Meeting Places: Pure Land in Modern Japanese Philosophy and Literature

New Meeting Places: The Significance of Encounter for Contemporary Pure Land Studies

  • Saturday, June 1, 2013 | 9:30 – 11:45am |Gage Residence, Fort Camp Lounge

Melissa Anne-Marie Curley (University of Iowa) “Great Peace and Great Contentment: Pure Land in Kawakami Hajime’s Prison Diary”

While serving a sentence as a political prisoner, Marxist economist Kawakami Hajime turned his attention to religion, keeping a diary of his reflections on Zen and Pure Land, particularly Jōdo Shinshū. This paper examines how Kawakami interprets key elements of Shinshū doctrine and history in light of what he understands to be the nature of religious truth. Even as Kawakami delivers a pitiless critique of sectarian religion, he relies upon his notion of religious truth to generate and preserve a space for a free, autonomous self. Kawakami is celebrated for never repudiating his basic political position, even under extreme pressure from the state; I suggest that he was able to maintain his commitment to Marx because of the strength of his commitment to religion.

Michihiro Ama (University of Alaska) “Buddhist Confession in Modern Japan”

This paper explores confessional writings of modern Shin Buddhist priests in conjunction with Björn Krondorfer’s study of male confessions. It argues that confessional writing served as a vehicle to redefine their beliefs and relationship to Amida Buddha. In the past, scholars discussed the nature of I-novel (shishosetsu) and the role of Christianity played in the confession of modern Japanese novelists. This study, however, demonstrates that Buddhists also made strong connections to the institution of confession. Verbalization of personal Buddhist experience as reportage of a spiritual experiment led Kiyozawa Manshi and Akegarasu Haya to exam their religion, moral and religious values, and the place of their followers. Investigation begins with Kiyozawa’s confession, as observed in The Nature of My Faith (Waga shinnen, 1903), and focuses on Akegarasu Haya (1877-1954)’s Before and After My Rebirth (Kōsei no zengo, 1919). Unlike Kiyozawa, whose confession was rational and expository, Akegarasu placed confessional writing within a realm of religious activity conducive to self-transformation and inspiration to others. He incorporated literary expressions into his writings and made his experience of turning of the mind for public consumption. For those Shin Buddhists, confessional writing represents both part of the modern development of their tradition and the re-interpretation of Shinran’s approach to Buddhism.

Tomoyasu Naito (Ryukoku University) “‘Meeting Together at One Place’ and the Meaning of Peace of Mind in Jodo Shinshu Tradition”

In Shinran’s letters, we find passages such as “It is certain that I will go to birth in the Pure Land before you, so without fail I will await you there,” or “We will certainly go to the same place, [the Pure Land].” The famous Japanese novelist Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892–1927) once wrote a story titled “Ogin” about a very devout young Christian woman who lived under religious persecution during the Edo period. Although she was looking forward to being martyred for her faith, when she was about to be crucified, she became an apostate. The reason she became an apostate was that she felt that she should not go to Christian heaven by herself while her parents were in Hell because they died as heathens. I this presentation, I will compare the religious feeling of this young woman expressed in Akutagawa’s story and the earlier mentioned passages in Shinran’s letters. It is often said that religion is primarily a matter of each individual’s faith. Religions often require that followers strictly prioritize their faith in God or their spiritual quest over their love for their own family. I will particularly focus on the contrast between the necessity of religious strictness and the humane desire to be with family forever.

Alex Minchinton (La Trobe University Bendigo) “The Spiritual Foundations of Beauty in Pure Land Buddhism”

This paper argues for a reconsideration of the significance of ‘beauty’ in Pure Land traditions, a neglected subject in recent times. It aims to shine fresh light on many of the complex and overlapping philosophical, soteriological and hermeneutical dimensions of Pure Land Buddhism, and in this way, contribute to a deeper understanding in both academic studies and in the wider Buddhist community. More specifically, this paper will attempt to elucidate the intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions of ‘beauty’ as they pertain to both the unfolding of reality and those dynamic modes of apprehension which constitute the life of Pure Land Buddhists. The applicability of this approach to ‘beauty’ will then be demonstrated by recourse to examples drawn from philosophical, doctrinal, mythological, and ritual studies perspectives. The paper will also outline some of the potential benefits of this approach when applied to some of the more contentious issues surrounding contemporary debates pertaining to our relationship to the natural world, ethics, education, technology and inter-intra religious communication.