Section 8 | Religion and History of Ideas | Session 7, Panel
Otani University Panel
Discussant: Shin'ya Yasutomi
This panel aims at analyzing various aspects of Pure Land Buddhism in modern Japan, particularly through an investigation of its interaction with social and cultural conditions, focusing on one of its most distinctive Japanese developments, Jôdo Shinshû (Shin Buddhism). Emphasis will be placed on the dynamic responses of this religious tradition to the problems of modernization, and on its contribution to the development of Japanese religiosity, society and culture as a whole.
Michael Conway, Otani University
This paper presents an analysis of the development of Yasuda Rijin’s understanding of the role of the Sangha (fellowship of seekers) in the Pure Land Buddhist tradition in the post-war period and the relationship of his thought to the Dôbôkai undô. Yasuda consistently took a standpoint grounded firmly upon the traditional doctrinal foundations of the Shin sect, while facing the present situation, attempting to discover both the ultimate truth in and the actual validity of the Shin teachings. Yasuda first began his serious inquiry into the problem of the Shin fellowship in the early 1950s, a period of widespread confusion and disillusionment within Japanese society and therefore, of spiritual seeking. The roots of the Dôbôkai movement can also be traced to this period, when the Ôtani organization began a concerted effort to recover from the erosion of its financial and social position in the aftermath of the Second World War, and to offer an effective, Shin Buddhist alternative to the New Religions that were blossoming at that time. Although Yasuda did not participate directly in the activities carried out by the sect to organize the Dôbôkai movement, he played an invaluable role, by presenting a doctrinal foundation for it, based upon Vasubandhu’s Verses on the Aspiration to Birth in the Pure Land and T’an-luan’s Notes on the Verses on the Aspiration to Birth in the Pure Land. Through an analysis of the doctrinal basis of the Dôbôkai movement, this paper will attempt to clarify its goals and thereby, discover a standard from which to evaluate its successes and shortcomings.
Ugo Dessi, Marburg University, Otani University
This paper attempts to analyse a range of social activities inside the Ôtani-ha (branch) of the Jôdo Shinshû denomination of Japanese Buddhism in order to highlight the present attitude of the institution and the practitioners towards issues of discrimination, war and peace, and human rights, and to evaluate the practical relevance of the social dimension of the teachings in the present contexts. The Ôtani-ha has traditionally focused, at least at the doctrinal level, more on the significance of the inner religious experience than on the option for a compassionate engagement in society in accordance with the principles of Mahayana Buddhism as interpreted by the founder Shinran (1173-1262). This tendency is closely connected with the interpretation of certain doctrinal facets (e.g. the reliance on Amida’s power, the absence of precepts, the view of karma) and with the links which have been historically established by the institution with political and economic powers. Nonetheless, it is possible to detect in the last decades, at least in some sectors of the Ôtani-ha, and in tune with a growing interest towards human rights in Japanese society as a whole, some attempts at articulating the understanding of the teachings in order to meet these pressing problems of contemporary society. Concern for such problems as the discriminated-against burakumin and formerly secluded hansen-byô (leprosy) patients, fund-raising campaigns, and pro-peace projects, are just some examples of a whole range of activities, admittedly fostered by minority groups and often on the basis of individual engagement, which can nonetheless occasionally affect the decision-making of the organization. While describing some of these social activities inside the Ôtani-ha, particular attention will be paid to the motivation given by individual participants to their own religious commitment and to what extent these interpretations are helping to redefine the social meaning of the doctrines themselves.
Takami Inoue, Otani University
Modernization is a “disembedding mechanism,” and the process from shinbutsu bunri (separation of Shinto and Buddhism) and subsequent haibutsu kishaku (persecution of Buddhism) to the creation of “State Shinto” and “Eastern Buddhism” aptly fits Giddens’ definition of this term: “the ‘lifting up’ of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time and space. ” This paper will trace such a process, focusing on the case in the Matsumoto area in Nagano prefecture, where Jôdo Shinshû reacted resolutely to the government’s harsh persecution in the early 1870s. In contrast with the rather passive response from other denominations, Shinshû priests and followers adamantly refused to give up their temples and the practice of nenbutsu. Such Shinshû vitality, however, was gradually weakened in the following decades as the Meiji government began to consolidate its power and the Buddhist organizations tried to accommodate themselves to the changing society. The analysis of the transformation will shed light on the characteristics of traditional (pre-Meiji) Jôdo Shinshû, such as: 1) the close relationship between the followers (monto) and the priests of their temples (bodai-ji); 2) the relatively solid organization of both the main and local temples; 3) emphasis on the importance of the “afterlife” in its teachings; 4) simple but meaningful funerary rituals; 5) encouragement of ecclesiastical education, and of the followers’ listening to the teachings at regular gatherings; and 6) the tendency to reject folk beliefs and superstitious practices. The paper will examine how each of these characteristics was slighted or reinforced by the elite and scholarly priests who tried to make Jôdo Shinshû into a “religion” in the Western sense, and will clarify one of the causes for the gap between modern Shinshû doctrines and the actual beliefs and practices of the followers.
Elisabetta Porcu, Marburg University, Otani University
The various expressions of traditional culture visible in Japan even today, such as the tea ceremony, nô theatre, garden construction, ikebana, etc. have been presented to the West in several detailed studies from the Japanese side, especially through the work of D.T. Suzuki, Hisamatsu Shin’ichi, and leading exponents of the Kyoto school, who more than others, contributed to the spread of Zen Buddhism to the West in the last century. However, these presentations put great emphasis on the influence of Zen Buddhist denominations— particularly the Rinzai school—on the creation of Japanese culture, which constitute, actually, only part of the Japanese Buddhist tradition. The results have been an oversimplification of Japanese culture to the formula ‘Japanese culture equals Zen culture,’ which still survives today in the West. One of the consequences of this exclusive presentation is that the role of other leading religious traditions in the creation of the culture, such as Pure Land Buddhism—which is among other things, one of the most influential traditions in Japan—has been often obscured and underestimated by this kind of hegemonic presentation. This paper, while analysing some aspects of Pure Land Buddhist culture, will attempt to explore how orientalist and occidentalist approaches to the understanding of Buddhism and its culture have often led to misinterpretations, and have given little attention to, if not excluding, such important religious traditions being represented as a vital part of Japanese culture to the West. Moreover, this paper will take into account the implications of cultural nationalism, proposed by some Japanese intelligentsia circles in the presentation and the reception of Japanese Buddhist culture and religiosity both inside and outside Japan, which have reduced the multifaceted and intertwined religious and cultural Japanese scene to a matter of simplistic, black or white perspectives.