Accepted paper:

'Religious Studies' through Buddhist Eyes: On Modern Nichiren Buddhism and Honda Nisshō's Theory of the Honzon


Yulia Burenina (Osaka University)

Paper short abstract:

Honda Nisshō (1867-1931) was the leader of Nichiren denomination Kempon Hokkeshū, deeply influenced by the religious studies of a Dutch theologian C. P. Tiele (1830-1902). The paper offers a few reflections on Honda's understanding of this modern discipline and its application to Nichiren Buddhism.

Paper long abstract:

Honda Nisshō (1867-1931) was the leader of the small Nichiren denomination Kempon Hokkeshū. He is also well known as one the most important and influential advocates of the modern Buddhist movement of Nichirenism. He devoted his life to reforming Nichiren Buddhism from within the priestly hierarchy, even though some of his radical reform policies, based on his own theory of the honzon (the principal object of worship), led to his being disrobed and deprived of his Buddhist name for three years (1892-95). For example, he banned the enshrinement of deities other than the Mandala of Nichiren, including Yakushi Nyorai, Kishimojin and Daikokuten, which were a big part of the management of many temples, especially in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo. Honda started to formulate his theory of the honzon when he was a student of private academy of philosophy (Tetsugakkan), where he learned about Western theories. He was also deeply influenced by the religious studies of a Dutch theologian Cornelis Petrus Tiele (1830-1902), but reversed Tiele's religious developmental schema and its hierarchy of universal religions. While Tiele expounded a religious typology that explained the history of religions as the evolutional progress from naturalism to universal religion, and positioned universal religion, especially monotheism (Christianity) as the apex of evolutional development, Honda created his own honzon-based typology of Japanese religions with the "one-God-centric pantheism," being the most highly developed religion. Honda's classification included eleven types of religions: animal worship, animism, fetishism, hero-worship, kathenotheism, polytheism, henotheism, monotheism, pantheism, universalism, and finally, "one-God-centric pantheism," represented by the Lotus Sutra and doctrine of Nichiren Buddhism. In this paper, I will offer a few reflections on Honda's understanding of 'religious studies' and his application of this modern discipline to Nichiren Buddhism, and discuss his unique theory of the honzon and its characteristics. The findings of this study reveal the encounter between Buddhism and Western science (religious studies) as part of an attempt by Japanese Buddhists to position their religion in the discourse of modernity.

panel S8a_10
Religion and Religious Thought: individual papers II