Buddhism as a Leader of Public Opinion
Toshihide Adachi 
Bukkyo University


Abstract:

During the Edo Era, there was a controversy in Jodo Shu about whether monks should push the people to realize the deep teachings of the patriarchs or whether they should adapt the teachings to the real needs of the people. To a large extent, the latter pattern won out and Buddhism took on the trappings of Confucian ancestor worship and state veneration to support a stable society. This style continues on today, and I feel that the fundamental Buddhist teaching “to abandon attachment” has been lost. Although the distinctive teachings of Buddhism differ from mainstream sensibilities, they still have very important contributions to make to society. In this way, although Honen’s teachings may appear to reject this world of delusion and suffering and may not be of direct use in society, I believe that the spirit of his teachings can awaken our activities for society. It is essential for young priests in Japan to capture this spirit and act as social leaders.


Edo Period Jodo Shu: Material Benefits, State Worship, and Ancestor Worship
My specialty 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.[1] 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.[2]
           
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),[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]
           
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.


Buddhism as Opinion Leader
The Buddhism 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 these activities.

           
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 ordinary people.

           
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
.



[1] Material benefits includes both religious benefits and secular benefits. I am discussing the latter here.
[2] The lineage of the Disavowal of Material Benefits school is as follows: Shonen (1513-1554), Teigoku (1677-1756), Kyoju (1683-1748), Kantsu (1696-1770), Hogan (1744-1815), and Hoshu (1765-1839). The lineage of the Material Benefits school is Daiga (1709-1782), Monno (1700-1763), Antaku, Donkai, and Genshu (all of whom lived in the 18th century. This clash was particularly strong in the Edo period.
[3] The senju nenbutsu refers to the single-minded recitation of the nenbutsu.
[4] Due to limited space, this issue was not treated in the Nihon bukkyō gakkai nenpyō.
[5] Another reason for the acceptance of state worship and offerings to the patriarchs was that state worship secured the position of the priests in society and offerings to the patriarchs provided financial security―state worship and offering to the patriarchs provided material benefits to the priests themselves.


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