March 14th, 2011
04:43 PM ET
How Japan's religions confront tragedy
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
Proud of their secular society, most Japanese aren't religious in the way Americans are: They tend not to identify with a single tradition nor study religious texts.
"The average Japanese person doesn’t consciously turn to Buddhism until there’s a funeral,” says Brian Bocking, an expert in Japanese religions at Ireland’s University College Cork.
When there is a funeral, though, Japanese religious engagement tends to be pretty intense.
“A very large number of Japanese people believe that what they do for their ancestors after death matters, which might not be what we expect from a secular society,” says Bocking. “There’s widespread belief in the presence of ancestors’ spirits.”
In the days and weeks ahead, huge numbers of Japanese will be turning to their country’s religious traditions as they mourn the thousands of dead and try to muster the strength and resources to rebuild amid the massive destruction wrought by last Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami.
For most Japanese, religion is more complex than adhering to the country’s ancient Buddhist tradition. They blend Buddhist beliefs and customs with the country’s ancient Shinto tradition, which was formalized around the 15th century.
“Japanese are not religious in the way that people in North America are religious,” says John Nelson, chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco. “They’ll move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations.”
“For things connected to life-affirming events, they’ll turn to Shinto-style rituals or understandings,” Nelson says. “But in connection to tragedy or suffering, it’s Buddhism.”
There are many schools of Japanese Buddhism, each with its own teachings about suffering and what happens after death.
“There are many Buddhist explanations of why calamities happen: from collective karma to seeing calamities as signs of apocalypse,” says Jimmy Yu, an assistant professor of Buddhism and Chinese religions at Florida State University. “And perhaps all of them are irrelevant to what needs to be done.”
Indeed, where Christianity, Judaism or Islam are often preoccupied with causes of disaster - the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example - Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy.
“It’s very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity, and their religions would emphasize that,” says University College Cork’s Bocking. “They’ll say we have to develop a powerful, even joyful attitude in the face of adversity.”
Japan’s major religious groups are still developing responses to the disaster, but experts say the impulse toward maintaining a positive outlook will likely translate into calls for Japanese to help friends and neighbors clean up and rebuild.
At the same time, Japan’s Buddhist priests will be preoccupied with rituals surrounding death and burial. Japanese Buddhism is often called funeral Buddhism because of its concern with such rituals.
Despite the Japanese penchant for blending their religious traditions - even with Western traditions like Catholicism - the overwhelming majority are buried according to Buddhist custom: cremation and interment in a family plot.
With many bodies swept away in the tsunami, many Japanese will have to come to terms with having to forego that ritual.
After burial, Japanese typically continue to practice rituals around caring for the spirits of the deceased. Most Japanese keep Buddhist altars in their homes, Nelson says, using them to pay tribute to dead ancestors.
“In the days ahead, you’ll see people praying, with hands folded, for the spirits of those killed,” he says. “It goes back to a really early understanding of human spirits and rituals designed to control those spirits, which can take 49 days or, depending on the type of Buddhism, could go on for up to seven years.”
One popular school of Japanese Buddhism, called Amida - or Pure Land - believes in a paradise that spirits of the dead can enter with help from living relatives.
Despite what is likely to be a mass embrace of Buddhist rituals after the earthquake, there may also be some grievances expressed over those traditions.
Many young Japanese have left Buddhism, accusing priests of profiting from grief because of their paid roles in burials. Critics say the priests spend money from funerals on temples without playing a broader role in society.
“The earthquake is an opportunity for Buddhist priests to step up and show they are still relevant,” says Nelson. “Young people just aren’t buying it anymore.”
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Quake here, quake thare. Prayers here prayers there but the questions remains :
10 000 pleaple dead; WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW ? !
Religion has no sense ! it's all about brain wash !
With you. With every one of us.
If you only see God in negative times no wonder you are asking where is God. You truly sound like someone who is looking for Him but through your impatience have not found Him. But He's not hard to find. Don't count Him out because of invisibility. You can't see the air but you believe it's there.
There was no any god concept in Buddhism....These things(like tsunami) happened because people rapidly acting against the Buddhism, specially you can see this through Buddhism spread countries
good report, but I disagree on what it say about christians,( not catholic) we don't ask why God allows the earthquakes and sufering, we know the reason why those things happend, and we know they are not send by God, Jesus told in the bible why those things will happen years ago, I just think we shoul read the bible, it has all the answers
no, air is a scientific fact. not a belief. that's the difference between something like that and the existence of a god.
In your hart.
God never said that things would be perfect in the world.... After-all even His son suffered on the cross for all of us...so we could be forgiven for our sins. As long as we live in this world there will be tragedy that will happen... The question is try and prove He does not excist... Start asking what the truth is...and I am sure you will find the answers.... My question was answered and that is when I asked Christ to show me who He is..... I also asked him to come live within my life and my heart....
There is no God but you. You are that God that you are looking for, or not. God is a Field of Energy called SpirIT. God is your Source of which you are, and in the Illusion of Living your Life, you are that God Source, Individuated in the Cosmos, or Material Worlds of Living, to Experience Life for the sake of your Source-The Field of Energy called SpirIT. A 'dead' person is just a record of you Soul Memory held in this Field of Energy, while you have already been born into a new body for a new life somewhere in Time. True Love to you all. Armand
@ Roger. God is right there with them. Mourning. Suffering. Comforting. Loving. Listening. Caring.
Roger where are you? How are you helping this situation aside from taking the one source of comfort away from people. The true source. God isn't here to take away adversity from people.
What I am trying to say is start asking for the real truth to be shown to you...with an open mind...in all areas of religion...that includes God...and you will find the answer(s). Remember do this with no anger of what is happening in the world right now...but honestly and openly...the truth will be revealed...to all of us...
Don't you think that these tragedies occur because God wants us to learn how to Love each other better, have more compassion, more tolerance for each other? Look at how we come together, citizens and nations, whenever there is a devastating disaster– why can't we continue those feelings and actions of Goodwill toward each other every day thereafter? Why do we need a tragedy to remind us we are brothers and sisters? God loves all of us–even those we think are wicked–and wants the best for each and every one of us. God knows we as humans are not perfect, and so there are lessons to be learned. Lessons of love and compassion are given to us in each child that is born with a handicap or that dies from abuse, in governments that oppress, in genocide; it is a lesson for us to learn about the fragility of our condition and the need for Unconditional Love because we cannot live without each other, so we must learn to love our differences, agree to disagree. God is Love, and Love is THE Only Answer. The sooner we learn this and act upon it, the better off we will be in this life.
I believe in the sun when it isn't shining, I believe in love even when I'm alone, and in God even when he is silent.
If we came from monkeys........why are there still monkeys? Wouldn't monkeys left behind be the weaker of the species and thus no longer needed in nature?
You're not a creationist are you? We didn't evolve from monkeys directly we evolved from similar ancestry....you own a computer educate yourself.
Oneway, I hope you're just a troll. But maybe not since I've heard many ignorant people who learn their science from the pulpit ask the same question. No one believes humans evolved from the monkeys of today. We had a common ancestor with other primates, such as the apes of today, a very long time ago, big difference. Pick up a Nat'l Geographic and they explain it well. Please do not be afraid to educate yourself with the truth.
In addition to not evolving from monkeys, as others said, evolution does not work on the entire species at one time. If a sub-group of the species gets a beneficial mutation, but has no contact with other members of the species there is no way for the entire species to inherit that particular mutation.
An analogy might be, 'if the colonists in American were British then why are there still British today?'
Hope that helps.
LOL.....just being sarcastic guys. I'm a bit more educated than you think. But higher levels of education does not necessarily result in throwing out creationism.
What are you being sarcastic about, because you still seem to be saying that you believe in creationism. The evolving from monkeys idea? But you implied that you know that is not what the theory of evolution states. So it appears that you were just ridculing science and evolution.
By the way, if you look at the statistics on creationism vs education, there does appear to be a strong correlation between level of education and acceptence of evolution.
Nonimus.....you are right. Sarcasm was the wrong choice of words. Its more like "stirring the pot". And I don't disagree with the fact that higher education often leads to acceptance of evolution; considering the beliefs of our professors today. But there are many in the science community that do draw a creationist's conclusion. I also agree that an athiest is better scholared in the Bible than most Christians. Too many Christians have no clue what the Bible says. I believe in the Big Bang theory. That God clapped his hands and BANG, it was so. I don't believe this necessarily because of what was taught to me but by my own personal experience's, observations and the comfort that I have obtained through my savior. God didn't put me here to convince you of His existence so I won't even go there. He just wants me to love Him in return and profess that to anyone open to listening. Try it, there is nothing like it.
Yeah! Why don't some of our super(ior) intelectual(y) atheist friends answer that one!!!!
It's only by God's spirit and calling that any of us are saved. i.e. grace, love, compassion, that he has on us. If he calls and we don't answer well, the blood then is on our own heads and we have not been covered by the sacrifice,i.e.Jesus. Nothing in our strength, will, might, or anything we posses can redeem ourselves or "convert others" to be saved. God has called us to a RELATIONSHIP with him, read Romans chapter 8, we are called the Sons of God. Religion is NOT relationship. "Seek and you shall find". If we seek a RELATIONSHIP with him then our heart, eyes and ears are opened.
If you do not believe in Almighty God,( The Father, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit)you are unlucky one, you have no chance to be in Heaven, and lost everything.
It is refreshing to know Buba is alive and well. What ignorance and lack of understanding and acceptance of other cultures and religions. Your religion is the only religion that is right? I doubt that.
I am truely amazed at the narrow, closed minded ignorance displayed in this string. The article is informative even if it is addressing a culture and religion that is not yours. This does not mean that your religion is the only religion, or the right religion, it is just one of many religions. If this string is what religion in America is about, then we really need "God" to help us.
Well of course that's what it means (sarcasm). Many of the religious in the US believe that their religion is indeed the only religion – their god the only god – and you will NEVER convince them that respecting another person also includes respecting their religious beliefs. They truly believe that they need to convert everyone to their way of thinking.
The "wrath of God" is not that He sent an earthquake, He warned us about these things getting worse and worse thousands of years ago. The "wrath of God" is that because of our denying Him, He has turned His back on us and is not protecting us during these times. He has abandoned us to deal with it ourselves, and as Dr. Phil would say, "How's that working out for us?"
Funny, we hear all the time how loving and forgiving your god is.
Also, so you're saying that the earthquake and tsunami happened because god turned his back on us. Does that mean that anytime something bad DOESN'T happen that god is protecting us? Right now, this very second, there is NOT a tornado in Kansas – is that because god is protecting them? What if there is one later tonight – is that because god decided to turn his back later in the day?
Interesting point Godless.
I'm also curious as to how an omnipresent being "turns His back," even figuratively. I would think that if God is everywhere and knows everything then He would be incapable of not paying attention, i.e. turning His back.
Just a thought though.
Let God will be done thru this blog http://lightoftheearth.blogspot.com/
I have had the opportunity to observe Buddhist ritual and found it to be beautiful and moving.
Secular does not necessarily mean without belief, only that the belief is not what drives the society. Religion is a personal thing and should be kept out of the law and practice of society. It is meant to inform personal behavior, to direct the individual who believes, not overthrow the beliefs of others.
The book of Revolation says Satan was cast out of heaven and was confined to the Earth and this book warns people " Woe for the Earth and the sea because the Devil has come down to you " Jesus said 'He' Satan was the ruler of the Earth and that he is a murderer a lier and deceiver, he is known as the God of this World, Jesus also said that after 'his' Satans short rulership that he 'Satan' would be cast out and eventually destroyed this is what we are seeing today Satan is about to be removed from his rulership and is very angry, so his mission is to kill, steel, and destroy, as for the God of the Heavens and his Son John 3:16 says, God loved the World so much that he gave his only begotten Son that everyone exercising faith in may not be destroyed but have everlasting life, Jesus said his Kingdom was not of this World although he taught us to pray for his kingdom to come and for the conditions in Heaven to also be on Earth Matthew 6:9,10 this will happen when Satans rulership of the Earth ends...
So you believe.
This does not make it fact.
Whatever makes the dark less scary for you. The most scared people I know ramble on about religion........seems by the length of your speech you have a lot of weight pressing on you. Let it go.
Not that I've ever heard of Buddhist evangelists but I'm pretty sure they're not traveling among the shattered villages telling people that their misery is all part of Buddha's big plan.
Well said, Ed!
I have met a lot of people who have great kindness and compassion as a result of their faith, and as such I am grateful that they have it, regardless of what can be said for or against their beliefs themselves. I have also met many great people who hold no religious belief, and I am glad they are in the world.
I find it interesting that recently I meet more militant atheists than militant religious people. While my personal experience hardly counts as statistically significant on a world scale, it is quite remarkable that atheism has become such a publicly impassioned belief. I suppose that as society has become more secular, there have been more forums to safely express such opinions.
I have met militants of all kinds, both atheist and theist, over the years.
I think it speaks more to the person and personality than the belief or lack thereof.
It is a part of their human make up.
I think you meet more militant atheists than militant believers because we live in a society that pretty much FORCES religion on people, whether they want it or not and uses religion to control people and as justification for all kinds of petty laws that are nothing more than an attempt to control people. Also, it's impossible to argue logically with religious people. For example, if this earthquake was "gods will" then why are they praying for the people who suffered through it–that's like praying AGAINST god.
Really David? Let me refresh your memory. Crusades, Inquisitions, Al Qaeda, Taliban. Hmm..., I'd say that it's always been the religious who have been militant, not the atheists.
Sorry Venkat, but I have never met a Crusader, Taliban, Al Qaeda, or inquisitor that I have known of. Have you? And to clarify my statement, I meant militant in the sense of an aggressive proponent, not necessarily a violent proponent.
Bah, all the religious nutjobs... could you go away please ? xooo ! go talk to yourself somewhere else.
Well if you're making me copy down the definition...actually yes. "God" was in one of the definitions.
According to Merriam-Webster:
religion (n) 1 : the service and worship of God or the supernatural. 2 : devotion to a religious faith. 3 : a personal set or inst-itutionalized system of beliefs, att-itudes, and practices. 4 : a cause, principle, or belief held to with faith or ardor.
I'm sure the influence of Zen is a part of the reason things are so calm there, relatively speaking.
Things are as they are.
I think the writer and many others should differentiate between tradition & religion. For example, a catholic from Syria has almost the same beliefs & practices like a catholic in USA yet their traditions are different since they belong to different societies. There is ONE AND ONLY ONE GOD in this existence, not mine or yours, ours or theirs, HE is the GOD of ALL. His HOLY name is ALLAH. Anything happens in this existence is within HIS knowledge. We as humans with limited understanding cannot understand what seems to us bad or good. Any rational person would believe that there is an ultimate power in this world, and this implies that it is so easy for this ultimate power to inform us about itself. I see this clear in the knowledge about ALLAH that we have got from Adams, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Mohammed, Peace be upon them all, whether in the BIBLE (Old & New Testements), or David's Songs, or QURAAN, the Books coming from Heaven. I think it is time for everybody to consider this belief to be saved.
You see, Jesus Christ did not talk about Allah, he talked about his Father. The authority in a person's life is usually one's father, so I guess its logical that God make Himself known to us as the Father. I'm just saying that humanity can relate more to the word Father than to Allah. So if you're a wise teacher like Jesus Christ, for example, introducing God as the Father is already making known to man His authority.
To nip, that said
thats like saying a mother who has had her child killed by someone should seek strength from the killer
According to Buddhism, most likely. Using your example, if a mother lost her child to the hands of a killer she should understand that a) it was karma, meaning that in this lifetime or in past ones she did something really awful to have endured such pain and agony now, and b) the killer has now created dreadful karma for himself, his family and his descendants and will probably endure unimaginable pain, loss in this lifetime and the next. The mother should pray for the killer’s happiness (meaning, that he finds peace after what he did) instead of wish him ill, in that way she will create peace for herself and maybe pick up the pieces of her shattered heart. You will find that compassion is better than rage.
I know, it’s easier said than done; I’m just sharing with you what Buddhism teaches, compassion, love, strength. I hope you all understand.
Thank you nip.
Excellent explanation for the idea of karma Jeanine.
Why would God make an Earth that has Earthquakes? and dont tell me we cannot understand Gods plan.
Slapdash and shoddy workmanship. He used independent contractors for the construction.
Presumably you are in the camp that believes in evolution.........i.e. random molecules bumped together and evolved over time to give us life as we know it.............rather than creationism.........i.e. God created the world and the people in it. Given that, why would you even ask the question? Perhaps trying to be "clever"? You can't have it both ways.
Part of the penalty for sin is suffering on earth.
Good Morning Dmoney, I hope you are having a great week.
In response to your question of why God made an earth that has earthquakes, He didn't. When God created the earth, it was perfect. He created humans to be in communion with him and gave us the choice to Love him or not so that our relationship with Him would be genuine. We as humas totally screwed this up and for that we had consequences of us living in a new sinful world. Luckily God sent his son Jesus do die for our sin so that all we have to do is aknowledge that Jesus died for our sin and we are Saved and will spend eternity with Him. Christianity is picked apart to the point where people take one Verse and base all of this faith on it. Christianity is the most simple, loving, and forgiving religion. Technicaly its not even a religion. Christianity is about a persoanal faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. There are no rituals, rules or duties that make someone a Christian. It is simply a faith in Christ.
If you Don't have a Bible, I encourage you so get one and start with the New Testament. I'd honestly buy you one if I could.
Anyway, take care and God bless.
Apparently the answer is that God made the earth imperfect so that the could get revenge for people's sins by killing innocent babies and pregnant women.
Blame non-union labor. WI governor is really the Messiah!
If God made us perfect, how could we have screwed it up? If we were perfect, sin could not have existed in the first place. Don't give me that "free will" nonsense, either. Free will is logically incompatible with the idea of a deity that is both omniscient and omnipotent. If God knows everything that will happen and can't be wrong, then it is impossible to deviate from God's knowledge. Doing anything that is outside God's knowledge of future events is impossible. Therefore, you cannot do anything you wish, so free will cannot exist.
Furthermore what the hell does any of this have to do with evolution? Creationists still fail to understand that the theory of evolution never even attempts to address the why, only the how. The why is practically irrelevant.
"God sent his son Jesus do die for our sin..."
You have created a very odd god... one that requires the killing of someone as payment (and actually suicide, if you think that Jesus was "God"). No thank you. You are the kind who would have tossed virgins into volcanoes to appease the angry god living inside of it.
Ry wrote: "When God created the earth, it was perfect. He created humans to be in communion with him and gave us the choice to Love him or not so that our relationship with Him would be genuine. We as humas totally screwed this up and for that we had consequences of us living in a new sinful world."
This is too easy. So there were no earthquakes before humans? So plate techtonics are a result of sin? Are you serious? You're messing with us, right?
Earthquake is the same concept as why we fart. Pressure builds up inside us and we let it go, we control the when and where of it, but in the case of earthquakes because of its power, and also because of man's powerlessness against it, it serves as a reminder that we are not really in control of our lives. So we go back to whoever we believe is in control of it, which means if you are a Buddhist you are reminded of Buddha, if you are a Christian, you are reminded of Christ's teachings.
So the earth was perfect, we sinned, the earth was imperfect, Jesus died for our sins, the earth is ... Why are there earthquakes again? If Jesus died for our sins why isn't the earth perfect again?
He used well connected Haliburton as primary contractor. Haliburton in turn used shoddy materials to make the earth pocketing extraordinarily large profits for Cheney and other investors.
Depends on whether God is the good guy, the bad guy, or the complicated guy.
What a well-written, insightful piece. Thank you, Dan! I appreciate the peek into this society's religious traditions, especially since they are widely regarded as secular (at least on the surface).
What saddens me is seeing the low-brow philosophical jabs parried about between people like the Christians and atheists. In a time of loss and tragedy, we all turn to what comforts us... I have seen people turn to prayer, meditation, even grown men and women cry for their "mommy." In the face of tragedy, can't we all focus on the comfort of the suffering rather than bickering over our religious and philosophical differences? Have some respect.
If these conversations were taking place on the street in Ja.pan, I might agree with you, but how many people come to this blog for comfort, honestly?
"What saddens me is seeing the low-brow philosophical jabs parried about between people like the Christians and atheists. .....In the face of tragedy, can't we all focus on the comfort of the suffering rather than bickering over our religious and philosophical differences? Have some respect."
Finally, some perspective. Thanks, jay!
well said Jay, really we need to take advantage of this to have yet another relegious fight. Lets pray for God to help the people involved regardless of their faith. If your not relegious the hope for them instead. This is not the time for a typical atheist v. christian fighting. If you can't help then aleast shut up.
This article makes no sense... and they obviously know very little about Christianity. Most Christians don't sit around trying to figure out why something happened.. and they certainly do not wonder why God allowed it to happen. Of all the things going on in todays world, we have to waste our time with this?
I think the author was talking about from a theological perspective, not individual Christians, Jews, or Muslims.
"Indeed, where Christianity, Judaism or Islam are often preoccupied with causes of disaster – the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example..."
Much of Abrahamic religion deals with why things happen, i.e. the Fall of Adam and Eve (pain suffering etc.), Noah's flood, Tower of Babel, heck even Jesus came to "save" us.
of all the things happening in the world and you waste space and time writing that? hypocrite...
That's exactly what a lot of christians do, not people who claim they are but aren't and I'm betting you're one. I'd like to think people would want to know why something happened instead of just go meh and go about their day.
This must be GOD'S will. How's that?