Japan Buddhists launch Monks Without Borders

TOKYO (AFP) - First it was the doctors, then came the reporters, now a group of religious men in Japan have formed Monks Without Borders.

The inaugural meeting of the group, whose name apes the Nobel Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders, was held in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto on Wednesday, said Hiroaki Nakajima, chief priest at Joko-ji temple in the city.

"Normally, Buddhists do not have regular interactions with people from different schools (of the religion), but I think we can cooperate under the name of Buddhism, which cherishes salvation of individual souls and lives," he said.

Nakajima, who says the grouping has sparked interest overseas, believes it will help with the self-promotion he thinks many Buddhists struggle with.

"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," he said.

"We hope to strengthen our public relations by setting up a Facebook account," he said.

To avoid potential conflicts with governments or Buddhist school officials, the grouping will take the form of a loose "cloud", where individual monks support others' activities in poverty reduction, the fight against discrimination and disaster-relief, he said.

Buddhism is practised across vast swathes of South and East Asia including in China's restive Tibetan autonomous region.

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres, is a humanitarian non-governmental organisation that focuses on providing medical help to people in war zones or areas hit by disaster.

Reporters Without Borders is a campaign group that promotes freedom of the press.