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How to live a happy life – morality and conduct of life in a Japanese New Religion

13.11.2002 | 18.30

Monika Schrimpf

Abriss

Scholars of Japanese religions agree that morality is a central issue in most of the so-called New Religions (shinshūkyō) and New New Religions (shin shinshūkyō). Many of them teach a catalogue of moral norms that are intended to guide the follower through his or her life. Academic theories on ethics and values in New Religions usually refer to the function and to the contents of moral teachings. Frequently the “utilitarian” character of these religious ethics is stressed: by following the ethical rules the practitioner hopes to achieve well being, satisfaction, happiness or wealth in “this world” (genze). Based on this assumption, some scholars have seen a close link between ethical and magical practices in New Religions: they claim that both are different but complementary means to the same ends, namely the realization of a happy and successful life.

As for the contents, the older of the New Religions are often regarded as representing “traditional” values like emphasis on family and group orientation, self-denial and altruism etc. The key elements of their concepts of morality as characterized by scholars like Fujii Takeshi or Shimazono Susumu are supposed to be rooted in the history of Japanese religions and religious ideas: self-cultivation (shūyō), improvement of the heart (kokoro naoshi) and purity, all based on a vitalistic worldview (seimeishugi sekaikan). On the other hand, those groups who had their prime time in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s - the New New Religions, are seen as propagating “modern” values like individuality or liberty. A third trend has been emphasized by Shimazono Susumu. He points out that the most recent groups or trends, the so-called spiritual movements of the 1990s, often take a critical attitude against supposedly modern values like rationality and liberty. For that reason he has labeled them “postmodern new religions”. 

Keeping these general characterizations in mind, the paper focuses on the moral teachings of a certain religious group, Perfect Liberty Kyōdan. While its roots go back to the 1920s/1930s and its immediate predecessor “Hitonomichi Kyōdan” in prewar Japan, the present church has been founded in 1946 by Miki Tokuchika (1900–1983). Under the motto “Life is art” (jinsei wa geijutsu de aru) the group puts practical guidance for a proper conduct of life in the center of its teachings. Thus, it is a good example to study the interrelation between moral praxis, the realization of a happy life and doctrinal teachings. Looking at the principles, values and goals of the group’s moral teachings will give us an idea of its man- and worldview; it will elucidate its attitude towards what it regards as “traditional” and “modern” moral values and thus help to understand the self-image of the group as well as the meaning it attributes to morality.

Koordination: Sven Saaler

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