All Roads Come from Zen: Busshinji as a Reference to Buddhism

By Rocha, Cristina | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

All Roads Come from Zen: Busshinji as a Reference to Buddhism


Rocha, Cristina, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies


This paper explores the historical role of Busshinji temple as a center of Buddhism in Brazil for non-Japanese. Busshinji was established by Sotoshu as a betsuin (branch temple) in the city of São Paulo in 1956. Drawing on interviews with early adherents, I intend to argue that many first attended Busshinji as it was the only Buddhist temple offering meditation in São Paulo. For these followers, it was their first point of contact with Buddhism. Many later left to become leading figures of other Buddhist schools in Brazil. It is thus my contention that Busshinji played a significant historical role in the expansion of Buddhism in Brazil.

keywords: Sotoshu - Busshinji - non-Japanese Brazilians

In September 1955, Rosen Takashina Roshi visited Brazil for three months, travelling extensively to the many towns where Japanese migrants settled in the states of São Paulo and Paraná, which lie in southern Brazil. At the time, he was the zenji (abbot) in charge of both main monasteries of the Sotoshu School: Eiheiji (located in the Fukui Prefecture) and Sojiji (in Yokohama). Takashina came to Brazil by invitation of those Japanese migrants who adhered to the Sotoshu and wished to have a temple in their new country. Until the Second World War, Japanese migrants still intended to return to Japan once they had acquired enough wealth. However, when Japan lost the war they had to rethink their plans and settled permanently in Brazil. In addition to this, after the war the Brazilian government lifted the ban on the arrival of official Japanese Buddhist missions to Brazil. Given this climate, Takashina was not alone in making the long trip to Brazil with the prospect of establishing a mission in the 1950s. Other traditional Buddhist schools such as Jodoshu, Jodo Shinshu, Shingonshu, and Nichirenshu sent official missions to Brazil at the same time. However, unlike other Japanese religions, Sotoshu would soon have special appeal to an unexpected cohort of followers: non-Japanese Brazilians.

In October 1956, Sotoshu sent Shingu Roshi to Brazil to be the first sokan (Superintendent-General) of South America. He was there to establish Busshinji temple as the betsuin (the headquarters of the mission) in São Paulo. This paper explores the historical role of Busshinji temple as a center of Buddhism in Brazil for non-Japanese. Drawing on interviews with early adherents, I argue that many of these followers first went to Busshinji as it was the only Buddhist temple that offered meditation in São Paulo. For them, Busshinji was their first point of contact with Buddhism. Many later left Busshinji to become leading figures of other Buddhist schools in the country. Thus, it is my contention that Busshinji played a significant historical role in the expansion of Buddhism in Brazil.

From the outset, Sotoshu missionaries worked on the expansion of the mission amongst Japanese Brazilians. They travelled to the countryside where many Japanese migrants lived in order to conduct funerals and memorials, and to teach Japanese language and culture.1 At the same time, in the late 1950s and 60s, some non-Japanese Brazilians were reading about Zen in newspaper articles written by the Brazilian foreign correspondent of the daily newspaper Jornal do Brasil, who was writing from New York City. Others were following the development of an important Brazilian poetic movement called Concretista. These poets were influenced by Ernest Fenollosa's (1853-1908) The Chinese Written Character (1968), the writings of the American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972), and French Symbolism. They argued for a visual poetry where words as they appear on paper would be as important in expressing ideas as their meaning, rhythm, and rhyme. For the Concretistas, such visual poetry was epitomized in the Japanese character. This poetic movement thus brought the Orientalist ideas of Japan and Zen to educated Brazilians. In 1961, D. T. Suzuki's Introduction to Zen Buddhism was published in Portuguese. …

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