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Japan: Buddhism and Christianity

"Japan: Buddhism and Christianity" Continued...

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

As Mr. Honda fingers his japaa-mala (prayer-ring), he notes that jahpa (a different word with the same pronunciation in Sanskrit) means "rose," which led to the word rosary; early Christians came to India, saw japaa-mala, and brought the idea back to Europe. More important, though, is the echo of Christianity in the Jodo Shinshu denomination. Priests like Mr. Honda say, contrary to other kinds of Buddhism, that salvation comes not through meditation and strenuous exercises but only through faith in the power of a Buddha manifestation who (in an echo of Christianity) sacrifices himself for others.

Junko Blockson grew up in a small Buddhist temple run by her family-both of her grandfathers were Buddhist priests-but then came to believe in Christ and joined the church at age 20. Why? Now in her late 30s and married to a professor at Kyoto International University, a Christian school, she recalls that "I knew all the do's and don'ts, but not how and why to lead a good life. Out of curiosity I started coming to a chapel; I heard a sermon and believed."

That change was dramatic, and so were the consequences. When Junko said Christianity is the only way and stopped bowing before the family altar, her father said she was breaking wa (harmony). Her father shaved off his hair and apologized to all his relatives for not having raised his daughter rightly. And yet her father, who along with performing his priestly duties works in a government social welfare department, has told her that Christians do best at helping handicapped children, because they see meaning in the existence of those children.

Why are Yamamoto Maya and Takagi Kinho living in the different world of the mountain, Honda Yoshinari in the ordinary world of the city, and Junko Blockson in a different spiritual universe? In this special report we'll learn about the beliefs and concerns that animate them, and much else. Our goal is to explore Buddhism not in the abstract but to see how belief and practice change societies and lives. We'll look at early Buddhist beliefs and the innovation that renewed Buddhism soon after Christ's disciples first came to India. Then, so that we can see the practical effects of Buddhist beliefs and the difference between theory and practice, we'll focus on the way Buddhism developed in Japan.

We'll also examine one popular form, Jodo Shinshu, that reflects some aspects of Christianity in the way that a lake reflects the light of the moon, which is a reflection of light from the sun. We'll look at the persecution of Christians in Japan, the development of a Japanese Buddhist equivalent of the Protestant ethic, and the effect of that worldview on recent political and economic developments. We'll end with an examination of three alternatives for Japan.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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