Robin Faichney wrote:
> The picture of Buddhism and the New Religions in Japan was
> great, except I missed any mention of the other traditional
> Japanese religions, Shinto and Confucianism (Japan has never
> been a religious monoculture).
True. Buddhist and Shinto practices and organizations co-exist peacefully in Japan. Most Buddhist temples in Japan also have Shinto shrines on site. Shintoism isn't really much a religion, though. It's more of a catch all lable for the religious ceremonies and rituals involving the imperial family as well as an asortment of pre-buddhist animistic/shamanistic practices and ancestor worship. There is no Shinto ideology, so there is no ideological clash with Buddhism or any other religion.
In the two years that I lived (and studied religion) in Japan, I never met anyone who identified themselves as a Confucianist. The only mention I heard of Confucianism was as a philosophical basis for education.
> Also, though what you say
> about the lay attitude to Buddhism is doubtless very true,
> it remains the case that the monastic tradition has in the
> past been very strong, and to a great extent remains so.
A "strong" monastic tradition doesn't necessarily involve a large percentage of the population. What's more, unlike the case in most of Asia, Buddhist priests in Japan are not expected to be celebate and they can marry and have children. Many Buddhist temples are family businesses in which the head priest inherited the job from his father. Membership in the Buddhist priesthood is and has historically been a political/career decission as much as it has been a spiritual one. This is not just true in Japan, but also in China, Tibet, and India (before Indian Buddhism got done in by Hinduism and Islamn).
My point here is that while Buddhist institutions are strong and well represented in Japan and other asian countries, Buddhism does not play the same psychological role in the minds of the layity as one would expect if one thought that Buddhism was the Christianity (qua dominant religion) of the East.
In contrast to the tradional Buddhist power structures, the new Buddhist religions in Japan and elsewhere DO operate on the psyche of the individual lay practicioner in a way that is more familiar to us in the west, i.e. they provide a sense of community and what we would think of as a "religious experience."
> Probably the most important cultural contribution of Japan
> to the modern world is Zen, developed almost entirely
> within Japanese monasteries.
Actually, Zen (or Ch'an) was imported to Japan from China. The founders of the major Japanese Zen sects all studied in China.