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Fruits from the Garden of Japanese Spirituality

Panel Chair: Shin'ichi Tsuda | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

In his well-known work, Japanese Spirituality (Nihon-teki-reisei, 1944), Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki presented a model of the history of Japanese Buddhist thought. He posits that the historical circumstances of Japan during the Kamakura Period catalyzed the full flowering of Japanese Spirituality through which Mahayana Buddhism’s full essence found expression in the teachings of the Buddhist masters of that era, notably Dogen’s Zen, Honen and Shinran’s characterization of compassion in the Pure Land teaching, and Nichiren’s channeling of patriotic and nationalistic sentiment into promotion of Lotus Sutra Buddhism as essential for the well-being of the nation. These teachings continue to survive beyond the boundaries of Japanese Spirituality. This Panel looks at Honen and Shinran's perspectives of the Pure Land teaching, and at the Lotus Sutra’s characterization of Buddhist thought, from Nichiren’s original perspective to the challenges it faces and its potential applicability within the dynamics of contemporary daily life.

Shin'ichi Tsuda

The "dialectical" relation of Honen and Shinran, the two greatest figures of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, in their antinomic systems for attaining the Pure Land

In his noted book, Japanese Spirituality, (Nihon-teki-reisei, 1944), Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki ranked Shinran, the founder of the Jodo-shin-shu sect of Pure Land Buddhism, at the top of the Buddhist thinkers of medieval Japan, exceeding his master Honen, the founder of the Jodo-shu sect. However, Shinran’s idea of “realizing the Pure Land at the first chanting of the name of the Buddha Amitabha,” and Honen’s way of life-long continuation of chanting aiming to be born in the Pure Land” are not antinomic with each other but co-existential “dialectically.” Though he may not have grasped it in the sense of the term “dialectical,” Honen himself was well aware of this situation.

Gyokai Sekido

Spirituality of Nichiren's Buddhism

Nichiren (1222-82) was one of the great Buddhist innovators of the Kamakura Period. He declared that the Lotus Sutra was the very teaching for the salvation of people in the Latter Age of Degeneration (mappo). Because he strongly insisted on the justice of the Lotus Sutra, he experienced persecution by the Kamakura Shogunate and was exiled to Sado Island. While in exile there, he composed one of his major works, the Kaimoku-sho (Treatise on the Opening of the Eyes), in 1272. In that thesis, Nichiren took up Shakyamuni Buddha’s resolution to liberate people from suffering, and he declared his own “Three Great Vows,” resolving to become “The Pillar of Japan,” “The Eyes of Japan,” and “The Great Ship of Japan.”

Tsugunari Kubo

What Shakyamuni Buddha requires of people through the Lotus Sutra

What are the challenges set forth by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Lotus Sutra to those who would take up and follow its teaching? The sutra’s fundamental proposal is individual action and experience—bodhisattva practice, and the establishment of communication between people can be said to be essential to that proposal. The first chapter of the sutra reveals the perspective that the sutra itself must take the initiative to create a framework of communication. The aim of the Buddha in the Lotus Sutra is to make up a world wherein all of its human beings are enjoying successful mutual communication. In the Sanskrit text of the fist chapter, Manjusri Bodhisattva tells Maitreya Bodhisattva and others: “Oh you of good intent, it is the intention of the Tathagata to establish the great [plaza of] communication for learning the dharmas.”

Joseph Logan

What you see (and hear) is what you get

With ever-growing contingents of lay-Buddhist followers around the world, language becomes a factor in their perspectives toward practice and faith. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha says to the bodhisattva King of Medicines in chapter 10, “…among the sutras I have already expounded…the most difficult to believe and hardest to understand is this Dharma Flower Sutra.” Given this assessment, how are practitioners to grasp, make use of, and benefit from what is so difficult to believe and understand? To that end, the sutra challenges and exhorts its followers to internalize, recite, and expound it. This presentation will briefly examinee how modern-day followers, especially those in English speaking cultures, approach the Lotus Sutra, how nuances of translation affect how the sutra’s practices may be perceived, and how those nuances can facilitate one’s ability to internalize and more effectively benefit from what the Lotus Sutra intends to convey.


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Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

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