Is Japanese Zen dead?
In a conversation with a friend of mine about Zen, he mentioned that his Japanese Zen priest associates told him that since the pandemic ended, only 1/3 of the families that normally request funeral remembrances have returned. Zen in Japan is known as a funeral industry, and the yearly remembrances for passed relatives traditionally were a steady income for the Zen priest.
I have been watching Zen in Japan decline. Around 2010 articles started to appear about the lack of temple support, and how the families that own the temples were getting by. Since 2015 Zen in Japan is on a decline, and will most likely be just a footnote in Japanese history by 2040.
If you google ‘zen decline japan’ the screen explodes with stories of Zen in decline, with many concluding that this may be the last generation of Zen priests.
In the West Japanese Zen import has languished, in where what was built in the 90 to early 2000 as a promising parallel society has not caught on, and as the aging boomers may cling to the Japanese Import that they built the temples for, the younger generations after them don’t see it that way, and simply don’t see how a foreign Japanese culture is going to do anything.
Most American Zen centers have morphed to become psychological counseling centers using ‘meditation’ as therapy and “sangha” as ‘Psychological Support Groups’. Is this Zen or even Buddhism? Probably not, yet that is what has become of the American Zen Centers.
In my humble opinion, the Japanese Imported Zen has run its course. The Pandemic government restrictions of 2020-22 has done irreparable harm not only to Zen but to religion in general. I have been reading that even with the lifted government pandemic restrictions, church attendance did not return to pre-pandemic levels.
With the coming inflation, food, and energy crisis, wars and general breakdown of society, it is likely that Zen will disappear. It is my sincere hope that out of the ashes a true American Zen Buddhism can emerge outside of the Japanese family lineages that can truly be free of the import adoption that our fathers clung too.