Japanese Buddhist Priests as Social Entrepreneurs

Japanese Buddhist Priests as Social Entrepreneurs

“In the past, temples were social enterprises, and Buddhist priests were social entrepreneurs in Japan. In fact, believe or not, from old times to the present, the history of Japanese Buddhism has been a continuous change and innovation. It’s the history of leadership and entrepreneurship of many great Buddhist monks’-Keisuke Matsumoto at the Buddhist Celebrities blog.  

 

“There are 70,000 to 80,000 temples in Japan, which is more than the number of convenience stores in the country. But temples are not making their mark on society in the way convenience stores are.”-Keisuke Matsumoto in the Financial Times (Via Buddhist Channel)

 

When I read about a 32-year Japanese Pure Land Buddhist monk going to business school to make Japanese Buddhism more relevant, I was quite intrigued.  Is this a kindred spirit across the ocean?  I understand that the teacher in the lineage in which I practice (The Zen Peacemakers) who brought Buddhism to the United States from Japan did so in part because he was disillusioned with the fact that Zen had become little more than funeral services.  I also have been told that even fewer people my age are interested in Buddhism in Japan today than are in the U.S.  (That’s about the extent of my connection to Japanese culture.)  Might this young man point to a revival of Japanese Buddhism?

Agent of change: Keisuke Matsumoto

Financial Times (Via Buddhist Channel):

He [Keisuke Matsumoto ]believed that temples had become ossified in their traditional role of performing funeral services and other rituals and were failing to fulfill their mission of serving the spiritual needs of contemporary society.

“What is important is the value of Buddhism, as a religion, to people who are alive now. I wanted to change Japanese Buddhism so that it would be relevant for today. A temple should be run with a view to providing value to people in this changing world. That is the real mission of temples.”

After working at Komyoji for seven years, Mr Matsumoto decided that a business school education would help him discover “how to manage a temple as a mission-orientated organisation” that could provide value to society. The leadership training at business school, he believed, would be useful in his quest to change the way temples operate in Japan.

“Monks study in their respective sects but they only learn about Buddhism. But you can’t manage a temple with just the study of Buddhism,” Mr Matsumoto says.

It is as important for a monk working at a Buddhist temple as it is for a corporate executive to be able to manage people, he adds, although a monk has to do so not with the aim of making money but of serving society.

He chose the Indian School of Business at Hyderabad. “They say an MBA changes your life and they say India changes your life,” he says, and so he believed that combining the two would be a good idea

This idea can be found in the Buddha’s practice of teaching according to the student’s ability to understand, says Mr Matsumoto. “I was struck anew by the Buddha’s management capability,” he says.

One lesson he brought back from the school was the importance of thinking “outside-in” rather than “inside-out”, which essentially means putting the customer first.

They even taught him bearing witness:

“But … it is important to listen. Rather than saying, ‘this is what we have to give you’, it is important to understand what the other person needs, what is troubling him and what we need to do in order to solve that,” he says.

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