Japanese monks marry?

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I didn’t know that, and actually I was pretty surprised when I first met some monks that live happily with their families. And this applies to both Shinto and Buddhist priests alike.

Shinto (“the way of the gods”) is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people and as old as Japan itself. It remains Japan’s major religion alongside Buddhism.
Shinto does not have a founder nor does it have sacred scriptures like the sutras or the bible. Propaganda and preaching are not common either, because Shinto is deeply rooted in the Japanese people and traditions.

Buddhism originated in India in the 6th century BC. It consists of the teachings of the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha. Of the main branches of Buddhism, it is the Mahayana or “Greater Vehicle” Buddhism which found its way to Japan.
Buddhism was imported to Japan via China and Korea in the form of a present from the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche) in the 6th century. While Buddhism was welcomed by the ruling nobles as Japan’s new state religion, it did not initially spread among the common people due to its complex theories.

Sincerely, I like that and I think that the ideal of chastity (e.g. the catholic one) for non-hermit religious officers is bullshit. I mean, if priests have to live in the middle of a non-religious community in a stable manner, why shouldn’t they marry like anybody else?
But I guess it’s a long discussion..

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If you have 69 dollars to invest in this topic, there’s a book that tells you the whole story about marriage in japanese buddhism: Neither Monk nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism, by Richard Jaffe:

Buddhism comes in many forms, but in Japan it stands apart from all the rest in one most striking way–the monks get married. In Neither Monk nor Layman, the most comprehensive study of this topic in any language, Richard Jaffe addresses the emergence of an openly married clergy as a momentous change in the history of modern Japanese Buddhism. He demonstrates, in clear and engaging prose, that this shift was not an easy one for Japanese Buddhists. Yet the transformation that began in the early Meiji period (1868-1912)–when monks were ordered by government authorities to adopt common surnames and allowed to marry, to have children, and to eat meat–today extends to all the country’s Buddhist denominations.

An interesting article by Soko Morinaga, titled Celibacy: the view of a Zen monk from Japan. He’s the Buddist monk. Rector of Hanazono University.

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.


There’s more: you might run into japanese monk-rappers too, as attested by cnn article Japanese monks serve up alcohol and hip hop music to lure in followers..


3 Responses to “Japanese monks marry?”

  1. So I guess my question is – what vows differentiate a monk from a lay follower of Shinto or Buddhism?

  2. Although I would’ve preferred if you went into a little bit more detail, I still got the gist of what you meant. I agree with it. It might not be a popular idea, but it makes sense. Will definitely come back for more of this. Great work

  3. magicrebirth Says:

    @ tim: I think it’s ‘aristocratic’ descent mainly.. these people are monks because their family owns a temple; consequently their fathers; grandfathers etc. have been administering it and were monks themselves. Temples sometimes are very rich (especially in Kyoto people say) cause their followers (=people belonging to the local community) support them very generously.

    I guess that you can go to monk-school even if you’re a poor fellow coming from a non-monks family; but you’ll hardly find a ‘monk-job’ with that cause you don’t have a temple. Thus, no temple entails no money. And this is a fundamental aspect of the very pragmatic way of living the religion over here…

    Although I guess there must be temples which are more ascetic and less materialistic.. but I haven’t seen any yet in the cities.

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