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The Butterfly Effect from the Pure Land:

Symbiosis as a Guiding Principle of Engaged Buddhism
 

Saicho Iwata, Myorin-ji, Shizuoka


ABSTRACT

The purpose of this paper is to pose a Pure Land Buddhist viewpoint of symbiosis against a background of dependent origination, on the issue of social reform in general. The world is moving toward a new moral order in the 21st century to establish a "convivial society."@ Here I briefly discuss this kind of a paradigm shift seen from the concept of symbiosis, as partly hinted by the thought and movement of Jodo Shu's eminent advocator of social activism, Rev. Shiio Benkyo (1876-1971).@ He propounded the original idea of "co-living," which will be interpreted as symbiotic way of living in a modern meaning, while in the West the idea of symbiosis has largely been connected to microbiological, biological and the animals-and-plants study contexts.@ However, in the modern concept of symbiosis, there is a problem of the consciousness which gropes for a new framework. Under the current situation, the illusion for social harmony and unity has collapsed and instead confrontation is rampantly sprouting.@ Jodo Shu does not aim at deliverance of the mere individual. Instead, we advocate the Pure Land of this real world through revisiting Shiio's ideology of co-living linked with the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination, which can be applied to a constellation of contemporary issues.@ The concept of symbiosis rooted in the aspiration for the realization of a this-worldly Pure Land has become a keyword in rethinking the whole relational scheme of human beings and their surroundings. This may have a potential spiritual "butterfly effect," yielding an unexpected material outcome to society.


In this world where the craving for convenience has become a dead end, there is now the need to reconsider the way of modern society from a Buddhist standpoint. Recently the term "symbiosis" is a vogue word for that matter, like "globalization" or "borderlessness." It is used as a state-of-art ideology and as a familiar term. The notion of symbiosis is unquestionably changing our idea of what it is to be human. Beyond the symbiosis among people, we should also think of the coordinated co-living of all sentient beings. We must start reviewing all the problems of society from this perspective. Buddhism, however, in general appears to be going through a crisis of relevance in the modern era. In fact, we see an increasing requirement to call to all of the Buddhist traditions to account for their social implications. Such traditions tend to be judged as gusefulh to the extent that they are able to guide people in their daily, mundane conduct. Any Buddhist doctrine that appears too gother-worldlyh may be dismissed as obsolete in the face of varied demands of the current age. This same tendency seems now to be gaining a foothold in Jodo Shu. Engaged Buddhism, based on the symbiotic viewpoint, is currently being considered as a new direction that must be adopted if the Pure Land tradition is to maintain any significance for people today.

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Buddhism provides an ideological basis for the coexistence of all things. Each living thing contributes to the harmony of the grand concert of symbiosis. The Buddhist term "dependent origination" describes such symbiotic relationships, as nothing and no one exists in isolation.@ Each individual being is destined to function to create an environment that sustains all other existences. This is the conceptual framework through which Mahayana Buddhism, and specifically the Pure Land tradition, views the universe. Pure Land Buddhism today should develop itself as a reformed Buddhism and show pragmatic concepts concurrent with "modern" ethos such as individualism, egalitarianism of community, and social engagement. By implementing these elements, Jodo Shu will be able to establish a new form of Pure Land Buddhism according to societal requirements of the contemporary world.

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The Buddhist law of dependent origination presents a holistic approach to all phases of secular life so that it encompasses all aspects of morality. One of Pure Land Buddhismfs characteristic aspects asks us to make a detailed inquiry into "otherness" and the reality of what is different or alien. This inquiry will expose our innate dependency. From this standpoint of the relationship of mutual-dependency and otherness, we find the Pure Land tradition has some ideas to offer in the quest for answers to socially problematic issues. This is because this tradition adapts the insight of one's co-existence into life to harmonize with natural laws and human communality.@ Encouraging community through interdependent cooperation is the cornerstone for developing a soteriological system of establishing a Pure Land here on earth.

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Recognizing the necessity of societal revitalization from the basis of Pure Land Buddhism, Rev. Shiio Benkyo, who was an outstanding engaged Buddhist activist of Jodo Shu, founded a social reform activity named the "Co-Living Movement" in the early 1920's. This movement centered on applying Honen's teachings to daily life for the betterment of society. Shiio asserted that we should actualize the salvation of Amida Buddha in social and daily life. He based his principle on the fundamental doctrine of dependent origination and the interconnectedness of all things, reinterpreted with regard to the matrix of human society. He coined a slogan for public campaigning called tomo-iki
, literally meaning "co-living", to symbolize his philosophy of living together among all sentient beings. He felt an exaggerated emphasis on other-worldliness could lead to escapism in disregarding people's responsibilities and obligations in actual society.@ Shiio then promoted his co-living philosophy for building a vibrant co-living world as a symbol of a dynamic, not static, Pure Land. We know he contributed himself to the establishment, for instance, of day-care centers and kindergartens within the precincts of Jodo Shu temples and to the engagement in other forms of social service in those days when Japan's social welfare system was immature.

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Shiio's activities infused a new spirit into Honen's teaching of universal soteriology based on Amida Buddha's Original Vow in contemporary times.@ His co-living movement was very influential on the modernization of Buddhism in Japan and was his realistic answer to the symbiotic ideal of Pure Land Buddhism. It consisted of two main elements.

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One is derived, as mentioned earlier, from the Buddha's teaching of dependent origination. The progression of causes and conditions is the reality which applies to all things, from the natural environment to the entire phenomena of human society and to the well-being and suffering that occurs in our own minds. It tells us that all things take place and exist only through their interrelationship with all the other events and that this fabric of connectedness is of infinite extent both in time and space. The law of dependent origination serves as Shiio's speculative foundation with regard to the tangible actions of compassion and altruism.

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The other element is grounded in a hymnal passage appeared in Shan-tao's Liturgy for Birth
.@ The phrase is: "I wish to be Born in the Land of Peace and Bliss together with all sentient beings."@ Shiio is said to have conceived of the idea of co-living from this very sentence. One of the issues we must always face is the creation of a determined way of thinking about life and death, and a new path of co-living to match it. Society dominated by modernism has placed a higher value on life than has any other period in human history. This excessive evaluation of human life is, however, no longer valid in the age of symbiosis. All beings, both organic and inorganic substances, are living together in an enormous scale of life cycle. Neither seeing human life as more important than any other form nor suggesting a return to the ecology of some pre-human age is important. All considerations in the argument of life and death are required to begin from the recognition of the existence of other life forms.

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Shiio's outlook on the supreme goal of Pure Land Buddhism was not that Jodo Shu should aim at mere individual salvation but rather social emancipation. His translation of "symbiosis" is not "born together" but "living together." This paradigm shift from "born" to "living" necessarily gives rise to a modern interpretation of the Pure Land term "Birth" or ojo
. We must be fully aware of this transition from the notion of "born" to that of "living". The change is grounded on postmodern thinking with less of an emphasis on the notion of "postmortem status" than on "life phenomenon."

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Symbiosis, needless to say, fundamentally means mutualism. However, a symbiotic relationship is not a predetermined harmony. It respects mutual independence and individuality. Symbiosis in essence refers to a positive relationship in which two or more parties try to understand each other, despite mutual confrontation or difference. It is also connected to relationships that stimulate a level of creativity impossible for either party to achieve alone. Therefore, free competition and symbiosis are not contradictory at all. Consequently, we can identify a strong tide of tradition in the history of Buddhism for seeing human beings and nature, the part and the whole, as existing in symbiosis.

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Contemporary Pure Land Buddhism, more than ever, seeks to make itself understood in modern terms and to respond to current social situations. Its legitimatization in society can partially be met by demonstrating that Buddhist morality is community-focused, commensurate with social matters.@ The world-view of the thought of symbiosis is a kind of altruistic reconciliation, which is as a matter of fact an essential aspect of the Pure Land Buddhist vision toward true life. Through the theory of symbiosis, we can dig up the very root of human conflicts and contentions. Furthermore, with an insight into dependent origination, the thought of symbiosis will be conceptually enriched to escape the gravity of both greed and anger in human communities. The essence of this outlook as exemplified in Shiio Benkyo's achievements is a recognition of the necessity of collective action to address the systemic causes of suffering and to promote social advancement in the world, which is just the direction that engaged Buddhism aims at. It is no longer viable to see the individual as the sole "object" of salvation separate from the complexity of roles and relationships that make up one's life itself. We need to consider the effects of personal and social actions on others. The gothers" affected by these actions must be grasped as significant collectivities such as social or ethnic groups and, not least, biological species or ecosystems.

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The understanding of Buddhism is in fact that transcendental insight and moral maturity reinforce each other. As a result, the search for compassionate responses to present-day dilemmas can be a measure of the movement ahead on the path to enlightenment. The deepening of one's spiritual awareness must lead naturally to increased sensitivity to all kinds of global problems.@ Engaged Buddhism therefore is a way of confronting social dis-eases that threaten us. In today's context, the thought of dependent origination is finding a new implication in social movements. If social relationships are the manifestation of interdependence, then protecting the relationships is a way to protect the Dharma itself.

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The creative merging of dependent origination and co-living thought achieved by Shiio Benkyo can help us work toward a modern life of communalism rather than consumerism, and of self-contentment rather than inexhaustible desire. This unification should produce a new paradigm of engaged Pure Land Buddhism that has a unique awareness of the social and institutional dimensions of suffering, rather than a revelation movement based on a highly personal and other-worldly notion of salvation. There is nothing inherently dependable in society's ethical norms.@ The truth of symbiosis is taken as our guidepost and is concentrated on the realization of the Pure Land. Furthermore, in the teaching of dependent origination, by understanding people in terms of their interdependence, we can open up human relationships that have been closed by self-interest, and begin to have consideration for others. This does not mean, however, a fusion of the self and others in a relationship in which the self is annihilated. The symbiotic viewpoint within the law of dependent origination is the overcoming of our closed-off egotism and is an attempt to create communality from the autonomy of individuals.

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In dealing with the issue of symbiotically engaged Pure Land Buddhism as notably represented in the co-living movement of Shiio Benkyo, we should recognize that even our slightest intentions and motives may ripple across the entire human community, generating relevant responses according to our thoughts and actions. This could even be called a Buddhist "butterfly effect," originally a figurative term that encapsulates the technical notion of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in Chaos Theory. This fundamental causal connection is surely a paraphrase of Buddhist dependent origination.

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The movements of a butterfly's wings, in which a seemingly insignificant event can cause dramatic consequences, will possibly generate a transformation in a remote place afflicted by social injustice or unrest. Accepting that all things and events in the universe are intimately interconnected, we are all responsible for whatever suffering is happening in the world now, and our actions can and will create social stability. The perception that we might indeed have is that the "butterfly effect" from the Pure Land gives us a tremendous responsibility and potentiality in improving society toward a new understanding in our time. Something has to be done, and anyone seeing no boundary between the self and others will feel compelled to do something, even if it is just a flap in the wind.


References:

Steven Heine, Charles S. Prebish (Eds.), Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition. (Oxford University Press, 2003).


Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values, and Issues (Cambridge University Press, 2000)


Lloyd Ridgeon (Ed.), Major World Religions: From Their Origins to the Present (Routledge, 2003)


Kisho Kurokawa, Philosophy of Symbiosis (Translated by Jeffrey Hunter, Academy Editions 2004;
http://www.kisho.co.jp/Books/index.html)


Akihisa Manabe, "Shakai-fukushi no Kanten karano Kyosei-shiso - Bukkyo niokeru Kyosei (Symbiosis Thought from Aspects of Social Wellbeing - Symbiosis of Buddhism -)" Journal of Nagoya Womenfs University, Humanities Esocial Science, NO.50, 2004; http://libweb.nagoya-wu.ac.jp/kiyo/kiyo50/kj5006.pdf)


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