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Intolerance of Japanese Major Religions Toward New Religions PDF Print E-mail

Shorin Shaku
Ho-on Kaku Temple

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Tokyo, Japan May 23-25, 1998

We have just had some sad news. On May 11, at 10:30 Japan time, we heard that the Indian government conducted nuclear tests. It is very sad that in India, where Buddhism was born, such tests were conducted. Two years ago, India celebrated the 50th year of the nation’s founding. Also, India is known as a place where Mother Teresa conducted her benevolent activities. India also has enjoyed very good economic growth. So for me it is very regrettable what the government in India did. . . .

Looking back at the history of Japanese religion, there was ancient Shintoism, which was the merger of animism and Taoism. That eventually was transformed into Nihon Shinto. Then came Buddhism and, of course, conflict emerged between the two, leading to religious war. That was a conflict over the interests of the political authorities. Under such circumstances, the Shotokatshi, who introduced international Buddhism into Japan, advocated Buddhism in the field. In other words, Buddhism is the natural religion of India. The Buddhist ideal is to pursue the way a human being should be and, therefore, it was very different from monotheism. In earlier times, priests in Japan abided by the precepts of Buddhism, but eventually secularism prevailed and Buddhism emerged. New sects emerged and that was a time when those new religions were persecuted by traditional religion.

In 1635 the Tokugawa government discontinued the temple registration system to prevent the spread of Christianity and riots by the farmers. The temples, priests, and believers were integrated into the ministry by the Tokugawa government. After the Meiji restoration in 1868, the five-article oath was promulgated, together with the order to separate Shintoism and Buddhism. The administration exercised its authority throughout the country. Its aim was to abolish traditional religion, that is Buddhism, and establish Shintoism. Naturally, intolerance prevailed toward Buddhism. Then, in 1945, the general headquarters issued an ordinance against Shintoism, and then Shintoism was persecuted. All the laws and regulations relating to the temples were abolished. In other words, this was a kind of international persecution against the defeated country of Japan by the victorious country, the United States.

Around that time, new religions and religious organizations were established, one after another, including Omotokyo and Soka Gakkai, which used to be persecuted before the war. The new religions emerged together with the remarkable economic growth of the Japanese economy. At the same time, existing religions eventually became secularized, and once again the “Dark Age” was brought about. Under such circumstances, another round of the emergence of new religions began.

In the meantime, do you know there are disciplinary committees within existing religious organizations? That is, in a way, religious fascism. When priests try to stand up, through their behavior and a strong statement, they are either criticized heavily by the committee or totally ignored, including myself. Such control and management by religious organizations is strictly implemented. However, the scope of their control is rather narrow compared to our imagination.

The daily lives of the priests are totally secularized, and they are immersed in exercising the various rituals. They are like members of a “priests union,” so to speak. In a way the priests contributed to strengthening feudalistic society. Even when leaders were born—under feudalism, the Meiji restoration, and nowadays—because of the very strong control by the religious organizations, we scarcely see the emergence of new leaders. Therefore, we have to consider who the priests are for, what those organizations are for, and what the religion is for.

If we look back, when Japan invaded China and other Asian countries, including the Korean peninsula, the Japanese religious organizations strongly advocated cooperation with the war. There was some opposition by new religions, which was eventually defeated because of strong pressure by the religious organizations in the national authority. Recently we are seeing reports by the mass media about kidnapping and forced conversion by the new religions. In many cases, the facts are concealed by the mass media. Sometimes mass media, especially the weekly magazines, provide inaccurate information. Such false information eventually comes to be treated as factual.

Turning to the various problems faced by religion today, I would like to first discuss the Aum Shinrikyo incident, which resulted in the order to disband their status as a religious organization and the application of anti-subversive activities law. It also led to the amendment of the Religious Corporations Law. In that light I would like to consider Soka Gakkai. Third, I wish to discuss the relationship between religious organizations and the political parties.

When I saw the possibility of the application of the anti-subversive activities law to the Aum cult, I was concerned about the invasion of freedom of association and religion, but that application was not realized. However, the Religious Corporation Act was revised, and now religious activities are subject to interference by the government. This is an invasion of freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by Article 20 of the constitution.

On one hand, we see the wrong motive behind the revision of the Religious Corporations Law. Within the coalition government, there are voices calling for stronger regulation of religions. That is because Soka Gakkai, which supports the government party, is not part of Shinshinto or the New Frontier Party. Because of the strong influence of the supporters of Soka Gakkai, the LDP is now trying to use this opportunity to revise the Religious Corporations Law, thereby checking the onslaught of Soka Gakkai. However, the relationship between religion and politics is not limited to Soka Gakkai. Even within the LDP there is a faction supported by other new religions. That is why within the LDP there are those who favor and those who oppose the revision. Thus, the Japanese Religious Community, after the Aum Shinrikyo incident, began to pursue a new relationship between religion and politics. The traditional religions believe they have a strong weight in society because they are the ones that are orthodox, and they keenly criticize other religions. But, in fact, when those religions were founded, they were the ones that decided to go into the field for the salvation of the people. In other words, even the traditional religions were new religions when they started. Eventually, they became traditional religious organizations.

When we consider the future of the religious community, we are seeing a very interesting trend as the 21st century dawns. It is, in a way, a religious version of the Russell-Einstein Declaration. In India, people are now choosing the part that they prefer out of the systematic doctrine of their religion. That is the reason Muslims and Hindus are so aggressive and exclusionary against each other, sticking to fundamentalism. This trend toward syncretism is present in the Dalai Lama’s sect as well as the convent of the late Mother Teresa. For instance, the Dalai Lama uses the analogy of the supermarket. He says that we should not be confined by very narrowly defined doctrine but rather, just like shopping at the supermarket, people should choose the elements that suit their needs and adjust them according to cultural or regional conditions.

That was even more so in the case of Mother Teresa. As you know, Mother Teresa was a Catholic. Catholicism emphasizes baptism and confession. But she never forced baptism and confession. She stressed that religion lies in the heart. The differences between sects are so minor that they can be ignored. Thanks to the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa, a new way of worship is now prevailing in India, though gradually. In other words, we are seeing syncretism and conversion, just like shopping at the supermarket, without being confined and limited by specific doctrines. We can choose elements we prefer. This seems to indicate the direction that the religious community—which is nowadays dominated by fundamentalism, parochialism, and intolerance—should head.