Defending the Dharma in Nineteenth-Century Japan

Janine Tasca Sawada (Brown Univeristy)
Paul Swanson (Nanzan University)
Makoto Hayashi (Aichigakuin University)
Religion and Religious Thought
Torre A, Piso 0, Sala 02
Start time:
31 August, 2017 at 14:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel demonstrates that in response to anti-Buddhist sentiments and the perceived threat of Christianity, already in the late Edo period Buddhist activists began to argue vigourously in defense of their religion and that they further developed these apologetical strategies in the Meiji period.

Long abstract:

It is well known that the implementation of policies to downgrade the status of Buddhist institutions and clergy after the Meiji Restoration led to a range of efforts to rehabilitate and even reinvent Buddhism as the country entered the modern period, such as intersectarian organization, lay outreach, and educational innovation. This panel suggests that Buddhist spokespersons were already responding pre-emptively to anti-Buddhist rhetoric in the late Tokugawa period and that they actively built on these efforts to "defend the Dharma" (gohō) as they negotiated the challenging political and cultural circumstances of the Meiji period. During the Bakumatsu era Buddhist representatives were preoccupied with the intensifying Confucian and Nativist critiques of their religion, but at the same time they were keenly aware of the impending challenge of Christianity and Western culture. Orion Klautau demonstrates in his paper that by the 1850s Jōdo Shinshū priests were already "defending the Dharma" in anticipation of foreign incursions, both military and religious; their arguments ranged from justifying Buddhist participation in national defense to the need for priests to learn about Christianity in order to counter its challenge. Janine Sawada's paper suggests that the Bakumatsu apologetical treatise, Zenkai ichiran, ostensibly meant to convince Confucian critics of the truth of Buddhism, later served the educational needs of Zen Buddhists as they faced the new realities of the Meiji order. In his paper Hoshino Seiji analyzes the further evolution of Buddhist apologetics in Japan, focusing especially on the speech and promotional activities of the intersectarian association, Wakeikai, in response to the growing presence of Christianity in Japan in the 1880s. While the Shin, Rinzai and other Buddhist activists discussed in these papers differed in their aims and audiences across the long nineteenth century, they invariably relied on time-honoured Buddhist rhetorical strategies to persuade their critics and ultimately the public at large of the superiority of Buddhism vis-à-vis other religious teachings, and of its applicability to the pressing problems of emerging modern Japan.