FOLLOW-UP TO: DO NOT Send Your Relief Money to the Japanese Soto-Shu ...

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This is a follow-up to my previous post which began ...

--DO NOT-- Send Your Relief Money to Japanese Soto-Shu ...

... for they have announced that 70% will simply be re-donated to the Red Cross (why not just donate directly?)WHILE --30%-- WILL BE USED TO REBUILD THEIR OWN TEMPLES!!

All this while people are hungry and homeless! 

I want to make clear that individual and small groups of Soto affiliated clergy throughout Japan are doing their utmost and whatever they can to help ... as are so many here in Japan, from the boy scouts to the Yakuza! ... TF20110325

Countless people are raising money in any way possible. Kids have been going door to door Unicef style to collect change. There is a waiting list of volunteers at our local city hall due to the outpouring of people. There are individual Soto priests and groups of priests doing what they can, working morning to night. 

However, taking nearly 1/3 of donations for themselves, restoring the woodwork and fancy gold decorations at a temple, should not be a priority now, today, right in the middle of this ongoing humanitarian disaster. What is more, the Soto-shu is not being clear in Japan that they are doing this (and they were not even clear here in the west that they were doing this until, about 10 days into fundraising, this was discovered). For example, the Japanese webpage at Soto-shu has not emphasized that so much of the money is going to be kept for buildings.

That says "曹洞宗は本日、日本赤十字社に寺院・檀信徒の皆さまからお預かりしている曹洞宗義援金から1000万円を寄託いたしました。" (From the Soto-shu Relief Money that we received in trust from our temples and followers, we donated Y10,000,000 to the Japan Red Cross). There is no mention I see there at all that, accordingly, about Y3,300,000 (so far! more is pouring in!) is being kept for temple buildings. Nor does the original page for donations emphasize the fact clearly, saying only ambiguously "お寄せいただきました義援金は、被災寺院向けまたは一般向け(各自治体等)への義援金として, この災害で被災された方がたの救援、被災地の復興支援などとして活用させていただきます" (Your relief donations which we receive will be used as relief money for general use (in each region etc.) and for temples which suffered calamity, so that we may use it to help and relieve the many people who suffered loss and calamity in this disaster, support the redevelopment of disaster impacted regions and the like). 

I will speak out against collecting money to rebuild temple altars at a time like this ... when what needs to be rebuilt are homes, schools, hospitals, old age facilities ... and lives. I am sure that most people who donated were thinking of widows and homeless children, not rebuilding a fallen Hondo (temple main hall). 

Now, let me clarify that I do -not- think that Soto-shu's actions are intentionally meant to be misleading or callous to the suffering people who could use the money. I would instead describe it as a misguided and clumsy attempt to use the money to rebuild temples which the Soto-shu believes is the 'right thing to do'. Some see it (and perhaps rightly if in less urgent times) as catering to the spiritual needs of people to do so ... although I rather think that, before altars, the homeless and injured could use rebuilt homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, playgrounds, rehab centers and the like. I cannot see collecting money now for temple buildings when people have more urgent and immediate needs ... and that is certainly what most people are donating for when they think of "disaster relief".

There are hundreds of individual and groups of priests around Japan trying to raise money and such, and many up in the impacted areas working day and night to help people as best they can. However, it is true that there seems to be a lack of coordination and focus, and simply re-donating to the Red Cross, and keeping 30% for temples ... when people have real "where is my next meal coming from" needs out there ... seems to defeat the purpose of many of the donors who might not understand that so much money is going to fixing the fancy goldleaf on temple buildings.

It is very sad, and may go far to explain the general disconnect of temples from ordinary people in Japan. Most Japanese I have spoken to are not too surprised that many priests would take care of their own assets and homes first (most live in the temples with their families). 

Some may defend rebuilding temples as restoring a "vital part of Japanese culture", and that is certainly true. However, right now, having food, homes, clean water, school books for kids, hospitals, pharmacies and old age homes for displaced elderly is also a "vital part of Japanese culture" ... Or, should we put that aside while we replace all those pretty Kesa and fancy hats that were ruined in the dampness of the Tsunami?

Monks are doing their utmost in various places to collect funds for "disaster relief" by Takuhatsu (ritual begging rounds). However, do the people who donate know that some of the that money may end up with Soto-shu and, if so, spent on restoring altars ahead of getting to people homeless in the shelters? I think that many might be surprised.

Taking about 1/3 of donations for restoring the woodwork and gravestones at temples is perhaps a good thing ... in ordinary times, when so much of the country is not in ruin with hundreds of thousands of people with true needs. It is not a priority now, today, right in the middle of this ongoing humanitarian disaster. 

What is more ... so many groups, "New Religious" groups, Christian Churches and more, are truly mobilized and helping in this disaster ... sending supplies where needed (well organized, for one should always coordinate with the authorities in doing so to avoid oversupply and misdirection of help), dispatching doctors and dentists affiliated with their religious groups, carpenters, plumbers, counselors and school teachers and the like. Read more here ...

The response of Soto-shu seems a shadow of that ... not including, of course, this collecting of money, simply passing it on to the Red Cross ... but only AFTER TAKING A 30% "CUT" FOR OURSELVES! 

Shame on us.

Gassho, Jundo Cohen

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