Japanese Soto-Shu ignoring the suffering of earthquake victims.

The following is reposted from Nathan’s over at Dangerous Harvests. Please direct any comments to his wonderful site. I reposted here because I believe that the actions of large religious organizations, Buddhist or otherwise, when they decide to focus on self preservation rather than on the suffering of others needs to be called out. My suggestion is to give to one of the charities listed on the Charity Navigator as giving all of the donations received to people in need in Japan.

It is a shame that a religious organization would take advantage of a tragedy to line their own coffers at the expense of those that need the aid and those that thought they gave to alleviate it.


Jundo Cohen from the online zendo Treeleaf, and who lives not too far from the worst hit areas in Japan during the earthquake and tsunami, is trying to get the word out about the current actions of the Japanese Soto-shu. As the head organization of the Japanese Soto Zen sanghas, and which also has offices in North and South America, and in Europe, it’s an organization with a lot of potential to be doing beneficial work for those currently suffering in Japan.

However, it seems they have chosen to focus internally. They have decided to “re-donate” 70% of incoming funds for earthquake relief to the Red Cross, and use the remaining 30% to repair/rebuild temples. Now this isn’t an organization lacking in people or resources. As Jundo writes:

“However, I am also sure that the Soto-shu in Japan, with its 14,000 affiliated temples nationwide, universities with medical and dental schools, thousands of priests and lay followers, substantial financial and material resources, could be doing –just as much, if not more– than other religious bodies do, even smaller and less organized.”

Under the circumstances, re-donating is a lazy approach which delays much needed support. In addition, the Red Cross is not exactly the most squeaky clean organization itself, and certainly some of that money will be lost in “overhead” costs alone.

Personally, I’d recommend that anyone currently desiring to send money to aid earthquake victims in Japan consider Tzu Chi, a Buddhist relief organization, or Doctors Without Borders.

It’s disappointing that the leaders of Soto Zen in Japan aren’t leading their sanghas into the center of the fire of suffering, to offer support to those in need. Not only are they ignoring the great need of their fellow citizens, but they are also failing to support the priests and members of individual temples who could do much more than they already are with increased resources. I wish it were surprising, but the Soto-Shu’s actions seem consistent with those of other large religious and secular bureaucracies. When times are tough, they look to save their own asses first, and sometimes only.




2 thoughts on “Japanese Soto-Shu ignoring the suffering of earthquake victims.

  1. Hi,Just to clarify …I would say “line their own coffers” is too strong. I would instead describe it as a misguided and clumsy attempt to use the money to rebuild temples. Some see it, perhaps rightly, as catering to the spiritual needs of the homeless and injured people to do so … although I rather think that, before altars, they could use rebuilt homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes … and lives. I would also say that “Soto-shu” is doing nothing is too strong. There are hundreds of individual and groups of priests around Japan trying to raise money and such. However, it is true that simply redonating to the Red Cross, and keeping 30% for temples, seems to defeat the purpose of that. Gassho, Jundo Cohen

  2. Thanks for the clarification Jundo. Although the idea of pocketing 30% of the donations for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami to rebuild temples sits very ill in my stomach. Temples can always be rebuilt later. Direct aid is needed now, Cheers,

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