Soshiki-Bukkyo (葬式仏教)

Soshiki-Bukkyo' (literally, 'funeral Buddhism') refers to a way of belief in which people conduct Buddhist funerals and Buddhist memorial services while being rarely involved in Buddhist activities and in Buddhist doctrines in their daily lives. It is the Buddhism which has lost dogma, and it is similar to a primitive religion purely for people to hold funerals.


Buddhism was originally not a religion which emphasized funeral rites.

It has been told that when Buddha's disciples asked how to handle remains, Buddha answered that priests should concentrate intently on finding nirvana without worrying about memorial services after their death as the laity would hold memorial services for them. This is why even present Buddhist priests are not involved in handling remains nor gravestones. From the Edo period to the Meiji period, the people called Onbo were in charge of such routine tasks. Even today, at the rite placing the ashes of the dead in the grave on the 35th day or 49th day after the death, staff of a funeral hall usually assist the bereaved in opening and closing of the gravestone, handling the urn and other things.

However, in the process that Buddhism spread from India to China and became familiarized to the common people, it had assimilated the Han race's folk religion for memorial services for ancestors which originated from Taoism and Confucianism, and at last Buddhist priests became to manage funeral rites as well. For example, it is said that ihai ('lingpai' or 'paiwei' in Chinese, Buddhist memorial tablet) is a modification of shinshu ('shenzhu' or 'shenwei' in Chinese) at a Confucian funeral.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the middle of the sixth century during the Asuka period. Buddhism won the hearts and minds of the upper class including gozoku (powerful families in the Asuka period) and became a religion embraced enthusiastically by people in Japan.

In the Heian period, court nobles f'unerals were greatly influenced by Buddhism as they were held at Buddhist temples, priests chanted Buddhist invocations, and stupas were set up at the sides of gravestones.

In the Kamakura period, Buddhism was spread among the common people, and some funerals of the common people were held in Buddhist style.

The major turning point for Buddhism of Japan to change into Soshiki-Bukkyo was the Danka system established by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in the early Edo period.

According to the Danka system, all the common people had to belong to bodaiji (family temple) and become the temple's danka (supporter of a Buddhist temple). And Christianity and Fujufuse School (based on the principles of not receiving and not giving) were banned and the believers were forced to convert to Buddhism. Some people resisted it and were forced to become 'kakure' (hidden believers).

Before the introduction of the Danka system, the funerals of the common people were generally held by each village, however, after the introduction those by Buddhist priests became common.

In addition, while the Danka system guaranteed temples of a certain amount of believers and income, it forbade the propagation to other sects' believers and the construction of a new temple.

As a result, each temple lost the opportunities and necessity of propagation at the same time and gradually became content with the uneventful life just holding funerals and memorial services for the danka and gaining the regular income.

The hereditary system which has been adopted in most temples of Japan is the major factor in causing the generalization of Soshiki-Bukkyo.

People began to use the term 'Soshiki-Bukkyo' recently for criticizing the situation of Japanese Buddhism which depends on funerals and memorial services.

From the inside of Japanese Buddhist circles, priests began various activities to think about their past and change the situation. Today the Buddhist circles, which had been keeping a lot of traditions, is trying to assist people in solving problems of minds; for example, some temple of traditional sects are involved in the prevention of school truancy and suicide, and some priests guide people as persons of religion. Some people, who are not satisfied with the present situation of Soshiki-Bukkyo, began Buddhist activities breaking down the borders between the conventional sects and the traditions, some of them are even attracted to overseas Buddhism including Buddhism of other Asian countries.

In addition, recently there are some temples 'cannot keep even Soshiki-Bukkyo' due to various problems; some under-populated areas are not able to hold funerals on their own; on the contrary, some areas suffers from the urbanization; there are also the problems that temples cannot react to the changes of styles of living nor to the diversification of funeral.

[Original Japanese]