shows how mundane factors such as taxes influence the debate over temple Buddhism’s role in contemporary Japanese society. In addition, through interviews and analyses of sectarian literature and recent scholarship on gender and Buddhism, he provides a detailed look at priests’ wives, who have become indispensable in the management of temple affairs.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix

As the basic social unit of Buddhism in Japan, temples are the sites where priests and laypersons attempt to live worldly lives according to teachings of renunciation. This is a certain recipe for failure, the story of which is bound to be fascinating. What is remarkable about institutional Buddhism in Japan, however, is not its much-criticized decline...

Acknowledgments and Reign Periods

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pp. xi-xiii

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Introduction: Snapshots of Buddhism in Today’s Japan

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pp. 1-10

Shòshin and I sat on the floor in his room at the temple. Records were scattered all about, guitars leaned against the walls, and books cluttered the desktops. Coltrane played through old speakers as we sat working our way through a bottle of Japanese vodka (shòchû) and discussed Amida Buddha’s vow to save sentient beings. ...

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1. Temple Buddhism Today: Scholarly and Popular Images of Corruption

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pp. 11-22

Temple Buddhism has been described as a “corrupt” or “degenerate” form of Buddhism throughout the modern period. Most recently, priests have been portrayed in a negative light in popular films such as Osōshiki (The Funeral) and Ohaka ganai (I Have No Grave). ...

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2. Laity and the Temple: Past and Present

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pp. 23-42

The bedrock of Temple Buddhism is the danka.3 Some temples survive with small lay memberships, or even none at all (large prayer temples, major pilgrimage or tourist sites), but the majority of temples in Japan fall into the danka temple (dankadera, lay-member-supported temple) category. ...

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3. Trying to Have It Both Ways: The Laity in a World-Renouncer Organization

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pp. 43-61

Despite having other places to go for religious needs, most Japanese still turn to the temple for funeral and mortuary rituals. As we have seen, however, even the shelter of the funeral is being taken away from Temple Buddhism. What are the temples and the sects of Temple Buddhism doing to respond to new religious trends, new funeral options, and the effects of urbanization and changing family...

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4. The Contemporary Priesthood: Images of Identity Crisis

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pp. 62-89

Priests today live trapped between images of the ideal—“true Buddhism”— and images of the corrupt—“funeral Buddhism”; between the fiscal and ritual necessities of everyday temple life as it has developed since the early modern period and popular dissatisfaction with that way of life; and between calls to...

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5. New Priests for New Times?

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pp. 90-108

Counselor, ritual master, world-renouncer, or world-embracer, the roles of priests are under much debate today. Officials of Tendai and other sects are aware of the need to breathe new life into the priesthood and to overcome negative images associated with the temple as a family business or as a funerary serv-...

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6. Coming to Terms: Temple Wives and World-Renouncers

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pp. 109-139

In previous chapters, I have shown how the sects of Temple Buddhism struggle to redefine the relationship between danka members and the temple and to re-create priestly roles. I have also shown that despite their best efforts the sects have yet to achieve real success because of failure adequately to remedy...

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7. Money and the Temple: Law, Taxes, and the Image of Buddhism

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pp. 140-164

I have identified a variety of difficulties in maintaining a world-renouncing institution while continuing householding practices. I will now explore the difficulties of maintaining a nonsecular institution, the temple, in a secular world. Much of the criticism currently aimed at Temple Buddhism stems from...

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8. The Price of Naming the Dead: Funerals, Posthumous Precept Names, and Changing Views of the Afterlife

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pp. 165-190

Tourism, property rentals, and the sale of religious objects are major income sources for temples, and, as we have seen, are also sources of conflicting images regarding the nature of Temple Buddhism. However, as the term “funeral Buddhism” connotes, funerals and memorial services are the primary business of...

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Epilogue: The World of Householding World-Renouncers

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pp. 191-197

The sun shone hot and bright on the clearing between the Light Up Your Corner Hall and a grove of trees overlooking Konponch


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pp. 199-238

Sources Cited

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pp. 239-249

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 251- 256

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863135
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828561

Publication Year: 2005