Section 8 | Religion and History of Ideas | Session 4

Bakin's belief

Harold Bolitho, Harvard University

Under normal circumstances faith can offer both a structure and, at least in the abstract, a degree of comfort to believers. But it is more debatable whether it can do anything for those same believers when confronted with a painful personal crisis. I raised this issue in my Bereavement and Consolation (Yale University Press), which deals in part with the personal experience of two Jôdo Shinshû believers – one a priest, the other a pious layman. Now I would like to examine the case of Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848), one of the most popular, and most prolific, writers of his day. Bakin, like his ancestors, belonged to the Jôdo sect. His religious commitment, under normal circumstances, was conventional. At his family temple, Jinkôji, at Koishikawa he maintained, and ultimately expanded, the ancestral grave site. He observed the normal religious festivals, both Buddhist and Shintô, and held memorial services for deceased family members ( aga hotoke, in his words) at the appropriate times. However, when it came to the defining crisis of his life, the death of his thirty-seven year-old son, Okitsugu, it is clear that conventional religion had little to offer him. As a member of the Jôdoshū one might have anticipated that Bakin would take comfort from its promise of Paradise. However, like the Jôdo Shinshū men I studied, he did not. Instead, in his lengthy account of his son’s death, Nochi no tame no ki, the writer makes no mention of an afterlife. When he prays that his son might be spared, his prayer is directed not to Amida, but to a Suitengû amulet. He observes the Buddhist funerary ritual, and buys his dead son an elaborate kaimyô, but his thoughts are clearly directed elsewhere. What obsesses him are a series of incidents which, in his eyes, may have determined his son’s fate. All involve intimations of misfortune, one in a specifically Buddhist context, but the rest are dependent on a wild collection of omens or premonitions in which Buddhism of any sort, Jôdo or otherwise, has absolutely no part. Bakin’s account, in fact, gives us an aspect of the Late Tokugawa mental universe in which Buddhism is only one – and, for him, certainly not the most important – element. The writer was far more concerned with fate, with premonitions, with the influence of the I Ching, with the force of the Prophecies of the Emperor Kuan Yu, with feng shui, with physiognomy, with the astrological implications of hours and dates of birth, with the ominous significance of the number nine. It is a grab-bag of mutually contradictory elements, far from the realm of Buddhist theology, but in its way more credible, since it speaks forcefully to a very human impulse. Particular bereavements, as this one was, can be so devastating that no one belief system can either explain or ameliorate them.

Monasticism in the Pure Land tradition: the Jishû in the mid-fourteenth century

Sybil Anne Thornton, Arizona State University

The academic emphasis in the West, at least, on Shinshû history and the doctrines of absolute and unilateral grace has over-shadowed Pure Land traditions of monasticism. However, the Yugyô-ha, which reached its height in the fifteenth century, preserved the early traditions both of itinerant street preaching and of Tendai meditation on the Pure Land within the traditional institutional framework of monasticism. Indeed, the Yugyô-ha provides a rare case study in Japan of the transition from a charismatic and itinerant confraternity into a full-blown monastic order. Monasticism as an institution (or pattern of relationships) is characterized by 1) the master, 2) the oath, 3) stabilitas, 4) cenobitism, and 5) the rule, all antithetical to the characteristics of the original confraternity led by Ippen Shônin (1239-1289), to whom the Yugyô-ha looked as its founder. Even the basic tenets of Pure Land Buddhism as interpreted by Ippen militated against institutionalization along the lines of monasticism. Rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha was seen as a contract initiated and guaranteed by Amida requiring only the meditation on or the chanting of the Namuamidabutsu: other traditional requirements were rendered superfluous, including formal Buddhist vows taken by lay or religious and chastity. Reversion to traditional institutionalization was confirmed in the generation after Ippen; however, the last stage was not initiated until the 1350's when the seventh leader of Ippen’s itinerant mission, Takuga, wrote down two hundred and fifty-four injunctions on conduct and demeanor for his religious. What is critical to these injunctions is the clear reflection of Takuga’s early training as a Zen monk. His recruitment and early posting to the important headquarters in the capital, which put him in line for succession, indicate the early leadership’s plans for the development of the order as a monastic institution and their recognition that their best chances for success lay in adopting and adhering to Zen monastic codes. This itself, of course, confirms a recognition of the role of Zen in the reform of Japanese Buddhism during the thirteenth century. But more importantly, daily and regular meditation on the Nembutsu was complemented by a monastic “conduct” identified as the highest expression of Enlightenment, bodhisattvas living life in the Pure Land on earth under the supervision of the human representative of Amida.

Shinran and semantics: the adaptation of Pure Land Buddhism to the Japanese language

Natalia Petrovskaia, Cambridge University

When Pure Land Buddhism spread to Japan from China, although it did find some popularity, it did not immediately become widespread. This changed in the 12th-13th centuries with the coming of Hônen (1133-1212) and Shinran (1193-1262), who simplified the teachings and propagated the idea that even the lowliest, the poorest and the simplest of mind could attain the Pure Land through faith. This gave his sect a wide-ranging public and, subsequently, contributed largely to the success of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan, establishing it as one of (if not the one) most prominent Buddhist sects in the country. The significance of the changes made by Hônen and his disciple Shinran to the Pure Land Buddhist teaching of the time and the changes that had occurred within the sect prior and posterior to that will be discussed, along with the causes of the changes viewed in light of the use of language as a tool of communication. This - the influence of language on the development of a religious teaching - will be examined in light of evidence from Japan regarding this particular Buddhist sect. In the light of this study, reasons for the success of the Pure Land Buddhism in Japan before and after Shinran’s reform will be given, and a general theory proposed regarding the influence of language both in its written and spoken forms (and its semantic and syntactic structures) on thought processes, logic, and the development of religious thought.

EAJS 05, Programme