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Listening to the Buddha's own words: direct participation as a principle of the teachings of the Buddha.


In its investigation of Buddhist practices of an American-Japanese Buddhist temple in the United States, this study aimed to research divergence in rituals, activities, and member participation within these practices. The investigation involved interviews with reverends, participation in regular religious services, and involvement in social activities. This article presents the results of this research. First, a background to Buddhism and Asian communication will be given to highlight the context and relevance of the research. Then, communication of Buddhist ceremonies will be reviewed to provide more detailed information of this style of communication. Third, the setting of the research will be explained in detail to more fully understand the environment in which the observations took place. Finally, results from the analysis of the ceremonies will be presented followed by a discussion of these results. The research aims to show how practices have been adapted to the non-Japanese environment of the American services to make the Teaching of the Buddha more accessible, understandable and practical to the service's attendees.

Buddhism and Asian Communication

Buddhism originated in India more than 2,000 years ago and came to Japan via both China and Korea, and has now been disseminated throughout all areas of Japan. Jeremy and Robinson (1989) point out that Buddhism in Japan has become so deeply ingrained and familiar that it has lost its foreign flavor and become naturalized. Buddhism can be described not just as a religion but even an everyday philosophy that has had a tremendous impact on Asian societies by underpinning and framing the construction of uniquely Asian communication.

In terms of communication, religion has its own unique way to communicate its principles, which can be manifested in pragmatics of the language they use. Religious people tend to create distinctive language that serves the need of their own members, which is different from other languages, such as scientific languages. Jaworski (1993) points out that religious language has two kinds of characteristics:
   As far as religious language itself is concerned, it is
   often vague, it does not always mean what it says,
   and it deals with reality in hints. This makes
   religious language different from scientific
   language, for example, whose primary aim is
   achieving clarity and adequacy in its system of
   reference (Crick, 1976). Besides, religious language
   is highly ritualized and low in the content of new
   information. (p. 47)

Buddhist teachings have been described as more vague than other world religions due to the fact that the Teachings of the Buddha are philosophically difficult to understand (Kitagawa, 1987; Earhart, 1984). Throughout history, Buddhists have had to make a concerted effort to make Buddhism more understandable and accessible to overcome the difficulty to learn foreign languages. Mastering philosophical scriptures takes longer than just learning languages. Taking into account Buddhism's origins in India and how the Teachings of the Buddha have been spread around the world, the embracement of these teachings and Buddhist practices by people outside of Asian countries has become a subject of recent research interest. The present article will introduce a Buddhist temple and Sunday service at a Japanese-American Buddhist Association in its ethnographical and rhetorical analysis of reverends' speeches conducted there.

Communication at Buddhist Ceremony

Attempts have been made to conceptualize communication influenced by Buddhism and have created insightful hypothetical models for exploring Asiacentricity in communication studies (Dissanayake, 2009, Ishii, 2007, 2009; Kosaka, 2008; Miike, 2004). These studies emphasize uniquely Asian philosophies and practices of communication derived mainly from Buddhist epistemology and ontology. In further explicating Buddhist communication, the current study explores a Buddhist ceremony in the form of Sunday services in which Buddhist preaching plays a pivotal role in communicating the Teachings of the Buddha.

Buddhist preaching is considered a part of Japanese traditional rhetorical communication. Ishii (1992) points out that Buddhist preaching can be recognized as one of the founding rhetorical activities that degenerate popular performances in Japan such as rakugo (sitting comedy) and rokyoku (naniwabushi recitation). Thus, because

Buddhism has been permeated into their everyday life as their everyday ritual, its influence extends not only to their Buddhist life but even to their everyday rhetoric. Ishii (1992) compares Buddhist preaching with Western Christian rhetoric and identifies three different characteristics between the two religious beliefs. First, Christian belief primarily relies on the Bible, but the Buddhist teachings derive from many different sources from different sects. Second, Christian teachings centers around spreading the truth, but the Buddhist preaching highlights and explains difficult concepts in Buddhist teachings. Third, Christianity only accepts the absolute God, but Buddhism allows essentially everyone to be a Buddha.

Five canons of rhetoric are compared between Western rhetoric and Buddhist rhetoric in Ishii's (1992) study. The Agui School is the only school that trains Buddhist monks so that they were able to engage in effective preaching at services. At the Agui School, five steps of Buddhist preaching are taught: "(1) Sandai (Theme glorification), (2) Hosetsu (Tenet explanation), (3) Hiyu (Allegory), (4) Innen (Karma), and (5) Ketsukan (Concluding)" (p. 396.). In Sendai, a sutra related to a subject is recited. In Hosetsu , the main theme is explained. In Hiyu , an anecdote or episode is presented to make the theme understandable. In Innen, an evidential story to prove the truthfulness of Sandai and Hosetsu is presented. Finally in Ketsukan , the speech concludes with a summary and by giving peace of mind. The Agui School belongs to the Jodo-Shin sect, which is the sect this current study observed.

Based on a rhetorical analysis of Buddhist preaching, it has become of particular interest to take a closer look at how the Teachings of the Buddha can be communicated to Buddhist members within the context of a Buddhist ceremony. In particular, the crucial question is the way Buddhists outside of Asian cultures, which includes Japanese-American Buddhists whose cultural identity may deviate from the Buddhists in East Asian countries, have dealt with the complexity of Buddhism to better understand the Teachings of the Buddha.

Research Site and Data Collection

The Tri-State (Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska) Buddhist Temple located in Downtown Denver is a center of religious and cultural activities for Japanese-American people in Colorado (Colorado Jijo, 1992). Generally known as Denver Buddhist Association, it belongs to Jodo Shin Shu (True Pure Land Sect) founded by Shinran Shonin (saint) (1173-1262). Shinran was the first to systematically teach the Teachings of Salvation through the grace of Amida Buddha. The Agui School that Ishii (1992) based his observations on also belongs to Jodo Shin Shu.

This study used a heuristic approach to understand experiences of Buddhist ceremonies through participant observation at Sunday services and interviews with reverends as primary methods of data collection. The speech and interview data of Rev. Oka in English and Rev. Kato in Japanese were fully transcribed. Rev Kato's interviews in Japanese were translated into English. All speeches were delivered at Sunday services for children and adults except for one speech delivered by Rev. Maki of Unge Temple in Nigata, Japan. The article starts with full description of a research site to be followed by an analysis of the Sunday ceremonies.

Buddhist Temple and Sunday Services

The Denver Buddhist Association was located in a building called the Tri-State Buddhist Temple of Denver, which the association owned. The complex had a main office, a main service hall, a smaller sized service hall, and a sports gym on the first floor. In the basement, there were a few rooms where people studied Buddhism on Sundays and Denver Taiko (Japanese drum group) practiced drums on weekdays.

Weekly services were held on Sundays at 10:00 A.M. Services for children were conducted in English, and those for adults were both in English and Japanese. Procedures were almost identical for these three services. A few teenagers were designated as chairpersons in the children services, and one person in the adult services. Everyone, including two reverends, followed the chairpersons' announcement to begin services.

The thirty-minute services consisted of four formal planned activities: (1) reading Sutra out loud, (2) singing songs, (3) the Teachings of the Buddha (reverends' speeches), and (4) general announcements. These activities will be explained in further detail next.

First, a chairperson announced the beginning of the service and asked everyone in the hall to open the Buddhist Service Book. Then the reverends began reading the Sutra out loud followed by everyone in chorus. After a few minutes of reading, everyone was asked to stand up to listen to Rev. Oka's NEMBUTSU : Namu Amida Butsu . Namu means "to bend or to bow" (Rev. Unno). Amida Butsu means "the Wise one or the Supremely Awakened One (One who is enlightened)" (Ibid.).

Second, two songs were sung by everyone while standing. The lyrics were partly in Japanese and partly in English. Everyone, English speaking or Japanese speaking, participated in the singing of the songs despite not knowing the language used for some of the lyrics. Rev. Kato reported in an interview that it was unusual to sing a song during Buddhist services in Japan. Thus, Sunday services at the Tri-State Buddhist Temples in the U.S. had assimilated to Christian style services.

Third, the reverends delivered their speeches entitled "Teachings of the Buddha" in Japanese. The speeches lasted from five to ten minutes. Both reverends, Rev. Oka and Rev. Kato, stood behind the podium located at the middle level stage to start NEMBUTSU . Rev. Oka addressed the children and English-speaking members in English, while Rev. Kato addressed the Japanese-speaking adults. Topics varied according to occasion, but the primary topic of their speeches was the Teachings of the Buddha and its practice. In addition, like other religions, Buddhism has its own days that have a historical or religious significance (Buddhist services and their significance) as shown in the following:
January 1      New Year's Day Service (Shuso-ye);

January 16     Hoonko;

February 15    Nirvana Day (Nehan ye);

April 8        Birth Day of Gautama The Buddha
               (Hanamatsuri, Flower Festival);

May            Parents' Day;

May 21         Birthday of Saint Shinran (Gotan-ye);

July 15        Obon Service;

September 23   Autumn Devotion (Ohigan);

December 8     Bondhi Day (Jodo-ye, Gathering of Enlightenment);

December 31    New Year's Eve Thanksgiving Service (Joya-ye).

Reverends often mentioned these significant days in their speeches to remind members of the history of Buddhism: Jodo Shin Shu, the sect that Denver Buddhist Association belongs to. Jodo Shin Shu can be translated as "True Pure Land Religion" in English.

At the first observation of ceremonies, the theme of the week was Ohigan, September 23. The following is an excerpt from Rev. Oka's speech on Ohigan:

This morning, we're observing Ohigan . The Ohigan comes from the Sanskrit word Parameta, which is translated as "other shore." The other shore is enlightenment, Nirvana, or Jodo, Pure Land. This is a contrast to "this shore." This shore of ignorance and pain. The six Parametas, which is [sic.] found on 100 pages in this service book, is the bridge, or boat, we use to reach the other shore. The six Parametas teach the essential Buddhist Way of living every day. The six Parametas teach the essential Buddhist way of living for us every day (Oka, personal communication, September 19, 1993).

Following the speeches, which lasted from five to ten minutes, everyone was given an opportunity to announce any related topics and activities for members such as organ practice, Denver Taiko practice, Buddhism study classes, and other related topics. Those who wanted to make an announcement were free to come up to the stage.

At the end of the service, everyone made a line to NEMBUTSU facing the statue of Buddha. They came up to the front where it was closest to the statue from the floor of the lowest level. They performed Gassyo (bringing their hands together in front of their chins and bowing once). This was an opportunity for people to take a closer look at the golden Buddha's statue face to face. The statue in the temple had his eyes half closed. Rev. Kato explained why:

Statues of the Buddha have eyes half closed. This is because the Buddha sees everyone in front of him, not focusing on one person. The Buddha tries to keep an eye on everyone in front of him (Kato, personal communication, September 19, 1993).

After people finished interacting with the Buddha, they left the service hall. About 150 people attended services at 10:00 A.M. leaving about 70-80 people to attend the adult service which followed. Surprisingly, these 70-80 people consisted of those members who had already attended the children services at 10:00 A.M. It was observed that most elderly members attended the services twice. The adult services followed the same procedure until Rev. Oka finished his speech to announce the end of the English-speaking service, after which English speakers were then dismissed, leaving half of the attendees, 30-40 people, remaining in the hall. This marked the beginning of the Japanese-speaking service. Rev. Kato then began his speech in Japanese. When his speech was over, the same procedure followed as in the children service.

At the completion of the service, everyone left the hall. Some went home, and others chatted in the lobby. In the smaller service hall, cookies and coffees were offered. During the first observation, a lady approached us (the researcher and his wife) and invited us in to the small hall for free coffee and cookies. In this interaction we observed a difference of culture, because strangers are relatively not welcomed in this way in Japanese society. We were under the impression that social interactions at the Tri-State Buddhist Temple of Denver had assimilated to a more American style.

Rev. Kato introduced us to a couple of members during this first observation day. He really welcomed our presence and even introduced us to his audience in his very first speech. When I first made contact with Rev. Kato, regarding observing his service, he talked at great length on the phone with me for more than thirty minutes. The reverend at all times made me feel welcomed by both himself and by the Denver Buddhist Association. This is also how I, the researcher, felt during his encounters with members of the Denver Buddhist Association.

Analysis of Buddhist Ceremony

The observed Buddhist ceremony had five components. These were clearly separated from each other during the ceremony: (1) chairpersonship, (2) recitation of scriptures, (3) singing songs, (4) reverends' speeches, and (5) public announcements. These five components are coded into: (1) organizing ceremony, (2) reviving the Buddha, (3) expressing gratitude, (4) exploring the Teachings of the Buddha, and (5) information giving. Then, these five concepts can be conceptualized into three main categories: (1) direct participation, (2) indirect participation, and (3) settings. Settings have already been discussed in the first half of the article. Indirect activities are those activities not directly linked to recitation of the original Sutra. Also, they are the activities that do not require direct participation from an audience. Both direct and indirect participation were divided into two subcategories: reverend-led activities and member-led activities.

Direct Participation

Throughout the duration of the study, an intriguing notion emerged concerning direct participation, which can be deemed the most fundamental principle of the Teachings of the Buddha. In passing down the Teachings of the Buddha to the next generation, indigenous languages such as NEMBUTSU and AMIDA Buddha were frequently cited in the Buddhist reverends' speeches to promote direct participation through listening to the Buddha's own words. According to Rev. Kato, resuscitating the Buddha allows the members to "listen to the voice of the Buddha," though the voices they listen to are literally those who recite the Sutra, namely their own voices in chorus. Direct participation also took a form of verbalization. Singing songs was also a different type of verbalization with music to express gratitude to the Buddha as well as to the reverends. Information giving could be done voluntarily for members to inform other members of varied activities. Making a comment on study abroad, Rev. Kato (personal communication, September 19, 1993) reiterated that people should not be reluctant to make an effort to verbalize what they have on their mind. He also stated, "It is very important for Japanese students to verbalize. One who considers the issue of verbalization carefully becomes successful, but others don't" (Ibid.). His statement reflects the essence of Buddhism: direct participation by means of verbalization, which is an essential attribute of direct participation.


Among other forms of verbalization, NEMBUTSU expresses the most significant principle of the Jodo Shin Shu sect. Rev. Masunaga pointed out that the imperfect "I" can never communicate with the Buddha. However, it is important for members of this sect to make contact with the Buddha because the belief of the sect is to rely on the Buddha's power, called Tariki (other power), for salvation. Thus, no one is able to be saved unless he/she communicates with the Buddha through NEMBUTSU .

The way that enables followers to communicate with the Buddha was invented by Shinran, the founder of Jodo Shin Shu. NEMBUTSU is the simple method of communication with the Buddha, which Rev. Oka explained in his speech:

In our Jodo Shin Shu temple, here's everyday living. Everyday living is your meditation. Everyday, we think on the Buddha. And this is called NEMBUTSU . NEN means to think. BUTSU , the Buddha. To think on the Buddha. And, when we think on the Buddha, we naturally say NAMU AMIDA BUTSU . This means I entrust AMIDA Buddha. (Oka, personal communication, September 19, 1993)

For the sake of AMIDA Buddha's power, he communicates with the one who recites NAMU AMIDA BUTSU . This NEMBUTSU is founded in the Buddhist belief of direct participation. The following is an excerpt from pamphlet "For Bedridden Friend" that explains that one should directly contact the person if he/she wants to understand what it takes to be sick:
   If that woman's family and friends did not have a
   disease-ridden patient to care for, they may never
   have the opportunity to obtain humanitarian
   knowledge. For humanitarian knowledge may be
   gained only through direct contact with the sick and
   through direct contact with the innumerable adverse
   situations that plague mankind.

This leaflet consists of a personal anecdote of an encounter with a terminally ill patient. NEMBUTSU enables them to communicate with AMIDA Buddha. This NEMBUTSU belief is abundantly observed in the reverends' speeches and other leaflets of Buddhist Churches in America:

Amida Buddha communicates with us through his Name. (Rev. Tsujii) Through this relative form of Name the absolute Amida is able to communicate with the relative man. (Rev. Masunaga)

Given its simplicity, NEMBUTSU has been embraced by Jodo Shin Shu members. NEMBUTSU countered the complexities and mysteries of Japanese Buddhism by creation of a form of direct participation. Though it is a single form of direct participation, as far as NEMBUTSU is concerned, it is understandable, assessable and practicable unlike the hard practices of other sects, and the complex and mysterious teachings and practices of Japanese Buddhism.

Members as well as reverends have struggled with the complexities and mysteries of Japanese Buddhism. To protect and preserve the Teachings of the Buddha, Jodo Shin Shu practices NEMBUTSU , calling AMIDA Buddha's name to communicate with the Buddha.

Indirect communication, such as listening to the reverends' exploration of the Teachings of the Buddha, also helps overcome the complex system of the Teachings of the Buddha. In this way, Jodo Shin Shu Buddhists are able to protect and preserve the Teachings of the Buddha by means of holding Sunday services for every member of the sect. In this way, a recurring understanding of the Teachings of the Buddha contributes to the preservation and protection of the Teachings of the Buddha.

Indirect Participation

Indirect participation is a category primarily from the members' standpoint during the Sunday services. Unlike direct participation, members sat quietly while the reverends were delivering their speeches. According to their beliefs, they do not fulfill their goal simply by listening to their speeches, but instead need to listen to it through their bodies. Listening just through their minds does not help get salvation. It is believed that there is no such distinction between mind and body. In Buddhism, mind and body are inseparably united unlike what Western philosophy teaches us. Body listening is an essential attribute of indirect participation.

From the reverends' standpoint, delivery of speech, that is, exploration of the Teachings of the Buddha, would also be indirect participation. If you look at just the fact that speech is nothing but verbalization, it might be under the category of direct participation. Nevertheless, Rev. Kato (personal communication, September 19, 1993) pointed out that he delivered his speeches with a clear mind. He delivered the speech as the law guided him. He also stated that what he needed to do was to become nothing. He must not cling to himself. He must not think about what is in it for him. He was loyal to the Teachings of the Buddha by trying to go beyond the surface level, and letting the Teachings of the Buddha guide him. He spoke as the Teachings of the Buddha told him. It was as if he became a conduit between the Buddha and his members. Thus, for him, delivery of speech should be placed between direct participation and indirect participation.

To use a metaphor that arose in interview data, reverends are car drivers. Novice drivers are so conscious that they think too much about how to operate the car. As time goes by, they become accustomed to both the operations and the environment. They no longer have to be aware of the location of the accelerator, brake, and so forth. They begin to drive without paying much attention to the things they used to. They do not have to be conscious of the movement of their hands, arms, and feet. Motion has emerged through learning processes and habitual repetition. Reverends are the drivers and the Teachings of the Buddha are the cars. Rev. Kato (personal communication, September 26, 1993) illustrates the Teachings of the Buddha by use of this metaphor:
   In Buddhism the teaching is a vehicle or a vessel.
   The value of a vehicle lies in its function of
   transporting man to his destination. Unless a
   vehicle, such as an automobile is used, it is
   valueless. In fact, it is no longer a vehicle; it is a
   decoration piece.

It can be concluded that reverends deliver their speeches in an indirect manner as the Teachings of the Buddha guide them. They are not exactly car drivers, but chauffeurs, because they do not have a choice but to say what the Teachings of the Buddha tells them.

Rhetorical Technique

Furthermore, the reverend's role in the temple was to decipher the meaning of the Teachings of the Buddha, and explain it in plain language, whether in Japanese and/or in English. Techniques that were often used by reverends to make difficult Buddhism understandable were the definition of terms and the use of personal anecdotes. The terms of Buddhism were carefully defined so that members could follow exploration of the Teachings of the Buddha. The followings are four different excerpts from Rev. Oka's speeches:

Good morning, everyone. [Audience: Good morning, Sensei.] Today, we're observing Ohigan. Ohigan is the vernal equinox. The time of the day light hours and evening hours are equal. (Oka, personal communication, September19, 1993)

This morning, we're observing Ohigan. The word, Ohigan , comes from the Sanskrit word, Parameta, which is translated "other shore." The other shore is enlightenment, Nirvana, or Jodo. This is a contrast to "this shore." This shore of ignorance and pain. (Ibid.)

Our school is called Jodo Shin Shu. This means the essential teachings of pure land. The essential teaching of pure land is Tariki, other power. Tariki, or other power, means the compassionate workings of Amida Buddha. (Ibid.)

Good morning. This morning is the memorial service in memory of Rev. Tamai. This service is called Hoji. Ho means teaching or Dharma. Ji is thing or affair. This service is a teaching a Dharma affair. (Oka, personal communication, October 3, 1993)

At the beginning of the speeches, Rev. Oka defined the meaning of terms to open the door for beginning passengers. Personal anecdotes were also frequently used in speeches. It was often the case that those anecdotes served as a comic relief as well as a hint in everyday life for understanding Buddhism, because in Jodo Shin Shu training in everyday living is emphasized. This belief is illustrated by the following statement made by Rev. Oka: "Teachings of the Buddha is to cure your mind. Have a mind that's always open. In our Jodo Shin Shu temple, here's everyday living. Everyday living is your meditation."

Thus, one of the best ways to learn a lesson from everyday experience was to listen to someone's personal story, in this case, the reverends' story. Bennet and Edelman (1985) point out that stories are among the most universal means of representing human events (p. 156). In addition, humor served as a kind of comic relief in these stories. According to Dance and Zak-Dance (1986), using humor is definitely advantageous for speakers because (1) audiences are provided a comic relief, and (2) messages become memorable. The following excerpt from one of Rev. Oka's speech illustrates how humor was used in one of his anecdotes:

You know what I have in a bag, this morning? Let me show you. I have a picture of my sixth grade class ... This morning I want to talk about being with people you dislike. In my sixth grade class, there was a person named Matilda. No one in my class, no one in my sixth grade class, liked Matilda. And, because no one in my class liked Matilda, I didn't like Matilda. Like a teacher, I was made to sit next to Matilda. I didn't like it because no one in my class liked her. I didn't wanna sit next to her. You know why? Because she never took a bath. (Laughter in the audience) When I sat next to her, phew! She smelled terrible. (Oka, personal communication, September 19, 1993)

Later in his speech, Rev. Oka linked this humorous personal anecdote to the Teachings of the Buddha. In particular, he frequently used humor and personal anecdotes in the children service to draw children's attention.

Thus, the definition of terms, the use of personal anecdotes, and the use of humor were some techniques used in the observed services to promote the understanding of Buddhism among members. As a result, the complexities and mysteries of Japanese Buddhism were eliminated to "protect and preserve the Teachings of the Buddha" (Rev. Tamai). Indirect participation enables the members to overcome the complexities and solve the mysteries of Japanese Buddhism in this way.


Despite the philosophical and linguistic difficulty of the Teachings of the Buddha, the principle of direct participation exists. Kitagawa (1987) argues that the meaning of Buddhism can only be understood through direct participation. Direct participation is what Buddhism teaches us to do when we understand Buddhist symbols. Direct participation can be succinctly described as: when you recite Sutra, you do it in original Sutra (meaning in Sanskrit). Rev. Kato (personal communication, September 19, 1993) stated: "When you teach the Teachings of the Buddha, you do it as they let you do it."

In the past, the principle of Buddhism in terms of understanding symbols through direct participation has become problematic for Buddhists. Buddhism provided a way to understand symbols that caused Buddhist laymen, and even priests, to experience difficulties to grasp the content of Buddhism. The influence of direct participation affected Buddhists' attitudes toward original scriptures. Kitagawa (1987) says Buddhists have never translated the original texts of sutras from Chinese into Japanese. Kitagawa wonders whether or not Buddhists fully understand the content of Buddhism. Direct participation without translating or understanding the original sutras may have had adversely influenced the level of understanding of Buddhists by making the meanings of Buddhism vague and ritualized. In fact, some Buddhists have attempted to translate scriptures from the Chinese language to the Japanese language. In history, a few big translation projects supported by the government were launched, but none of them have had turned out to be successful:

Thus, as early as 651, the Emperor Kotoku invited over 2,100 monks and nuns to recite sutra, and in 673 the Emperor Temmu sponsored a project for copying the Tripitake (Buddhist scriptures). We are told that during the Nara period special bureaus of copyists were established; one office was dedicated to the copying of Lotus Sutra and the Sutra of the Golden Light exclusively. Five thousand and forty eight fascicles of Buddhist scriptures were kept by one temple known as Toshodaiji in 758. The abundance of scriptures, however, did not imply that those who copied or recited them understood Buddhism. There is much truth in Professor Nakamura's observation that they were, "so hard pressed merely in learning to use Chinese ideographs that they did not get to the point of understanding the thought and assimilating the thought expressed them." (Kitagawa, 1987, p. 244)

Translation projects of Buddhist scriptures did not resolve the problems. This was partly caused by scarcity of technical information concerning translation from Chinese to Japanese. Furthermore, the cause was embedded in ambiguity in both languages (Kitagawa, 1987, p. 230). Ambiguity in both languages, namely Chinese and Japanese, did not allow translators to decipher the original language and come up with any equivalent terms in Japanese.

Ironically, the problem became worse because Buddhism had a tremendous volume of scriptures. Given that the principle of direct participation prevailed, few scriptures were translated from Chinese into Japanese in those days. This problem has significantly influenced Buddhism, which may have resulted in the complex nature of Buddhist Teachings. Hearn (1966) explains the complexities of Japanese Buddhism:
   The texts of Japanese Buddhism are Chinese; and
   only Chinese scholars are competent to throw light
   upon the minor special phases of the subject. Even
   to read the Chinese Buddhist canon of seven
   thousand volumes is commonly regarded as an
   impossible feat, though it has certainly been
   accomplished in Japan. Then there are the
   commentaries, the varied interpretations of different
   sects, the multiplications of later doctrine, to heap
   confusion upon confusion. The complexities of
   Japanese Buddhism are incalculable; and those who
   try to unravel them soon become, as a general rule,
   hopelessly lost in the maze of detail. (p. 30)

Kitagawa (1987) also maintains that the Buddhist laymen also are not able to understand the whole Teachings of Buddha comprised of seven thousands of volumes in Chinese.

Direct participation, which has been the traditional Buddhist way of seeing, seems to have had been invented due to limitations of translation and then had ironically created problems in Buddhists' understanding of teachings. What made the problem more complex was "willfully misinterpretation or deviation" from the original meaning of the Chinese by Buddhist leaders who could read Chinese well in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) when Buddhism was widely disseminated among common Japanese people (Kitagawa, 1987, pp. 225-226). The content of scriptures may vary among different scriptures due to intended and unintended consequences. Either way, meanings should not be the issue among Buddhists because the same interpretation may never be realized.

With respect to languages, the Japanese-American community has a very unique mixture of languages. Both English and Japanese are the official languages of the ceremony. While, Japanese is spoken for elderly first-generation people who can only understand the Japanese, English is used for second- and third-generation members who speak English. The Japanese-speaking reverend and the English-speaking reverend each held a ceremony for about half an hour. The Teachings of the Buddha being the same, there is no guarantee that the content of speech is consistent between the two ceremonies.

Buddhism has transformed its content from Sanskrit into English via Chinese and Japanese. Sanskrit is the original, but the content of Buddhism had to be translated into Chinese or Japanese, which are incidentally characterized as languages that favor ambiguity. On the way to English, the content had to suffer from this inevitable ambiguity. The nature of Buddhism, as philosophically difficult to understand, only adds to this ambiguity.

In order to recuperate from the situation caused by the principle of direct participation and linguistic difficulty, Japanese-American reverends during their ceremonies aimed at explaining the basic concept of Buddhism over and over again in plain English until the Buddhist concepts become understandable even for the younger audience who regularly attended the ceremony. The language of the Buddhist ceremony had become ritualized, but not necessarily vague. Messages were to be clearly conveyed to the audience of the next generation. The language of Buddhist speech was particularly clear and plain especially for this younger audience. The Buddhist language of indirect participation is clear. But at the same time, it is important to note that the principle of direct participation is maintained through recitation of the original sutra in a ceremony. The reverend does not abandon an attitude of direct participation even when he engages in speaking. He delivers the speech as the Teachings of the Buddha guides him. He becomes a passive agent in his active engagement of Buddhist speech.

Conclusion and Areas of Further Research

Communication style in a religious setting has been naturally created and recreated throughout its religious history and socio-cultural environments. In this article, the communication style in a ceremony of Jodo Shin Shu Buddhism at the Denver Buddhist Association, Denver, CO, USA was analyzed. As a result of conceptualizing reverends' and members' actions, direct participation and indirect participation emerged as the main categories of communication style in the ceremony. Direct participation, the most important idea in Buddhist practice, was promoted by activities such as reviving the Buddha through the recitation of original scriptures. Indirect participation was manifested in body listening by members as they listened to the reverends' speeches. Being chauffeurs of the vehicle that is the Teachings of the Buddha, reverends also indirectly participated in their delivery of their speeches. These reverend speeches primarily functioned as a way to promote the understanding of the Teachings of the Buddha. As a result of this development, these speeches also functioned as a means to lessen the complexities and mysteries of Japanese Buddhism.

* An earlier version of this article was presented for the Asian Pacific American Caucus at the annual convention of the National Communication Association, Chicago, IL, November 2001. The author wishes to thank Heath Rose for his comments and editorial assistance. In order to protect their privacy, the author used pseudonyms for two reverends who took part in the interviews.


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Correspondence to:

Professor Takashi Kosaka

Department of English

Kanda University of International Studies

1-4-1 Wakaba, Mihama, Chiba 261-0014, Japan

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Author:Kosaka, Takashi
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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