Buddhism as a Leader of Public Opinion
the Edo Era, there was a controversy in Jodo Shu about whether monks
push the people to realize the deep teachings of the patriarchs or
should adapt the teachings to the real needs of the people. To a large
the latter pattern won out and Buddhism took on the trappings of
ancestor worship and state veneration to support a stable society. This
continues on today, and I feel that the fundamental Buddhist teaching
abandon attachment” has been lost. Although the distinctive teachings
Buddhism differ from mainstream sensibilities, they still have very
contributions to make to society. In this way, although Honen’s
appear to reject this world of delusion and suffering and may not be of
use in society, I believe that the spirit of his teachings can awaken
activities for society. It is essential for young priests in Japan to
this spirit and act as social leaders.
Jodo Shu: Material Benefits, State Worship,
and Ancestor Worship
is Honen’s teachings on the Pure Land, but I have recently begun to
study Jodo Shu (Pure Land Denomination) in the Edo period. Within that,
I am especially interested in worship for material benefits, the state,
and ancestors. I published an article about this in the Nihon
bukkyō gakkai nenpyō,
number 70, and
here I will summarize its main points. Although
Honen allowed that material benefits would accrue from practicing the nenbutsu, he would not
permit the practice of the nenbutsu for the purpose
of acquiring material benefits. Honen’s
disciples continued with this same understanding of material benefits.
For example, Ryochu, the third patriarch of the Chinzei school of the
Jodo Shu, considered that if material benefits were recognized, they
would become a form of attachment, the very opposite of “detachment
from the mundane world and aspiring for Birth in the Pure Land.” In
this way, they would inhibit the successful realization of ojo (Birth).
However, the “Million Nenbutsu” (Hyakumanben Nenbutsu) practice began
in the Muromachi period, and continued to gain in popularity. From the
Edo period, a split developed between the Material Benefits school (gense
riryaku kotei-ha) and
the Disavowal of Material Benefits school (hitei-ha), with heated
arguments and debates between the two.
The leaders of the
Disavowal school emphasized the teachings of Ryochu.
Whereas, the Material Benefits school stressed the obligation of nenbutsu practitioners in
Japan to offer their supplications for the well-being of the state, the
emperor, and the Tokugawa family. In addition, if Material Benefits
were disavowed, people would leave Jodo Shu, and for that reason the
propounding of material benefits is a necessary expedient device.
In the end, it can probably
be said that the Disavowal of Material
Benefits school were those who did their best to preserve Honen ’s
teachings on the “Single-Minded Nenbutsu” (senju-nenbutsu), and the Material
Benefits school were those who stressed the reality of the situation.
Neither school was willing to give in to the other.
Interestingly, although they disagreed so vociferously on the
issue of material benefits, in reality there was little difference in
their attitude toward state worship. Although the Disavowal school was
against practicing the nenbutsu for material
benefits, they allowed for worship of the state, or even promoted it.
The same can be said about
ancestor worship. The Disavowal of
Material Benefits school did not disavow ancestor worship, and were
even more active in regard to it than the Material Benefits school.
In contrast, little was
actually mentioned on Honen and Shinran in
regard to state worship and ancestor worship. In addition, what was
mentioned was very minor, signifying that it was not an issue. That in
the Edo period, state and ancestor worship was actively accepted can
probably be said to be due to very little difference on this issue
between Honen and Shinran.
Then why, in the Edo
period, though the teachings of the different
patriarchs diverged greatly, was the acceptance of state and ancestor
worship widespread? The relation to Confucianism is an important aspect
in considering the reason for this. The Edo period government relied on
Confucianism as a basis for its political philosophy. By the middle of
the Edo period, Confucian philosophy had filtered down to the common
people, and influenced even the monastic community. State worship and
ancestor worship originated with the Confucian concept of filial piety
and making offerings to the ancestors, and was not really a Buddhist
philosophy. It is thought that both the Disavowal of Material Benefits
school and the Material Benefits school accepted the philosophy of
Confucianism. According to Confucianism, Buddhism denied loyalty,
filial piety, and social consciousness. However, according to Buddhism,
these very issues are taught, and Confucianism and Buddhism can be seen
to have merged.
As seen from the above, Edo
period priests adjusted their teachings to
meet the needs of the state and the general populace, especially the
latter. In other words, Buddhism was not presented directly, but rather
it was propagated by conforming to Confucian social consciousness.
as Opinion Leader
of the Edo period, as discussed above, has basically continued to the
present day in Japan. In many ways, it can probably be said that at
present Buddhism and Buddhist priests have lost their presence to some
extent. There are many reasons for this, but one is as a result of the
power of the priests being submerged in popular consciousness and not
teaching the core of Buddhism. In order to adapt their teachings to the
ordinary person, the basic teachings of Buddhist philosophy were lost.
The basics of Buddhism is to teach the severing of attachments to the
mundane realm, and the aspiration for enlightenment. These
characteristics are especially clear within the teachings of the Pure
Land. However, this pessimistic philosophy is not readily accepted in
present-day Japan, which is replete with all modern conveniences. For
that reason, priests do not present the basic philosophy of Buddhism
directly, but rather explain Buddhist teachings in accordance with the
ordinary person’s interests and way of thinking.
In that case, the special characteristics of Buddhist teachings recede,
and the presence of the teachings is weakened. As a result, priests
gradually grew indistinguishable from the laity, and both Buddhism and
the priests got lost in society.
What should be the function of Buddhism and priests within this present
situation? First of all, and most obvious, dedicated efforts should be
made to explain the patriarchs’ teaching to the laity. However, the
teachings of the patriarchs are not all encompassing. For example,
Honen’s teaching on the “Single-Minded Nenbutsu” does not
resolve the issues of ethnic warfare, ecology, or family problems. This
is naturally so since originally Buddhism was a religion for the
individual. However, it is because of the great value of the teachings
of the patriarchs that the teachings have been transmitted. Priests
naturally have a responsibility to spread these teachings, and through
these teachings there should be those who are emancipated.
However, each denomination has its own organization. People expect
direct intervention from their Buddhist organization in solving their
problems, and to whatever extent possible their needs should be met. In
actuality, many activities are being carried out on both the
organizational level and the private level, and I highly approve of
But in this case, I believe it is important that the activities are
based on the principles of Buddhist teachings. If on the surface level,
only the results matter, then only the activities themselves will be
valued, but they will not be distinguishable from the activities of
For that reason, I believe it is important that these activities are
equipped with the basic Buddhist principles - or rather, Buddhism
should offer behavioral norms for society in general. Buddhism probably
cannot replace the teaching of ancestor worship and immediately
incorporate something else. That is because it differs from the
ordinary thought of ordinary people. Nevertheless, it is because it
differs from ordinary thinking that Buddhism has value as a philosophy.
I believe that the role of Buddhism in modern society is to speak out
on the many problems of today using the Buddhist teachings.
Even if people are not converted in the end, it certainly can be said
that at present it is crucial for Buddhism to commit to realizing its
role as a public opinion leader. In other words, to change from
“withdrawn Buddhism” (maibotsu-suru bukkyo) to “motivated
Buddhism” (kenin-suru bukkyo).
In order for Buddhism to realize its role as public opinion leader, the
activities of each individual priest are crucial. In addition, it is
necessary to train some specialists as public opinion leaders. Not
everyone can become a public opinion leader. Such a person needs to
have profound views on both Buddhism and societal problems, and skills
in public speaking and debate. I would like all Buddhist denominations
to seriously think about training such people.
Now I would like to take this opportunity to open some discussion on
Jodo Shu in present-day Japan. In Japan, Jodo Shin Shu may have already
realized its role as a public opinion leader to some degree, but the
circumstances in foreign countries differs considerably from Japan. So
I would like to ask everyone about their present situation, and their
ideas and opinions from their personal perspectives.
benefits includes both religious benefits and secular benefits. I am
discussing the latter here.
 The lineage of the Disavowal
Benefits school is as follows: Shonen (1513-1554), Teigoku (1677-1756),
Kantsu (1696-1770), Hogan (1744-1815), and Hoshu (1765-1839). The
the Material Benefits school is Daiga (1709-1782), Monno (1700-1763),
and Genshu (all of whom lived in the 18th century. This clash was
strong in the Edo period.
 The senju nenbutsu refers to the single-minded
 Due to limited space, this
issue was not
treated in the Nihon bukkyō gakkai nenpyō.
 Another reason for the
acceptance of state
worship and offerings to the patriarchs was that state worship secured
position of the priests in society and offerings to the patriarchs
financial security―state worship and offering to the patriarchs
benefits to the priests themselves.
1996-2006 Jodo Shu Research Institute