Social Dimensions of the Pure Land in Twentieth Century Japan

Social Dimensions of the Pure Land in Twentieth Century Japan

  • Sunday, June 2, 2013 | 9:30 – 11:45am | Gage Residence, Fort Camp Lounge

Clark Chilson (University of Pittsburgh)Depravity and Delight: Mishirabe (Self-Examination) and the Shin Buddhist Origins of Yoshimoto Ishin’s Naikan Method

Scholarly discussions on psychological interpretations of Buddhism often focus on Zen, Yogacara, Vipassana, and mindfulness practices. Although Shin Buddhism is often ignored in such discussions, it was out of Shin that a widely used introspective, psychotherapeutic method emerged, namely Naikan. Today Naikan is used at 27 medical institutions in Japan and over 35 training centers to help those with problems such as addiction, depression, neurotic disorders, and interpersonal difficulties. It is also used for self-development purposes by athletes, teachers, business managers, and others. This paper introduces the self-examination practice of mishirabe in the early 20th century that Yoshimoto Ishin (1916-1988) participated in and modified to develop Naikan. It shows how mishirabe led practitioners to feel a sense of complete depravity that in turn led to an experience of joy as they overcame self-attachments.

Cameron Penwell (University of Chicago) “Envisioning a This-Worldly Pure Land: Watanabe Kaigyoku and the Emergence of Buddhist Social Work in Modern Japan”

Throughout the history of Pure Land traditions, the ultimate object of religious faith and practice—rebirth in the Pure Land—has frequently stood in contrast to exhortations to “escape from this defiled world” (enri edo). What implications might these and related Pure Land teachings have for social engagement? This paper explores how Watanabe Kaigyoku, a Jōdo sect priest, sought to re-conceptualize Pure Land doctrine both to authorize and to guide a theory and practice of Buddhist social work in early twentieth-century Japan.

Peter Herman (Georgetown University) “The Politics of Buddhahood: Expanding Nirvana and the Problem of Ethical Ambivalence in Jōdo Shinshū”

What, if anything, can be identified in the Shin ideal of Buddhahood and nirvana which allows space for complicity with and engagement in military activity? While scholars of Zen have asked this question in their field, Shin scholarship seems relatively quiet on this front. This paper examines the particular contributions of Shin Buddhist thought to the problem of enlightenment. It further examines the troubling ethical ambivalence over the question of military violence present in the history of Shin Buddhism in Japan. Brief contrasts with Japanese Zen understanding of enlightenment will help to clarify the thinking of Hōnen and Shinran both.