jundo cohen wrote:
I believe you are speaking as someone who is not part of the Japanese traditions and does not live here in Japan, and so not completely unbiased, but your comments are not wrong either. I would go so far as to say that Buddhism is not doing so well anywhere in the world.
I have a MA degree from Komazawa University. I read, write and speak Japanese. I am qualified to speak.
Oh, sure, some groups in various places are raising lots of money, building huge temples, selling spiritual comfort and services to parishioners (both those who can afford to sponsor the gold coating on a new statue and those who really can't but do), but I wonder if that should be called "healthful Buddhism"?
This is irrelevant to the discussion.
Other places are succeeding to preserve what may be (just may be) superstition, feudalism and gender discrimination, myth and miracles, fiction claimed as fact and the like, convincing people that all that mysto-magic is necessary for "Buddhism", but I wonder if that should be called "healthful Buddhism"?
Which traditions are you specifically talking about? Historically as it is today much of institutionalized Buddhism on the ground has been about sorcery and merit generation for both commoners and nobility alike, but nevertheless the practice and intellectual realms were also present. You might like to condemn the more mystical aspects of some forms of Buddhism as superstitious, but this just reveals a lack of understanding and appreciation on your part.
Other places and groups are watering down the teachings, and turning them into some kind of secular "self help" technique to such a degree that I would not even call it "Buddhism" let alone "healthful Buddhism"!
Much of what you talk about matches this description pretty well.
And let's not even mention how well Buddhism is thriving in its Indian birth culture!
It has actually recovered in the last few decades. Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar and even New Delhi all have Buddhist Viharas and frequent teachings, blessings and opportunities for practice. Bodhgaya hosts many regular teachers from various traditions.
Things in the "Golden Age" were not so golden as we too easily romanticize. Most monks back then were half-educated (even in Buddhism), semi-literate (or what passed for literacy in those times), superstition driven, narrow folks who may have understood less about the traditions and teachings they were following ... their history and meaning and depth ... than the average sincere practitioner today with access to information and teachers.
Typical modern day rhetoric aimed at degrading the past and praising the present as if the past was always some kind of backwards perpetual nightmare, which modernity has suitably remedied.
Now, in Japan, there are more people sitting Zazen and with an interest in Buddhism than ever in all its past history combined (in sheer numbers)
Prove it. Proportionately in sheer numbers Japan has a much higher population than it did in the 14th century.
, more access by lay and ordained folks to teachings and resources, Buddhist groups and universities,
That's only because of industrialization and subsequent demographic changes that enabled social mobility and widespread education.
when a narrow elite supported a semi-educated priesthood with little knowledge of anything in the world beyond the horizon, all actually supported by a superstitious, illiterate and half starved peasantry on whose shoulders the whole system rested. I would dare say that this is STILL the situation in much of Asia.
You're guilty of the same sin you accuse the proponents of Shangri-la of. You propose that the past age were dark, backwards, uncomfortable and not at all as good as our present age when things are just as a matter course oh so greater. This is exaggeration.
If you ask me, the reforms of the 19th century in Japan ... now taken many steps further in America and the West ... to bring these beautiful Teachings out of the dark ages, to make them more widely available, and to approve general education and the understanding of Practice among the general population ... have saved Buddhism. It is sometimes hard to see in the face of the onslaught of modern capitalism and consumerism, but the vibrant heart of Buddhism is beating stronger in Japan and the West than ever,
You're clearly the one wearing the Shangri-la specs, dude.
Buddhism in Japan has become an archaic fossil. Most people look at it with apathy, at worst with fear or resentment. People go to temples because of their value as tourist sites. Most priests are paid clergy who run funeral operations for a living. Hereditary grave keepers. The world of Buddhist academia in Japan is full of materialist thinkers who have warped their vision of Buddhadharma to suit western ideas of materialist cosmology and values. There are few who really believe in Buddhadharma and instead just treat it as an interesting base of unique literature, and nothing more.
Like I said, there are still practitioners, but they are few and far between.
If your image of Buddhism in old China, Tibet, India or the like is of some "Shangri-la" of the Good 'Ol Golden Age where all lived together in a happy, spiritual utopia ... think again. Those were ugly, class based, narrow societies of a feudal and traditional age, and the cloistered, custom bound and closed-minded Buddhist institutions of such days were a reflection of that. Such Buddhism was not "healthy".
Feudal and narrow ages as you call them were a reflection of resources and technology limits. The main reason we have "human rights", gender equality and universal education is not because of enlightened thinkers, but because of a high energy return on investment made possible through exploitation of fossil fuels. In past ages universal education, human rights, a modern justice system, open-door religious institutions and democratic societies were often not feasible for the simple fact they lacked the resources to do otherwise. You make it sound like people back then were just stupid and cruel. This is of course typical thinking you see among present day people who have a tendency to spit on their ancestors and crush tradition as a tradition in itself.
In any case, the utopia vision you have about modern Buddhism will never come to fruition. As I just said we have high energy return on investment, allowing the current modern societies that we enjoy in the first world, but that will slowly come to an end.
PPS - Being "free of lust" does not mean one cannot have a loving relationship, make love, have children, raise a family. Not all sex is "lust".
Again, this is not what the Buddha himself taught. One of his most key teachings was that overcoming sexual desire was a requisite for attaining appropriate levels of jhana that in turn were requisite for liberation. Ajahn Brahm, a real bhikkhu, teaches this as well. You should take a note from him and read his works.