Japan Buddhists launch Monks Without Borders

A group of Buddhists in Japan have formed an organisation called Monks Without Borders which aims to unite religious sects in tackling global issues such as poverty.

The new organisation, which echoes similarly-named establishments famously created by doctors and reporters, recently held their inaugural meeting in the city of Kyoto.

The non-profit project is the brainchild of Hiroaki Nakajima, 43, chief priest at Jokoji Temple in Kyoto city, and Eryo Sugiwaka, 53, chief priest at Hokkeji Temple in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture.

It aims to transcend the many different schools of Buddhism and unite practitioners around the world with the goal of addressing international problems such as the eradication of poverty, discrimination and other social issues.

“Normally, Buddhists do not have interactions with people from different schools, but I think we can unite through Buddhism,” Mr Nakajima told Kyodo news agency. “I believe we can go anywhere, like Doctors without Borders.”

The organisation taps into the fact that Buddhism is practiced widely across vast swathes of South and East Asia and its formation has already been reportedly supported by monks based in India, Taiwan and Vietnam.

In addition to tackling humanitarian issues, the organisation may well also be hoping to boost the profile of Buddhism in Japan in the process, having suffered a dramatic decline in followers and financial support in recent years.

A large number of the nation’s 75,000 Buddhist temples are currently believed to be in financial trouble, prompting a raft of innovative projects to attract a new generation of followers, from Buddhist bars to temple fashion shows.

“Monks are generally not good at publicity, even though individually they are active in helping the weak, such as visiting hospitalised patients and natural disaster victims,” said Mr Nakajima. “We hope to strengthen our public relations by setting up a Facebook account.”

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, is among the world’s most renowned humanitarian non-governmental organisations, focusing on the provision of medical care in war-torn regions and disaster zones.

Similarly, Reporters Without Borders operates as an international non-governmental organisation devoted to the defence of press freedom around the world.