Japan's largest Buddhist sect to start suicide hotline

Tokyo, Japan - With more than 30,000 people taking their own lives every year, the Jodo-Shinshu Honganji sect, Japan's largest Buddhist sect based in Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward, is setting up a new suicide prevention center in April.

Many monks believe that those who commit suicide are violating the teachings of Buddhism and wasting their lives, so it is unusual for a religious group to embark on this kind of organization-wide initiative.

The group conducted a survey on suicide prevention on some 10,000 affiliated temples in 2008, collecting data from 26 percent. The results revealed that over 80 percent of those surveyed did not take any particular measures to prevent suicides or support bereaved families, while many said that they wanted to help, but didn't know how.

The organization also received enquiries from citizens' groups, saying that there are many people who would like to talk to religious workers in times of trouble.

As a result, the sect has decided to set up a new telephone hotline, aiming to assist callers by understanding and easing their pains, rather than just talking them out of their suicidal wishes.

The group plans to train new counselors, regardless of their occupation or religious affiliation, by autumn this year.

"We would like to establish a center which reflects the advantages of Kyoto, a religious center," said Yutaka Kanazawa, an assistant researcher with the Honganji's research institute.

In order to raise public awareness on the initiative, the organization will hold a free forum at its main temple Nishi-Honganji in Shimogyo Ward on Feb. 5. It will also accept applications for counselor training between Feb. 5 and 7. Inquiries are accepted at 075-371-9244.