"Zen Is Not Buddhism" Recent Japanese Critiques of Buddha-Nature

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Hongaku shisō, the idea that all beings are "inherently" enlightened, is an almost universal assumption in the Japanese Buddhist tradition. This idea also played an important role in the indigenization of Buddhism in Japan and in the development of the syncretistic religious ethos that underlies Japanese society. Through most of Japanese history, the idea of the inherent enlightenment (including non-sentient beings suchs as plants and rocks-which expanded to include assumptions such as the non-differentiation between "indigenous" kami and the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the transcendence of all dualities (including good and evil) as an ideal-was pervasive and unquestioned in much of Japanese religious activity and thought. Recently some Japanese Buddhist scholars, notably Hakamaya Noriaki and Matsumoto Shiro of the Sōtō Zen sect Komazawa University, have questioned the legitimacy of this ethos, claiming that it is antithetical to basic Buddhist ideas such as anātman ("no-self"), and that it is the source of many social problems in Japan. They call for a conscious recognition and rejection of this ethos, and a return to "true Buddhism." After presenting a brief outline of the history and significance of these ideas in Japan, Hakamaya and Matsumoto's critique is explained and examined. Some of the academic and social reactions to this critique are also explored.


International Review for the History of Religions



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