Early Buddhism in Japan - Bhante sumanasara's videos

My acquaintance in Japan who studies early Buddhism sent me a playlist of “Early Buddhism Q&A” by Bhante Alubomulle Sumanasara, a Sri Lankan monastic who has been teaching Early Buddhism in Japan.
In these video, he talks in Japanese :jp:, but there are English subtitles :uk: :us:.
He also teaches suttas from Pāli canons regularly, but English subtitles haven’t been added yet.

Japan is historically a very much Mahayana Buddhist country and the spread of Early Buddhism among non-scholars are recent, I think. Let me put like this: I learned at school in Japan about the history of Buddhism (i.e. lists of Major Japanese Buddhist Schools such as True Pure land School, and their core teachings), and at that time nothing was mentioned about Early Buddhism. I left Japan more than 25 years ago, so I didn’t know until quite recently that there are ordinary people who are studying Early Buddhism now.


I look forward to watching that. My girlfriend is Japanese, and lives in Tokyo. She studies yoga, both Hatha yoga and the philosophy. She’s been studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra with an Indian teacher recently. We talk about meditation and compare Buddhism and yoga philosophy a lot. She doesn’t really know much about Buddhism, even Japanese Buddhism. She’ll probably be interested in this video.


By the way, how good is his Japanese?


I think very good, but the videos also have Japanese subtitles, if your girlfriend would like to watch them. In fact, many of his videos seem to have Japanese subtitles. :slightly_smiling_face:


Great post!

Bhante certainly has his work cut out for him. Buddhism in Japan has a massive image problem, and that’s turning off alot of younger Japanese.

Maybe study of the EBT’s will lead to a resurgence of actual belief and practice, as opposed to Buddhism just being part of the the born shinto, marry christian and die buddhist cultural religious practices


Thanks for sharing! I’ve always been drawn to Japan, but was sad to see that the kind of Buddhism I was looking for wasn’t really practiced there. It seems like there’s a whole organization for Japanese Theravāda Buddhism—now if only I could understand Japanese… :laughing:


Yeah, Japan is the least Buddhist “Buddhist country” I’ve ever visited.


Unfortunately it’s like this in most places. The history of Buddhism becomes yet another vehicle for nationalistic blinders (or worse, propaganda) and never gets connected to the history of neighboring countries let alone to the broader, human story. I’ve shocked Thai people by informing them that other countries do indeed have Buddhism :roll_eyes:

As if creating a list of Our Ethnicity’s Heroes™ counts as “history.” :tired_face: Sadly, of course, public “education” is like this everywhere.


Well, I’ll give them one thing, that website is SO japanese. With the chibis and cats and stuff. This might just work :japan: :rice_ball::dango:

Interestingly enough, it’s not the first time that there’s been an attempt to revive EBTs in Japan.

Feast your eyes on Agon Shu - Wikipedia

And also apparently there was someone called Senshō Murakami (村上専精, 1 May 1851 – 31 October 1929) who according to wiki:

introduced Western scholarship on Buddhism for Japan, and because of this was forced to resign from Japanese Buddhist priesthood.
His most notable work was 『仏教統一論』, (Discourse on Buddhist Unity), which argued that Japanese Mahayana texts were not the true teachings of the Buddha. While he had explained this argument before in a history text, this book, written more in the style of polemic, became famous in intellectual circles. It was also called 『大乗非仏説論』 which has been translated simply as “The Theory That Mahayana Is Not the Buddha’s Teachings”.

That must have gone over well…

Agon Shū was among the first religious movements in Japan incorporating in its teachings the prophecies of Nostradamus


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There’s a huge amount of Japanese Buddhist scholarship that has never been translated into English. It seems to be of quite high quality, too. Someone needs to start translating all those books and papers!


Hey I didn’t say it was pretty…

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There are scholars in Japan who have come to the same conclusion in the modern day with little to no outside consequence. There’s a small contingent of people in Japan who have a genuine interest in Buddhism, thus studying the EBT’s, but by and large the Japanese sects are swiftly declining in popularity and have little to no influence on society at large, especially when it comes to younger demographics. For example, a friend of mine is a Shingon priest, and the majority of his congregants are 70+ years old.

While the West has a surfeit of brilliant scholar monks who write and teach in English, Japan doesn’t really have anything comparable.


That’s sad, but understandable. Japan is definitely at the forefront of hypermodern irreligious life.

Yea, it’s really weird. Seon and Chan have both both been undergoing massive resurgences in the past couple of decades, thanks to revival movents founded and continued vy native monastics. Taiwan has benefitted from this too.

Japan’s largely been left out of this trend as I think the jistorical turbulences of Japanese Buddhism has left a sour taste in the mouths of a lot of people. Buddhism in Japan is consequently in major need of reform but no one cares enough to really do anything about it, instead clinging to dead traditions. When it comes to carrying on something historical like that, you can either tend a live fire or worship cold ashes, and japanese buddhism seems to be following the latter path