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Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) 59-69

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Buddhist Views on Ritual Pactice

Protestant Character of Modern Buddhist Movements

Yukio Matsudo
University of Heidelberg

What is the relationship between ritual and ethical activities in Nichiren Buddhism, as practiced in the Soka Gakkai (SG)? SG is a lay Buddhist organization which is, as such, involved extensively in secular affairs, specifically in the field of educational, cultural, social, and peace-promoting programs. The question is, therefore, not at all whether there is a connection of religious practice and ethical activities. Rather it begs an explanation regarding its ideological background. In this respect a further reflection on a metareflection level would be useful to clarify the "modern" character of SG, which may be discussed in relation to Christian Protestantism since it has been regarded as a spiritual background for the formation of modern ethos such as individualism, egalitarianism, and social engagement. Thus, I will depict the fundamental feature of Nichiren Buddhism as "reformative Buddhism," which makes the practice of Buddhism congruent with "modern" understanding of religious roles in daily life as well as social engagement. On the other hand, I will also discuss some problems being inherent to the Western acculturation of the reformed and "engaged Buddhism." 1

The Ethical Activities of the SG in the World

Ethical and Social Aspects of the Movement

It is generally well known that the lay Buddhist organization, SG, as a whole has initiated wide and multifaceted activities even in an international level in order to transform its religious ideals into social reality, specifically in the field of educational, cultural, social, and peace-promoting programs. For this purpose it established educational institutes ranging from kindergartens to universities as well as research [End Page 59] institutes such as the Institute of Oriental Philosophy (founded 1961), the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (founded 1993), the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research (founded 1996), and other centers for ecological researches. For promoting mutual respect and understanding through cultural expressions and exchanges several institutes have been established, like the Min-On Concert Association (founded 1963), the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (founded 1991), and La Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo in Bièvre, France (founded 1992). On a global level, its political involvement is, for a large part, situated as a NGO in the frame of the UNO and the UNESCO. With the help of the UNO, SG has organized all over the world expositions translating its concerns for peace, e.g., "Nuclear War: Threat to our World" and "War and Peace." With the Simon Wiesenthal Center it organized an exhibition "The Courage to Remember: Anne Frank and the Holocaust Exhibition." The issue of human rights is another of its major concerns. Commemorating the forty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, SG held an exhibition entitled "Toward the Century of Humanity: An Overview of Human Rights in Today's World" at the UN office in Geneva. Also, money received from fund-raising activities has been donated to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and related agencies to provide medical supplies and food, and to support educational programs in the areas concerned. To expose the horrors of war, SG has also published life histories written by members about their sufferings in war: "Women against War," "Cries for Peace," and "Peace is our Duty."

Segmental Differentiation of Organizational Structure

To meet the requirements of functional differentiation of today's modern societal life SG is organized in a segmental and hierarchical structure. The basic structure is the regional units, organized in a hierarchical model, and all members are integrated "in each group" in their residence area. At the same time each member belongs to a specific "division" which is organized according to gender, age, and occupation. There are the four divisions of men, women, young men, and young women. Additionally there are divisions for school boys and girls, university students, as well as divisions according to occupation such as artists, lawyers, medical doctors, academics, and so on. These divisional differentiations reflect the need...