Celibacy: the View of a Zen Monk from Japan

Posted by on Sep 27, 2010 in Uncategorized | No Comments

A zen precedent for married monks, from Celibacy: the View of a Zen Monk from Japan:

Examples of the marriage of monks in Japan can be found as early as the Heian period (794-1185). Moreover, beginning from the time of Shinran (1173-1262) and Ippen (1239-1289), who were known as hijiri, or wandering mendicants, there are many examples of the marriage of monks during the Kamakura (1185-1333), Muromachi (1336-1570), and Edo periods (1600-1867). So from the point of view of ordinary Japanese people, the marriage of monks was not regarded as something out of the ordinary.

An edict, number 133, issued by the new Meiji government in 1872 ordered that monks should be free to «eat meat, take wives, and shave their heads» as they chose. From that time, the secularization of monks proceeded rapidly. In Taisho in 1920 the Jodo (Pure Land) School of Buddhism issued a set of Regulations for Temple Families. From this time, the treatment of temple families became an important issue. In this way, the marriage of monks, instead of being viewed as a question of doctrine or the precepts of monastic life, came to be taken up as a problem of personal attraction of temple management, or as a matter affecting the lives of temple families. The problem, then, became less a strictly religious one, and more a matter of how to deal with the inheritance of temple headships and the social status, rights, and property of temple families.

The issue of monastic celibacy differs for each sect of Japanese Buddhism and for each individual monk. We cannot say that the social issues I have outlined above reflect the definitive state of contemporary Japanese Buddhism but it is true that where these various problems do exist, they arise from the marriage of monks. Moreover, in thinking about this question, we should not overlook the fact that nuns are usually neglected and that an exclusively male-centred point of view is argued.

When the Japanese Buddhist Saint Hônen (1133-1212) was asked whether a Buddhist religious person should be celibate or not, he said: «If it is easier for him or her to express faith by reciting the Buddha’s name alone, he or she should be celibate. If it is easier to do that with a spouse, it is better to marry. What is important is only how one expresses one’s faith in reciting the Buddha’s name.»

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