June 28, 2012

Pragmatic asceticism


"Not all Buddhist orders banned the eating of meat." By pitching a campfire in front of the Konpon Dai-to and frying a fish, Koreya is being rude but not necessarily sacrilegious.

After arriving in Japan in the 6th century, Buddhism fully integrated itself into Japanese culture, producing sects and doctrines unique to Japan and Japanese pragmatism. Two notable practical "exceptions" to the rules are clerical marriage and the eating of meat.

Meiji period reforms legally allowed Buddhist monks and nuns to marry. This decree was resisted by the "renunciate orders." However, Buddhist priests do marry, and the reforms brought into the open what was already going on, such as temple appointments being passed from father to son.

This willingness to bend the letter of the law to practical realities also shows up in the eating of meat. Strict vegetarianism is rare among Japanese Buddhists, not to mention the general population.

Japanese respect vegetarianism more as a concept than in actual practice. The word is an imported English cognate, to start with. A "vegetarian menu" is one sans big chunks of beef, not one guaranteed to contain no animal products, especially pork or fish in the dashi, or soup stock.

This is a country, after all, that still hunts whales.

(Though I think mostly because it's a way to assert its national prerogatives, the same reason Japan, China, and South Korea constantly squabble over lumps of barren volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean. I'm pretty sure that if everybody just ignored them, they'd give it up.)

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