Shinto is the most popular religious persuasion in Japan, but Buddhists seem to have a lock on the death industry. As anywhere else in 'civilized' society, death can be pricey business so perhaps it is natural that Amazon has begun offering rent-a-monk services at more affordable prices ... a business model that simultaneously helps to shore up the dwindling support that Buddhism is experiencing in Japan. Monks have to earn a living too, after all.
It is hard to suggest that anguished individuals should not be succored in that anguish. Who would not hold the hand of the grief-stricken? But at the same time, there is something tawdry about religion's seemingly invariable leverage that is brought to bear: Death is sorrowful; religion weaves a tale to ease the woe; religious institutions flourish. Nothing wrong with that, right?
And the answer is, probably not. There is nothing so good that it cannot be manipulated and the same, in reverse, goes for anything so bad. But too, institutions have a way of getting lost in their own legends -- touting the institution at the expense of the original message, marginalizing sorrow while claiming to commute or eradicate that sorrow. Theology and superstition take hold. Chinese restaurants are cluttered with good-luck representations of Buddha and the mind is not far behind. It may be childish, but we are all childish when faced with anguish. Get thee behind me, bad joss!
It is no doubt my own arrogance that wonders and writhes and questions the "yoga" students with their buff buns and abs. Don't you want to know what got all this exercising off the ground? And don't the Buddhists likewise want to know what mechanisms nourished the death industry in Japan? What kernel is this? Aren't you curious?
Asking others to be curious because I have been curious is arrogant. But I sit here feeling fortunate to have been curious and willing to take a swing at some sort of answer. Hatha yoga is more than a good ass ... or is it? Buddhism is more than hand-holding ... or is it? As spiritual persuasions dwindle and wisp away, I feel fortunate to have taken a shot at it. Insisting that others might be well-advised to take a similar shot at it ... well, hell, I could have been a Christian if that's all I ever wanted.
Rent a monk.
It's a curious business but I suppose that sunsets are likewise curious.