Buddhism, one of Asia's major religions, came to Japan from Korea in A.D. 552. Most Japanese are nominally Buddhists. They observe such Buddhist customs as visiting cemeteries to communicate with and pray for their ancestors, especially during the summer Obon (Festival of Souls). They install mortuary tablets in the family altars at their homes. On the whole, however, they are not well-instructed about their own beliefs, and many of them are Shintoists as well. Many different kinds of Buddhism exist.
When Christians have contact with Buddhists, they do not discuss differences of belief. They simply try to share the gospel, which might seem to be conveyed in Western garb. Nominal Buddhists may come to church or home meetings if they are interested in Christianity.
Buddhism teaches its adherents to be in harmony with society. Problems often occur at baptism, or when new converts realize that Jesus Christ is not only a soul savior but also their Lord, to be obeyed in daily life. When they try to follow Christ and to witness about peace and justice, this naturally results in conflict and a break in harmony. Buddhism is basically a "funeral religion," having little relation to everyday life.
There are occasions when Japanese Christians are put to the test in connection with Buddhist customs. For example, sometimes Christians must attend Buddhist funeral services, where they are expected to burn incense for and do obeisance to the dead. To refrain (from this near worship of the deceased) would be to show great disrespect to the family and may cause alienation.
For some Christians, the mortuary tablet is still so important that they leave the church when told to throw it away. One of the criticisms that Buddhists have against Christianity is that Christians do not care for and revere their deceased ancestors.
There have been few contacts between Mennonite leaders and Buddhist monks—they each go their own way. Soka Gakkai, a militantly evangelistic sect of Nichiren Buddhism, which tries aggressively to win even Christians, is an exception. Soka Gakkai members seek to engage others in argument, defending their positions.
Many Christian groups have protested efforts by the Japanese government to reinstate the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the war dead, to a position of national and religious prominence. Peace-loving Buddhist monks, from the Pure Land sect in particular, also support this opposition. The national shrine issue is an opportunity for Mennonites to express their Anabaptist views of peace. It may provide a point from which dialogue with other groups can begin.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 105. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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To cite this page:
MLA style: Yorifumi Yaguchi. "Buddhism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1986. Web. 25 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B839.html.
APA style: Yorifumi Yaguchi. (1986). Buddhism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B839.html.