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Value Conflicts and Religion

Children were one major source of value conflicts among the men i interviewed, but there were others as well, with another source of conflict being religion. Two of the men i interviewed were profoundly religious, with their senses of being men linked to their religious beliefs.

One man was a doctor in his thirties and a staunch believer in the new Japanese religion Mahikari when i interviewed him in 1990. He spoke of sometimes trying to relieve his patients of their pain through a treatment called tekazashi, the raising of the palm of his hand to emit spiritual light. He was married to a woman who wholly shared his faith, and they had two small children. When i interviewed him again after two decades, he told me that He had lost interest in Mahikari a number of years ago because of “human relations problems” with others of its members, as well as a degree of new skepticism as to Mahikari's claims. His wife and children remained adherents, but he turned away, never actively renouncing the religion but not attending its meetings. His wife never directly confronted him about his lack of belief, he told me, but patiently awaited his return, gently asking him if he would attend a meeting, a request that he generally refused.

Then, in 2005, his daughter, in her early twenties, returned home from study overseas and began losing weight rapidly, eating and then purging; she apparently had bulimia. He took her to specialists, who announced that the cause of her eating disorder was the family situation, telling him that he was neurotic and needed counseling. Outraged, he took her to Mahikari therapy sessions—similar to exorcisms, as he described them—and over several months she became better; he subsequently returned to Mahikari and to the religious fold of his family. Now his daughter, as well as his son, works together with him in his medical practice, and all are fervent adherents of Mahikari. He told me that without Mahikari, his life would make no sense; his life now is preparation for a longer journey from lifetime to lifetime, where gender and individuality are transcended. He also told me that through his religious faith his relationship with his family, and particularly with his wife, was now healed since they all had a faith in common. His ongoing religious faith has enabled him to become rejuvenated as a man, he claimed.

I interviewed a corporate employee who subsequently became a Buddhist priest. He had had a european wife, whom he married in 1981, and had two children with her, but after ten years of marriage, she left him and returned to europe with their children. His response to their departure and to other setbacks in his life was to become a priest, going on yearly meditation retreats in the mountains—not like other Buddhist priests in the “funeral business,” he maintained, but as a spiritual path, to pursue the meaning of his existence over the course of many lifetimes. He became a priest while still a salaryman and was met with disdain by his various bosses, one of whom said, “why are you spending time doing these things? You should spend your time on the company's work!” He finally managed to quit his corporate position in his early fifties to devote himself fully to his spiritual path; he has a temple in his house and meets with his small congregation of six or so people three times a month. As for his marriage and family, he says of his former wife, “if she would have me, i'd get together with her again.”6 she did not leave him because of his spiritual path, it seems, but because of a reluctance to raise her children in Japan. These two men, one in a family and one outside family, have both made their spiritual paths the essence of their lives as human beings. Both these men see themselves as men only within this temporary setting of a lifetime; in a larger sense, their spiritual path transcends any gender identity, they maintain. Unlike the other men i have discussed, their lives have not been solely centered on work and family but rather on a search for larger meaning. Nonetheless, in this life, for one man a spiritual path brought him back to his family, while for the other, it was an alternative to a family he had lost. These men's spiritual paths can't be separated from their families, regained or lost in their lives.

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