March 21, 2011

Blame and Powerlessness in Japan

Tricycle contributing editor Clark Strand writes on Mappo, the Age of Decline, and its impact on the Japanese psyche for Religion Dispatches:

Japanese literature is filled with writings about earthquakes, tsunamis and other such cataclysmic events which were, for many, interpreted as portents of harder times to come. For others they were decrees from heaven meted out to a people whose Confucian morality had become corrupt or simply lax; or the Mahayana Buddhist version of the traditional “end times” scenario. Mappo, the “Age of Decline,” was thought to have occurred because the dharma—the teaching of Buddha—had been allowed to languish and grow stale.

For nearly a thousand years leading up the modern era, a majority of Japanese Buddhists believed they were living in the Age of Mappo, a period marked by military strife; frequent earthquakes, epidemics, fires, and floods; and a general deflation on the value of human life. Given that Japan has always been particularly vulnerable to volcanic eruptions and other seismic events—not to mention pestilence and war—it must have seemed to such true believers that the Buddhist teachings on Mappo were more often right than wrong.

Read the whole thing here.

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