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A Blueprint for Buddhist Revolution: The Radical Buddhism of Seno'o Girō (1889–1961) and the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism



In the early decades of the twentieth century, as Japanese society became engulfed in war and increasing nationalism, the majority of Buddhist leaders and institutions capitulated to the status quo. One notable exception to this trend, however, was the Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei (Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism), founded on 5 April 1931. Led by Nichiren Buddhist layman Seno'o Girō and made up of young social activists who were critical of capitalism, internationalist in outlook, and committed to a pan-sectarian and humanist form of Buddhism that would work for social justice and world peace, the league's motto was "carry the Buddha on your backs and go out into the streets and villages." This article analyzes the views of the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism as found in the religious writings of Seno'o Girō to situate the movement in its social and philosophical context, and to raise the question of the prospects of "radical Buddhism" in twenty-first century Japan and elsewhere.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, as Japanese society became
engulfed in war and increasing nationalism, the majority of Buddhist lead-
ers and institutions capitulated to the status quo. One notable exception to
this trend, however, was the Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei (Youth League for
Revitalizing Buddhism), founded on  April . Led by Nichiren Buddhist
layman Seno’o Girō and made up of young social activists who were critical
of capitalism, internationalist in outlook, and committed to a pan-sectarian
and humanist form of Buddhism that would work for social justice and world
peace, the league’s motto was “carry the Buddha on your backs and go out into
the streets and villages.” is article analyzes the views of the Youth League
for Revitalizing Buddhism as found in the religious writings of Seno’o Girō to
situate the movement in its social and philosophical context, and to raise the
question of the prospects of “radical Buddhismin twenty-rst century Japan
and elsewhere.
: Seno’o Girō—Japan—radical Buddhism—Marxism—socialism—
Nichiren—Buddhist reform
James Mark S is an assistant professor in Comparative Humanities and Asian
ought at Bucknell University.
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies /: –
©  Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture
James Mark S
A Blueprint for Buddhist Revolution
e Radical Buddhism of Senoo Girō (–)
and the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism
For us, religion is life itself. Society is our concern. at is to say,
society is what we are made of. Politics, economics, education, the
military as well as the arts and so on, are all subsumed under reli-
gion. All aspects of social life must be subject to critique and reform
in light of the spirit of the Buddha. us aspiring to change society,
to know ourselves, to sincerely repent and to simultaneously repay
with gratitude the grace [on ] we have received—all these are part
of the life of faith. At that level, there is no dierence between the
movement to better society conducted in faith and the same call to
action from those believers in historical materialism, whether social-
ist or communist.
—S’ Girō , 
E   over the past century Buddhist activists in Asia and the
West have attempted to draw a bridge across the seemingly vast gap
between Buddhism and radical politics based on the provocative prem-
ise that Buddhism can add to radical political praxis, and vice versa. While such
attempts at Buddhist progressive politics have usually been under-theorized, we
can trace a genealogy of references to the supposed accommodation between
Marx and the Buddha in the work of at least two prominent Western thinkers:
Claude Lévi-Strauss (–) and Jacques Derrida (–).
Lévi-Strauss argues that both Buddhism and Marxism aim for “liberation,
and as a result, have no obvious conict. Far from being a teaching of resigna-
tion, he insists:
is great religion of not-knowingness… bears witness, rather, to our natu-
ral gis, raising us to the point at which we discover truth in the guise of the
mutual exclusiveness of being and knowing. And, by a further audacity, it has
achieved something that, elsewhere, only Marxism has brought o: it has rec-
onciled the problem of metaphysics with the problem of human behavior.
(L-S , )
Furthermore, Lévi-Strauss sees within Buddhism a potential “missing link
in the chain between the quest for individual contentment and the drive for
social justice. is resides in the fact that Buddhist liberation is a dialectical
process that sublates and thus contains and “validates” its many stages—stages
:       | 
that incorporate an ethic of compassion and altruism. Summing this up, he
Between Marxist criticism which sets Man free from his rst chains, and
Buddhist criticism, which completes that liberation, there is neither opposi-
tion nor contradiction. Marxism and Buddhism are doing the same thing,
but at dierent levels. (L-S , –)
Though Lévi-Strauss’s remarks might be dismissed as offhand comments
within the swelling conclusion to a work that is famously anecdotal, they struck
a chord with his student Jacques D, who comments on them in his
own magnum opus (). For Derrida, Lévi-Strauss raises a salient issue that
remains to be fully explored: that is, whether Marxist criticism provides a su-
ciently rounded analysis of human “suering” and the path to “liberation,” and, if
not, whether it may or must be supplemented by alternative forms of criticism—
such as “for example, Buddhist criticism” ( , ). But for Derrida,
Lévi-Strauss undercuts any possibility of cross-fertilization by glossing over the
dierences and asserting the essential similarity of Buddhism and Marxism—
something he is only able to do at the expense of history itself. In other words,
Derrida’s concern is that the only point at which both Marxism and Buddhism
can come together is a point of common weakness: the lack of a deep sense of his-
tory or historical consciousness (D , ).
In a recent work Bill M () takes up this exchange between Derrida
and Lévi-Strauss, arguing with Derrida that despite Buddhisms positive com-
mitment to individual liberation, it “does not appear to have anything to say”
about the problem of production, and about history as understood in the mate-
rialist sense. According to Martin:
In Buddhism, history is primarily illusion and error, and though it could per-
haps be considered the process by which one comes to enlightenment, as well,
or at least the context, there is nothing in Buddhism that allows us to focus on
the particularities of history. We might even go so far as to say that, in Bud-
dhism, it is history itself that is evil, and the point of enlightenment is to “rise
above” this evil, to become “light” by throwing o the burden of historicality.
en one can see that this evil, like history, never really existed in the rst
place. (M , –)
Without worrying for now about the adequacy of Martin’s picture of Bud-
dhism, both he and Derrida hit upon a theme that is oen perceived, with some
justication, as the weakness of a religious tradition that claims to promote lib-
eration from suering—a liberation that, at least in East Asian Mahāyāna Bud-
dhism, is believed to transcend the personal or individual. A brief glance at Asian
history reveals that, when it comes to sociopolitical matters, the vast majority of
 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies / ()
Buddhist individuals and institutions have opted to support the powers that be
and the status quo, even when this has entailed supporting a system of suering
for the majority of ordinary people.1
On one level, this is not surprising, and may be at least partly attributed to
the innate conservatism of religious institutions. And yet, it does raise impor-
tant questions about the meaning of social liberation and structural suering
in Buddhist traditions, questions which have been addressed by only a select
few gures in the history of modern Buddhism. In short, why has the promise
of Lévi-Strauss not been fullled? What are the problems, paradoxes, and pos-
sibilities of connecting traditional Buddhist doctrine with progressive or radi-
cal politics—specically, those emerging out of Marxist socialism? is article
explores these questions by examining in some detail the life and work of Senoo
Girō 妹尾義郎 (–), founder of the Youth League for Revitalizing Bud-
dhism (Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei 新興仏教年同盟), an experiment in rad-
ical Buddhism from s Japan.
Buddhist Socialism in Japan
e notion of “Buddhist socialism” in Japan predates the Youth League for Revi-
talizing Buddhism, having been suggested by various scholars and Buddhist
gures during the Meiji period.2 As early as , the founder of the Eastern
Socialist Party (Tōyō Shakaitō 東洋社会党), Tarui Tōkichi 樽井藤吉 (–),
wrote that the “children of the Buddha” had a special mandate to look upon the
people with compassion. At about the same, Katayama Sen 片山 (–)
began promoting a “spiritual socialism” founded on both Christian and Bud-
dhist ideals. While the early Showa scholar Tanaka Sōgorō 田中惣 (–
) viewed socialism as a mixture of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Western
Nowhere in East Asia has Buddhist support for the state been more evident than in Japan, a
nation whose very political structure evolved in concert with institutional Buddhism. While it is
true that relations between state and sangha in Japan were occasionally fractious, this is due less
to Buddhist support of the common people against the state than to the fact that Buddhist institu-
tions were at times so powerful as to actually challenge the secular leadership itself for supremacy.
. As Large rightly notes, though much has been written on the connections between Christi-
anity and socialism in modern Japan, very little attention has been paid to the Buddhist equiva-
lent, despite the fact that “it constitutes in eect a modern Japanese Buddhist tradition of protest
comparable in kind if not in scale to that found in Japanese Christianity” (L , ).
In fact, surprisingly little scholarly attention has been given to the topic of Buddhist socialism
on a broader scale, and what does exist tends to focus on economics more than politics (see
E. F. S’ chapter on “Buddhist economics” in his  Small is Beautiful, and P. A.
P’  essay of the same name). e best brief analysis of Buddhist socialism can be
found in H ().
:       | 
ideas, others felt that the Mahāyāna insistence on compassion was enough to
der the Buddhist traditions of East Asia socialist in nature.
ough most of the modernizing “New Buddhists” of the early twentieth
century were resistant to socialism, a few, such as Mōri Shian, were sympa-
thetic to the Commoner’s Society (Heiminsh
a 平民社), founded in . e
final years of the Meiji period saw a turn towards Buddhist socialism in the
writings of Shin priest Takagi Kenmyō 高木顕明 ( –), for whom social-
ism was “much more deeply related to religion than to politics” (T ,
)—and, most dramatically, in the famous case of Uchiyama Gudō 内山愚
–), the Sōtō Zen priest who protested against rural poverty as “unjust and
anti-Buddhist,” and as a result was arrested and executed on trumped-up charges of
plotting to assassinate the emperor in what is known as the High Treason Incident
(taigyaku jiken 大逆事件) (V , –; , –; I ;
D , –). Even the writings of the Shin sect reformer Kiyozawa Man-
shi 清沢満之 (–), whose “spiritualism(seishinshugi 精神主) c
under criticism from progressive Buddhists,
contain hints of utopian social-
ism, such as his references to a “Buddhist country” (nyorai no ko
that might one day replace the present capitalistic and materialistic one.
ese experiments in progressive and radical Buddhism are particularly strik-
ing given the growing social conservatism from the late Meiji period (N
, ),4 as well as the general scepticism with which socialist movements
have been viewed by Buddhists in Japan and elsewhere. Traditional Buddhist
teachings of karma have long been used to both explain and inevitably justify
social inequalities, and Japan is no exception to this rule. Buddhist Enlighten-
ment gure Shimaji Mokurai 島地黙雷 (–) was neither the rst nor last
to blame poverty on the laziness and general moral laxity of the poor (D
, , footnote ). Moreover, for all its emphasis on compassion, East Asian
Mahāyāna Buddhism has a particularly quietistic side due in part to the assimi-
lation of Confucian political ideals (including harmony and hierarchy) as well as
interpretations of more arcane doctrinal teachings such as no-self (Sk. anātman;
Jp. muga 無我) and emptiness (Sk. śūnyāta; Jp. ).5
Despite the emphasis
on interdependence and mutual interpenetration that one nds in East Asian
. ough Seno’o would later criticize Kiyozawas “spiritualism” for not paying enough atten-
tion to material needs, he generally agreed with the Shin sect reformer’s conviction that materi-
alism by itself was insucient for true social change (S’ , ). In this way, as L (,
) notes, his vision was similar to Tolstoy’s Christian socialism.
. Seno’o was inspired by Kawakami’s writings, and particularly pleased to discover that they
shared a love for the Mahāyāna Sutra of Innite Meaning (Jp. Muryōgikyō 無量義經) (L ,
), a sutra frequently regarded as a “prologue” to the Lotus Sutra.
. See I, –, for an extended analysis of the “problems” associated with
Buddhist progressivism, and also I , –.
 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies / ()
Mahāyāna thought—especially the inuent
ial Kegon 華厳, Tendai 天台, and
Zen schools—East Asian Buddhists have rarely used these concepts to sup-
port a critique of structural inequalities and systems of oppression, focusing
instead on “private” acts of sin and vice.
With its relative openness, the Taisho period (–) witnessed a blossom-
ing of Marxism and le-wing activism in Japan—in philosophical, political, and
literary forms. Within this broader wave, the movement most closely connected
to Buddhism was the Muga-ai or Seless Love society, founded by former Shin
priest Itō Shōshin
(–), whose mission was to promote and
engage in compassionate action towards the poor and oppressed. Another gure in
this movement was economist and writer Kawakami Hajime
author of the socialist classic Bimbō monogatari
(Tales of poverty; pub-
lished as a serial in the Osaka Asahi Shinbun, ). Despite these Taisho develop-
ments, by the early Showa period (–) the tide had begun to turn against
progressive politics, religious or otherwise. By the late s, while Buddhist insti-
tutions in Japan were claiming neutrality in growing struggles between labor and
management, Buddhist leaders knew on which side their bread was buttered. So-
called factory evangelists would parrot the government mottos about strength,
harmony, and unity, while denouncing “socialist agitators” (D , ).
e Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism
It was in this context that Senoo Girō established the Youth League for Revital-
izing Buddhism, based on the straightforward notion that “the capitalist system
generates suering and, thus, violates the spirit of Buddhism.” e group’s initial
mouthpiece was a journal called “Under the Banner of Revitalized Buddhism”
(Shinkō bukkyō no hata no moto ni 新興 の旗の下に), though this title was
soon shortened to “Revitalized Buddhism” (Shinkō Bukkyō 新興仏教). In addi-
tion to the regular publication of its journal, the league held a yearly national
conference called “Revitalized Buddhist Youth(Shinkō bussei 新興仏) where
various positions were proclaimed and debated. For example, the third confer-
ence held in January  asserted the league’s opposition to nationalism, mil-
itarism, warfare, and the annexation of Manchuria (Jp. Manshūkoku 満州国);
the fourth conference held in January  stated their commitment to building
a “cooperative society” promoting internationalism, and bringing about a mutu-
ally productive unication of all Buddhist sects; and the h conference held in
January  made explicit the leagues intent to restructure the capitalist system,
vigorously challenge “reactionary religious sects,” and allow each person to reach
a state of perfection through inner purication (K , ). Need-
less to say, most if not all of these positions were in conict with the trends of
:       | 
the times, towards growing nationalism, militarism, and imperialism. In fact, they
would seem to be framed in such a way as to draw attention to the movement.
By , according to Japans Ministry of Justice records, membership in the
Youth League had reached  (with over  subscribers to the journal), with 
branches established in  prefectures, making it an object of legitimate concern
for the government.6 Yet, it was Seno’o’s active involvement with the broader le-
wing popular front that would lead to his eventual arrest.7 Under the auspices of
the Public Order Preservation Act (Chian iji h
ō 治安維持法) of ,
Seno’o was
arrested on  December  and charged with treason. In the spring of , aer
ve months of relentless interrogation, Senoo would confess his crimes and pledge
his loyalty to the emperor. Sentenced to ve years in prison, he was released due to
ill health in . Aer the war, he resumed his work for peace and social justice,
though in a more subdued vein (MC ; L ).
Radical Buddhism: Basic Principles
with the New Buddhists of the late Meiji period, Seno’o and the Youth League
were ghting a war on two fronts: against conservative Buddhist institutions and
so-called Imperial Way Buddhism (kōdō bukky
), and against anti-
Buddhist and anti-religious (hanshūkyō
) forces.9 is would require a
. ese numbers vary widely depending on the source. e league itself claimed as many as
 “members” (the number reached by its predecessor, the Nichirenist Youth League, before
its dissolution), while Ministry of the Interior records give much lower gures ( subscribers
and  members in  branches across  prefectures); see Ō , , footnotes  and .
. In addition to his association with the National Council of Trade Unions and Proletarian
Party of Japan, Seno’o was involved with the following le-wing organizations: Han Nachisu,
Han Fassho Funsai Dōmei 反ナ チス 反ファ ッショ 粉 砕 同 盟 (Anti-Nazi, Anti-fascist Demolition
League, July ); Kyokutō Heiwa Tomo no Kai 極東平和友の会 (Far East Friends of Peace Asso-
ciation, August ); Tōkyō Musan Dantai Kyōgikai 東京無産団体 協議 (Tokyo Proletarian
Convention, September ); and Tōhoku Kikin Kyūen Musan Dantai Kyōgikai 東北飢饉救援無
産団体協議 (Northeast Famine Relief Proletarian Convention, December ).
. While Lais study is signicant in providing the rst English analysis of Seno’o’s thought, his
article is riddled with psychologistic generalizations that limit its usefulness and date it as a piece
from the early s. e only other English-language study of Seno’o and the Youth League is
that of L () which, though solid, does not delve very deeply into the philosophy or eth-
ics of Senoos Buddhist socialism.
. Leaving aside the residual anti-Buddhist rhetoric emerging from proponents of State
Shinto, the two most signicant hanshūkyō movements of this period were the Nihon Hanshūkyō
Dōmei 日本反 宗教 (Japan Anti-Religion Alliance), led by Sakai Toshihiko 利彦 (–
) and Takatsu Seidō 高津正道 (–), and the Nihon Sentōteki Mushinronsha Dōmei
(Japan Militant Atheists’ Alliance), established by Akita Ujaku
(–) (H ).
 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies / ()
delicate balance of apologetics and criticism. e league’s “Manifestopres-
ents the following three foundational principles:
. We resolve to realize the implementation of a Buddha Land in this world,
based on the highest character of humanity as revealed in the teachings of
Śākyamuni Buddha and in accordance with the principle of brotherly love.
. We accept that all existing sects, having profaned the Buddhist spirit, exist
as mere corpses. We reject these forms, and pledge to enhance Buddhism in
the spirit of the new age.
. We recognize that the present capitalist economic system is in contradiction
with the spirit of Buddhism and inhibits the social welfare of the general
public. We resolve to reform this system in order to implement a more natu-
ral society. (K , )
In general, the Youth League interpreted Buddhism in atheistic, humanistic,
and ethical terms. In this they followed a number of their Buddhist Enlight-
enment and New Buddhist forebears. Yet while the rejection of preceding and
existent forms of Buddhism is also reminiscent of these earlier movements, the
language regarding the problems of the capitalist system—and the more explicit
emphasis on material well-being—is new.
According to Senoo, the league was established for three principle reasons
that are reected in the three governing principles mentioned above: . to over-
haul or replace the decadent Buddhist institutions of the day with a form of
Buddhism more suited to the modern age; . to put an end to the longstanding
and oen violent conict between Buddhist sects; and . to engage in a recon-
struction of the capitalist economic system—which is in contradiction to the
Buddhist spirit. Here is how Seno’o frames the economic issue in terms both
pragmatic and Buddhist:
Praying to Śākyamuni Buddha will not make your rice bins overflow with
rice. When you are poor, the Buddha taught that you should work diligently
to earn money. However, in times like ours, when a fractured economic system
makes it such that work brings no reward, we are taught that we must begin by
remodeling that broken economic system in order to ensure the social welfare
of the general public. We cannot expect to rely on commonplace slogans like
“no poverty can catch up with industry.” According to the words of our Bud-
dha, when you are sick, you should search for an appropriate cure and reect
on the cause of the illness. If you wish to preserve your health, no amount of
prayer or devotion can match this. (S’ , )
In his work, Seno’o insists on a proper understanding of the causes and con-
ditions of poverty. Since these causes and conditions are both material and
spiritual, then naturally the solution to poverty must also, against the secular
Marxists, include aspects of the spiritual and material (S’ , –, 
:       |
Further, Senoo strongly denounces the Buddhist establishment for utilizing
Buddhist doctrines such as karma and the wheel of rebirth as explanations—and
ex post facto justications—for social inequalities (S’ , ).10 Along
similar lines, he criticizes the o-employed Buddhist expression of “dierentia-
tion is equality” (sabetsu soku byōdō) as being an abstract concept that cannot
and should not be applied to the social realm (I , ).11 More gener-
ally, Senoo rejected the metaphysics of harmony—what Critical Buddhists like
Hakamaya Noriaki and Matsumoto Shirō would later call “topicalism”—found
within much of the Mahāyāna philosophical tradition, and reaching a peak
within the Tendai synthesis and hongaku thought more generally.12
It is perhaps more accurate to say that—in developing his earlier commit-
ment to “Nichirenism”—Seno’o came to see harmony and the overarching vision
of totality presented in Mahāyāna/Tendai thought and the Lotus Sutra as a goal
to be reached through historical (including economic and political) transforma-
tion, rather than an a priori ontological ground that must simply be recognized
(L , ). In similar fashion, suering was an existential condition to be
analyzed and eliminated, rather than—as some within the Tendai and associated
traditions would have it—an illusory concept to be transcended via a dialectics
of emptiness or a deeper realization of Buddha-nature.
A Blueprint for Buddhist Revolution
Among all of Seno’o’s writings, the document that stands out as the most succinct
expression of the theoretical and practical aims of the Youth League is one he pub-
lished in January  entitled Shakai henkaku tojō no shinkō Bukkyō
の新興仏教 (Revitalized Buddhism on the road to social reform) (S’ ).
is essay is prefaced with a statement by the Youth League indicting the pres-
ent capitalist system as the principle cause of economic and political insecurity
. Criticism of the sociopolitical eects of karma in Buddhism can be seen in a number of
contemporary works by scholars of Buddhist ethics, but also nds remarkable resonance in an
essay by Polish thinker Leszek Kolakowski (–) entitled “e Priest and the Jester,” in
which this “Marxist humanist” criticizes the similar legacy of theodicy in Western thought—
including within Marxism itself (K , ).
. On both of these points, Seno’o may have been thinking of and no doubt regretting some
of his own words as a proponent of Nichirenism. In various pieces in the journal Wakōdo, he had
argued for precisely such positions (for example, S’ , , )—positions which, as L
(, ) notes, are doctrinally sound according to the metaphysical idealism inherent in main-
stream Tendai-Nichiren thought.
. Zhiyi 智顗 (–), the third patriarch and principal systemizer of Chinese Tiantai,
developed the notion that the Three Marks of Existence (Sk. trilakaa; Ch. sānxiàng 三相)
found in traditional (“Hīnayāna”) Buddhism had been superseded by the Mahāyāna One Real
Mark (Sk. ekalakaa; Ch. yīxiàng 一相).
 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies / ()
for the general public—both farmers and urbanites. is is followed by a reaf-
rmation of the league’s conviction that Buddhism—if understood, reorganized,
and practiced on the basis of modern ideas—can be a solution to the problems
unleashed by capitalism, and thus a foundation for the salvation of humankind
(S’ , ). Seno’os piece begins with a critique of the notion that history
is “progress,using Marx’s argument against the conservative political implica-
tions of the Hegelian thesis that “all that is rational is real; and all that is real,
rational” (S’ , ).
Seno’o goes on to arm the revolutionary character of Japanese history, cit-
ing the Taika Reforms (Taika no kaishin 大化の改 ) of , the medieval shi
from imperial rule to rule by the samurai class, the rise to power of the bour-
geoisie under the Meiji Restoration of , and nally the emerging movements
dedicated to bringing about a “revitalized society” (shinkō shakai 新興社会) as
examples of dramatic, if not revolutionary, political upheavals in Japanese his-
tory. Further, Senoo argues, the history of Buddhism is similarly marked with
a revolutionary spirit, in theory if not always in practice. In fact, Buddhism is
“nothing other than the truth of development and change” (hatten henka no
dōri igai no mono de wa nai 発展 変化 のものではない). roughout the
twenty-ve centuries of Buddhist history, alterations to doctrine and practice
made by sect founders have largely suited the objective reality of changing social
conditions—and are thus not simply the product of their own subjective beliefs.
Further, no matter how much development and change occurs, Buddhism will
always maintain its social value (S’ , ).
In the following section of the same essay, Seno’o makes a link between the
Youth Leagues quest for a “revitalized” (shinkō
) B
uddhism, a new society,
and contemporaneous movements towards revitalization in science, art, and
education. Just as they have “liquidated” the previously outdated forms from
earlier times, so too must Buddhism eect the same sort of liquidation or decon-
struction. And yet institutional Buddhism is clearly unwilling to make this
move, due to its apathy towards the concerns of the general public and its prefer-
ence to appease the powers that be (S’ , ). If Buddhism is to become
once again “Buddhism for society” (as opposed to “society for Buddhism”) then
modern Buddhists must recapture the spirit of their Kamakura-era forbears and
respond to the changing times. But what, exactly, are the demands of the times
to which a modern Buddhism must adjust? Seno’o duly provides the reader with
the following list:
. Modern science is atheist, and denies the existence of superhuman deities;
. Modern science is anti-spiritualist, and does not recognize an aerlife;
. Modern people are not satised with fairy-tale like forms of happiness, but
rather wish to enjoy a complete happiness in their workaday lives;
:       | 
. e modern public longs for economic stability, and thus demands reform
to the capitalistic system;
. Enlightened people call for an end to nationalism and the birth of interna-
. Progressive Buddhists [shinpoteki bukkyō shinja 進歩的仏教信] long for an
end to sectarian division and the emergence of Buddhist unity
(S’ , –)
ese, in short, are the needs of the age to which a revitalized Buddhism must
respond. e rst three points, along with number six, also happen to align well
with modernist interpretations of Buddhism that had been promoted since the
s. It is also of note that with the exception of number six
there is nothing in
this list that distinguishes Seno’o and the Youth League from the anti
vision of most mainstream socialists. And yet, this was a sticking point for
Seno’o; he remained deeply committed to promoting a vision for a new society
based rmly in Buddhist principles, as he and his followers understood them.
For Seno’o and the Youth League, just as socialism can wake Buddhists up
from their dogmatic slumbers, Buddhism serves to “soen” the harder edges
of mainstream socialist atheism and materialism—in short, Buddhism gives a
humanist element that socialism sometimes, perhaps inevitably, seems to lack.
At some points in his work, Seno’o seems to suggest that socialism, as it has been
practiced both within and outside of Japan, falls prey to the same or similar
tendencies as mainstream religions, including historical and institutional Bud-
dhism: tendencies summed up by terms like “idealism” (seishinshugi 神主義)
“abstract” (chūshōteki 抽象的) and “reverence” (sūkei 崇敬). In an explicit cri-
tique of the increasingly vocal hanshūkyō movements of the early s, Seno’o
asserts the value of Buddhist teachings such as no-self to (ironically) promote
individual perfection as well as social liberation (S’ , ).
e following sections of Shakai henkaku tojō no shinkō bukkyō examine these
six points in more detail. On the question of atheism, Senoo cites both Friedrich
Engels (–) and Ludwig Feuerbach (–) with regard to the prob-
lems inherent in belief in an absolute, transcendent deity. While this obviously
pertains primarily to the Abrahamic God, it also applies to various forms of
Buddhist practice, including Shin-shū
真宗 worship of Amida, Nichiren-shū
日蓮宗 praise to the eternal Buddha, and Shingon-shū 真言宗 r
ituals performed
to Dainichi and so forth. Even Zen Buddhists, who, Senoo notes, are in theory less
imbricated in the worship of superhuman forces, put their palms together to pay
worship to Yakushi Nyorai and Kannon Bosatsu. Must we then accept the belief
in superhuman forces as an essential character of Buddhism? Senoo’s answer is a
rm “no” (S’ , ). e proceeding argument is simple
: belief in “God/
gods” was born out of human ignorance (muchi ga kami o
umu を産む),
 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies / ()
since Buddhism is relentlessly opposed to ignorance, this belief must be
Seno’o’s brief overview of the origins of religious belief borrows much from
Sigmund Freud (–) and James G. Frazer (–), but leans heav-
ily on Marx and Engels when it comes to the discussion of the economic and
sociopolitical implications of religious belief. Biblical lines such as “man does
not live by bread alone” are, to Seno’o as to his Marxist forebears, dead give-
aways; that is, little more than cynical catchphrases to keep ordinary people in
a state of subservience through the invocation of otherworldly forms of happi-
ness (S’ , –). In other words, religion—at least religion that seeks
solace in superhuman gures and an aerlife—functions as an “opiate(a
for the people. He also employs the by-now standard argument against
an omnipotent, good deity based on the longstanding theological conundrum of
theodicy: if god (or Amida, or Dainichi, or Kannon) is both supremely powerful
and good, then why does suering continue to occur—to both religious people
and atheists alike?
Without wading into the deep waters of this debate, Seno’o might be accused
of sleight-of-hand on this point, since he is willfully collapsing any and all dis-
tinctions between worship of the Christian God and paying reverence to Bud-
dhist gures—who are neither creators of the universe, nor, with the possible
exception of Amida, generally thought to have complete salvic power. At any
rate, Senoo does not spare noninstitutional religious practices such as geomancy
and fortune-telling, which similarly advocate reliance on superhuman power
of some form. No matter how deeply they may have penetrated the cultural or
rural people, these “evil heresies” (inshi jakyō 淫祠邪教) must also be counter-
manded by a revitalized Buddhism, which has no choice but to promote “athe-
ism” (mushinron 無神論) (S’ , ). Again, the point for Seno’o is that
these practices act as opiates” by taking away an individual’s power to aect their
own destiny. e problem is not, as it was for many of the earlier generation of
New Buddhists, simply or mainly a matter of priestly corruption or institutional
generation—the problem rather goes to the very heart of the way Buddhism
is practiced as a “religion.” us, to establish—or reestablish—an atheistic and
materialistic (yuibutsuronteki 唯物論的)
form of Buddhism is, for Seno’o, to rees-
tablish Buddhism as a form of humanism, based on the well-known humanist
dictum (repeated by Marx): “the
supreme reality for human beings is human
being” (ningen ni tai suru saikō no jitsuzai wa ningen de aru 人 間 に対 する 最 高
の実 は人間である). is also means returning to the basic Buddhist teachings
of the Four Noble Truths (shitai 四諦) and the twelve-link chain of dependent
arising (jūni innen 十二), which, in Senoo’s admittedly abbreviated inter-
pretation, amount to a teaching of human emancipation (jinrui kaihō 類解放)
based on the practice of “selessness” (mugaizumu 無 我 イズ ム), which is itself a
:       | 
necessary conclusion of the more fundamental law of cause and eect (engi no
rihō 縁起の理) (S’ , ). All this is fairly standard Buddhism, except
for Senoo’s coinage of the term mugaizumu (lit., “no-self”-ism) to imply a more
altruistic or other-directed form of the traditional doctrine of no-self (muga).
Also of note is Seno’o’s emphasis on awakening as “human liberation” that he
also adds as a communal element lacking in most traditional renderings of the
experience of nirvana or satori. e term kaihō 解放 i
s in fact best translated as
“liberation” or emancipation,” and is generally used to apply to social or political
freedom as understood in the Western liberal tradition (suc
h as the womens lib-
eration movement: josei kaihō undō 女性解放運動; emancipation of serfs: nōdo
kaihō 農奴解放; and liberation theology: kaihō shingaku 解放神). In Seno’o’s
reading of early Buddhism—or at least the fundamental teachings of Śākyamuni
as he understands them—there is a decisive rejection of the existence of super-
human forces of any sort and a focus on contingency and the practice of self-
less compassion for others. It is this unrelenting commitment to humanism that
forms the bridge between Buddha and Marx, and forms a tool of critical resis-
tance to the “nonsense” forms of Buddhism that practi
ce reverence to superhu-
man buddhas and bodhisattvas, as well as to forms of Indian and Abrahamic
theism. Finally—in a display of intellectual integrity—Seno’o criticizes n
theistic traditions that pay excessive reverence to founding fathers. is includes
not only Confucians who revere Confucius but also communists who line up to
pay respect to the deceased but embalmed Lenin. “Original Buddhism was not
an opiate. In the end, Buddhism is atheistic. To begin with, a ‘revitalized Bud-
dhism’ must assume this exalted position in order to liquidate the delusions of
existing forms of Buddhism and completely destroy the opiate-like role played
by existing Buddhism” (S’ , ).13
In addition to being atheistic, Senoo goes on to argue, Buddhism is “materialis-
tic,” at least in the sense of being concerned with the various forms of material suf-
fering that occur in the world. ough it would be a mistake to take materialism
to an extreme, Seno’o cites various teachings to show that the Buddha was clearly
not antagonistic to a materialist perspective, and if anything was more resistant to
the sort of world-denying idealism that one nds within brahmanistic asceticism.
. e precise relation between Seno’o’s ideas, “original Buddhism,and the various Mahāyāna
sects is quite complex. Like most Buddhist modernists before and aer him, Senoo oen appears
to privilege a form of “basic” Buddhism rooted in the core teachings of Śākyamuni. However,
unlike some modernists/fundamentalists, he resists “essentializing” Buddhism by limiting the
dharma to this early set of ideas; he is quite open to the (Mahāyāna) notion—rooted in the
doctrine of upāya—that the dharma—or at least, the way it is interpreted and practiced—must
adapt to suit changing needs and circumstances. us, as mentioned above, he supports the
work of the various sectarian founders for their attempts to “reform” Buddhism—both by taking
it “back” to its ideals but also by moving it “forward” to suit contemporary needs.
 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies / ()
Without a grounding in the material world, the dharma would become a means of
escape from existence, and thus an “opiate” like any other religion.
Moreover, the founders of the various Japanese sects were committed to rein-
scribing the original Buddhist concern for worldly suering. Hōnen and Shin-
ran are lauded for their commitment to fomenting “religious revolution focused
on actual life” (genjitsu seikatsu o shitei shita shūkyō kakumei 現実活を指定した
宗教革命) (S’ , ). Given Seno’o’s earlier aliation with the Nichiren
sect (and lifelong devotion to the
Lotus Sutra), it is not surprising that Nichiren
plays the central role in Senoo’s genealogy of progressive sectarian founders. Seno’o
argues that a central intention of the master’s Rissho ankoku ron is the promise
of relief for the poverty-stricken of his day (S’ , ). Nichiren's more
general commitment to the ineluctable interconnection between individual and
social “awakening” is the principle reason that Senoo, long aer his break with the
Nichiren sect and even aer his rejection of Tanaka Chigaku’s Nichiren shugi, con-
tinued to look to the work of Nichiren (and the Lotus Sutra) as a primary inspira-
tion for his radical political ideals. Looking back at the ups and downs of two and
a half millenia of Buddhist history, Seno’o asks, what do we learn? Is it possible to
achieve a victory over materialism by promoting idealism (busshitsushugi no koku-
fuku wa seishinshugi no kōchō ni yotte
o, Senoo answers, Buddhist history reveals the opposite: that is, the victory over
idealism (or spiritualism) must come by way of advocacy of materialism.
For human beings, born from nature, nature must be our top priority. If con-
cepts and matters of the spirit transcend ordinary existence, it is only natural
that a powerless idealism will ignore or despise economic matters rooted in
daily life. It is not the case that “the real world is built on ideas.” Rather, it is
only from the total spectrum of our lives that concepts are born, and it is only
through putting them into practice that development can occur.
(S’ , )
In making his case for materialism against the pitfalls of abstract idealism,
Seno’o is quick to note that the importance of “love” (ai
), which, he argues, “is
neither a concept nor an illusion” (tan naru kannen ya gensō de wa naku
念や では無く
), but rather a practice (jissen
)—and one that, when properly
accompanied by objective criticism (kyakkanteki hihan
), allows us “to
recognize [the problems of] ordinary life” (S’ , ). Here again Senoo’s
interpretation of Buddhist compassion is brought in to soen the otherwise hard-
edged Marxist critique. Buddhist love—embodied in the way of the bodhisattva—
provides the humanist foundation for social revolution.14
. See S’ , , where Seno’o insists the Youth League is more than simply an eco-
nomic movement (tan naru keizai undō 単 なる経 済 運 動), but rather one that promotes a “new
:       |
e recognition and practice of collective society by way of social science and
the path of Buddhism are not by any means identical. Here there is some room
for critique of both extremes, that is, collective forms of social organization
and the capitalist ones. erefore, Buddhists must take the initiative to advo-
cate, practice, and participate in social reconstruction, and through such par-
ticipation aim for personal [as well as social] purication. (S’ , )
In further elaborating what Buddhism can bring to socialist analysis, Seno’o
notes that at the root of the Buddhist worldview is a fundamental conception of
the interdependence of matter and mind, and of mind and form. us it would
be a huge mistake to simply reduce problems of economic welfare and the need
for social restructuring to material concerns. Rather, progressive Buddhists
must demand a movement that allows for the development of social existence
in its many facets. For Senoo, this entails a recognition of the fuller implications
of the social extension of the Buddhist doctrine of no-self—alternately ren-
dered mugaizumu, mugashugi 無我主義, or muga-ai 無我愛 (S’ , ).
is term becomes, for Seno’o, the very embodiment of the Dharma, and must
replace any and all attempts to nd salvation by way of “idealistic abstractions”
such as Pure Land’s Amida, Shingon’s Dainichi, and the Eternal Buddha of the
Lotus Sutra (S’ , ).15
Reections on “Radical Buddhism
As noted in the introduction, Claude Lévi-Strauss envisioned (erāvada) Bud-
dhism as he witnessed it rsthand “on the frontiers of Burma” in the s as a
bridge or middle way between Marxism and liberal humanism—or even more
provocatively, as the fulllment of Marxist criticism. Jacques Derrida and Bill
Martin, however, voiced skepticism as to the plausibility—or the worth—of this
connection, due to a perceived lack of historicism/criticism in Buddhist tradi-
idealism” (shin risōshugi 理想主義—note that this is not the same as seishinshugi, criticized
above) and a “new humanism” (shin jindōshugi 新人道主)
in order to construct a “pure buddha-
(jō bukkokudo 浄仏国土) in this world.
. Here Seno’o cites supportive passages from late-Meiji and Taishō Buddhist scholars
Takakusa Junjirō 高楠順次郎 (–) and Shimaji Daitō 島地大等 (–) respectively.
Unlike his lifelong connection to Nichiren’s thought, Seno’o was neither strongly inuenced by—
nor particularly interested in—”rival” Japanese sects such as Pure Land, Shin, or Zen. Having
said that, as noted above he does attempt to distinguish the life and work of the Japanese found-
ers of these sects from the inevitable degeneration of their ideas as they become institutional-
ized. is is a familiar tactic to religious reformers, one that allows them to claim precedent by
appealing to traditional “masters” while distancing themselves from contemporary institutions
that claim to follow their legacy. It also allows Senoo to adopt the mantle of pan-sectarianism—a
staple of Buddhist modernism since Murakami Senshō in late Meiji.
 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies / ()
tion (which Derrida also sees as a problem with traditional Marxism). Although
this Western conversation on the prospects of radical Buddhism postdates the
work and writings of Seno’o Girō and his Youth League for Revitalizing Bud-
dhism, the questions raised by these three theoreticians are remarkably similar
to those raised b
y Seno’o in his work. Like Lévi-Strauss, he saw Buddhism—or
at least Revitalized Buddhism—as a necessary bridge between Marxist materi-
alism and liberal humanism. While it would be too much to claim that Senoo’s
work fullls the “promise” of Lévi-Strauss, it certainly presents one of the ear-
liest and most serious and sophisticated attempts to work out the tensions
involved in bringing together the Buddhist goal of “awakening” with Marx-
ist political praxis aimed at “liberation.” As noted above, Senoo mounted a
humanist critique of Marxist and socialist thought, which indicates that, unlike
Lévi-Strauss, but more in tune with the critiques raised by Derrida and Mar-
tin, Seno’o was not content to rest with a naive/idealized picture of traditional
Buddhism; nor was he content to allow traditional Marxism o the hook for its
perceived faults—including a tendency towards anti-humanist (what Martin
calls “reductivist”) materialism (M , , ).
So how did Seno’o move from Śākyamuni’s teachings to his (that is, Senoo’s)
radical agenda? e answer is disarmingly simple: via a sustained reection on
and commitment to Marxist (and more broadly radical political) principles. It
is not that each specic Buddhist teaching (such as the Four Noble Truths or
emptiness) can be directly aligned with one of Seno’o aims: for example, anti-
imperialism or a commitment to a materialist conception of history. Rather,
the “basic teachings” of Buddhism are interpreted in light of the more general
problem of material suering in the modern age, and, more specically, in con-
cert with Marxist arguments regarding the problems of ideology, alienation, and
false consciousness. ere is no question that Senoo derived his radical political
agenda from sources outside traditional Buddhism, such as the suering caused
by the economic system of the day and anxieties about deepening quasi-fascist
ideology, the  Great Kanto Earthquake, and various currents of Marxist and
anarchist thought. Does this make his work any less “Buddhist”? is depends,
ultimately, on how the tradition is understood. In Seno’o’s own terms, “Bud-
dhism” is nothing less than the constantly evolving set of mechanisms enabling
human beings to relieve themselves and others from the various forms of suer-
ing found in their immediate circumstances.
A quarter century ago, in one of the rst and only Western studies on Seno’o
Girō and the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism, Whalen Lai made the
case that the vicissitudes of Seno’o’s life effectively “recapitulated the whole
dilemma of Japanese Buddhism since the Meiji Restoration… and highlights
well the unresolved conicts at the heart of modern liberal Buddhism” (L
, ). is was echoed a few years later by Stephen Large, who remarked that
:       |
“Senoo Girō exemplied a tradition of protest within Japanese Buddhism which
merits further examination in future research to provide a more balanced per-
spective on Buddhism as a political force in modern Japanese history” (L
, ). While I am certainly in favor of extending historical research on Bud-
dhist forms of social protest and Buddhist radicalism, I would like to also ensure
that the important theoretical work of Senoo and like-minded progressive and
radical Buddhists be subject to serious and sustained analysis, and not be dis-
missed as supercial or secondary to their social and political activities. One
lingering issue, of course, is whether or not the radical Buddhism of Seno’o Girō
and like-minded thinkers is (or can be) internally consistent—a problem that
warrants further investigation.
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 Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri C. Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
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 Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. New York and London: Oxford University
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(Originally published )
I Hakugen 市川白弦
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I Masami 稲垣真美
  Budda o seoite gaito e: Seno’o Girō to Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei 仏陀を
負いて頭へ 尾義郎と新興仏教青年同盟. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
I Rikizan 石川力山
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for Buddhist Ethics. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
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K Yūsen 柏原祐泉
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.net/Ryuei/nichirenbudd_th.htm (accessed  November ).
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London: University of Chicago Press.
Ō Eiichi 大谷栄一
 Nakajima Shigeru no shakaiteki Kirisutokyō to Seno’o Girō no shakai-
teki Bukkyō 中島重の社会的キ教と尾義郎の社会的仏教. A paper
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S’ Girō 妹尾義郎
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真美. Tokyo: Daizō Shuppan.
 Shakai henkaku tojō no shinkō Bukkyō 社会変革途上の新興仏教. In Seno’o
Girō shūkyō ronshu.
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T Kenmyō 高木顕明
 My Socialism. Trans. Robert Rhodes. e Eastern Buddhist : –.
V, Brian Daizen
 Zen at War. New York: Weatherhill.
 Zen War Stories. London: RoutledgeCurzon.
... Takayama Chōgyū advocated what he termed "transcendence of nationalism" (chōkokkashugi 超国家主義), 2 which subordinates the nation to universal truth; Chōgyū greatly 1. Recent English-language studies of these figures drawing on and/or complementing Ōtani's work include Shields (2012), Holt (2014), and Godart (2015). Inoue has a complex religious background; Victoria (2020) treats him almost wholly as a Zen practitioner. ...
... Also notable is that the writer and poet Miyazawa Kenji (1896Kenji ( -1933 has been treated less sui generis and more in terms of his position within Nichirenism; see Iguchi (2006), Burenina (2013), and among others Holt (2014). The life and thought of the socialist Nichirenist Seno ' o Girō (1889' o Girō ( -1961 has also received attention, in English by Shields (2012), and in Japan by Ōtani (2001). ...
The East Asia League Association (Tōarenmei kyōkai, or East Asia League Movement, Tōarenmei undō), a Pan-Asianist organization formed in 1939 and active throughout the war and well into the 1950s, can also be seen as one important variant of the modern lay Nichiren Buddhist organizations that sprung up in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. This article explores the character, history, world view, and practical goals of this movement, and argues that it was committed to an alternative course of modernization that can be characterized as a Nichiren Buddhist utopianism. While the theory of the final war propagated by its leader, Ishiwara Kanji, is relatively well known, this article analyzes several less known—though central and distinct— elements of the East Asia League: its emphasis on the harmony of religion, science, and technology, as well as the roles of Koreans and women in the movement. This analysis shows how the East Asia League Movement engaged with particular elements of modernity: the nation-state, national identity and minorities, urbanization and the countryside, gender inequality, and religion and science, and hoped to replace the differentiations of the modern era with the unity of the Lotus Sutra.
... Established in Tokyo in April 1931, Seno'o's Youth League would survive for five years before being crushed in the widespread crackdown against leftist activists in 1936. 62 However, Buddhists proposing such views were also aware of the fact that not all aspects of radical ideologies were compatible with their reinterpretation of Buddhism. There is already significant diversity in the thought and practice of, for example, Japanese Buddhist socialists themselves -not to mention 'progressive' Buddhists working from other national, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. ...
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This volume explores seven distinct cases of radical Buddhism, providing a comparative overview of the diverse interactions of different types of Buddhism and various forms of political radicalism. Contributors to this special issue focus on Buddhist radicalism as a general phenomenon, but some of them specifically explore movements that were inspired by socialist ideologies in the broadest sense and therefore conceptualize these as examples of specific cases of radicalism. By examining the individuals (monks, scholars, and laypeople) and movements (both inside and outside the sangha) responsible for the creation and promotion of radical Buddhism, this volume deals with an area of Buddhist modernism that has hitherto been neglected in research. The contributions also examine the various ways in which the Buddhadharma and radical ideas were conceptualized as an integral part of the emergence of Asian “modernity,” both in response to and in resistance to Western imperialism and the forces of incipient globalization. By focusing on specific nonwestern conceptions of modernity, the volume allows for a decentering of notions of a “universal” (or purely Western) modernity. Finally, as noted above, by understanding Buddhist socialist movements as “radical,” this volume allows for a broader conception of Buddhist resistance, and puts into question the definition of terms such as “socialist,” “anarchist” and “communist” when used in a non-western and specifically Asian Buddhist context. Covering examples from Theravāda Buddhism (Thailand, Sri Lanka, India) as well as various regions of Mahāyāna Buddhism (China, Korea and Japan), the volume will explore the heterogeneity of these movements, but will also highlight the continuities that mark the connections and conjunctures between Buddhism and radical political theories and practice. While mainly historical in its outlook, the articles will approach the relevant topics and materials from a variety of innovative perspectives, exemplifying a broad range of academic viewpoints and methods; e.g., historical, philosophical, anthropological, textual and cultural.
This article discusses the philosophical views of Seno Giro (1890–1961), the founder of the movement “Shinko Bukkyo Seinen Domei” (“Youth League of the Revival of Bud­dhism”). The study shows that Seno Giro sought to develop his own original philosophy, combining a complex of Buddhist doctrines and the main aspects of socialism, which was popular in the liberal Japanese circles at that time. The paper analyzes the main trends of his movement, which was focused on the reformation of traditional Buddhist institu­tions and the creation of a Buddhism that would be more suitable for the requirements of the modern era. The evolution of Seno Giro’s views is traced from a simple adherence to the dogmas of Nitirenism to the idea that Buddhism, if it were reorganized on the basis of the ideas of Western philosophy, could be a solution to the social problems caused by capitalism. Thus, it is concluded that Seno Giro not only called for a complete reformation of Japanese Buddhism (as many Japanese intellectuals of that time did), but also sought its practical implementation, considering the synthesis of socialism and Buddhism as the most appropriate option. According to Seno Giro, the study of the political philosophy of socialism would help to awaken Buddhists from their “dogmatic sleep”, and Buddhism, in turn, would complement socialist atheism and materialism with humanistic ethics, due to the fact that it lacks the monotheism and creationism inherent in Christianity.
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In the early twentieth century, Uchiyama Gudō, Seno’o Girō, Lin Qiuwu, and others advocated a Buddhism that was radical in two respects. Firstly, they adopted a more or less naturalist stance with respect to Buddhist doctrine and related matters, rejecting karma or other supernatural beliefs. And secondly, they held political and economic views that were radically anti-hegemonic, anti-capitalist, and revolutionary. Taking the idea of such a “radical Buddhism” seriously, A Buddha Land in This World: Philosophy, Utopia, and Radical Buddhism asks whether it is possible to develop a philosophy that is simultaneously naturalist, anti-capitalist, Buddhist, and consistent. Rather than a study of radical Buddhism, then, this book is an attempt to radicalize it. The foundations of this “radicalized radical Buddhism” are provided by a realist interpretation of Yogācāra, elucidated and elaborated with some help from thinkers in the broader Tiantai/Tendai tradition and American philosophers Donald Davidson and W.V.O. Quine. A key implication of this foundation is that only this world and only this life are real, from which it follows that if Buddhism aims to alleviate suffering, it has to do so in this world and in this life. Twentieth-century radical Buddhists (as well as some engaged Buddhists) came to a similar conclusion, often expressed in their aim to realize “a Buddha land in this world.” Building on this foundation, but also on Mahāyāna moral philosophy, this book argues for an ethics and social philosophy based on a definition of evil as that what is or should be expected to cause death or suffering. On that ground, capitalism should be rejected indeed, but utopianism must be treated with caution as well, which raises questions about what it means – from a radicalized radical Buddhist perspective – to aim for a Buddha land in this world.
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While individuals and movements openly advocating “Buddhist socialism” only begin to appear in Japan in the first decade of the twentieth century, germs of the idea can be traced back to the writings of a few scholars and social activists of the 1880s. One example of the latter is the Eastern (or Oriental) Socialist Party (Tōyō Shakaitō 東洋社会党), founded by TARUI Tōkichi 樽井藤吉 (1850–1922) in 1882. Though the party was short-lived – setting a dubious precedent for left-wing parties over the next 50 years in being forcibly suppressed by the government within months of its inception – the writings of Tarui and other founding members were, for their day, quite radical, and provide an early example of the tension involved in attempting to transform the world – “make it new!” to use the modernist catchphrase – while remaining true to one’s cultural (and religious) roots. The “draft of the party’s regulations” (J. Tōyō Shakaitō tōsoku sōan 東洋社会党党則草案), written by Tarui, contains 17 articles, along with a number of sub-clauses. Here, we see several of the tensions that would haunt Japanese experiments in progressive and radical Buddhism over the next several decades. First is the natural but difficult attempt to “indigenize” socialism by appealing to traditional Asian concepts and ideas; second is the appeal to the East Asian values of peace and harmony, which was frequently accompanied, among early socialists, with an appeal to the Emperor as benevolent protector of the social welfare of the Japanese people. This essay will explore socialist movements and their connection to Buddhist ideas in modern Japan.
In this chapter, Sevilla examines where the idea of “emptiness” in Watsuji Tetsurô’s ethics comes from, by first returning to Watsuji’s early works on Buddhist ethics, where he began using this term alongside his discussions of “no-self” and “dependent arising.” Sevilla then examines the continuity and discontinuity of this earlier Buddhist ethics with Watsuji’s later interpersonal/hermeneutic ethics. Finally, Sevilla develops his own creative interpretation of Watsuji, which focuses on the overlaps of these two projects, in what is called an “Interpersonal Buddhist Ethics.” Using this model, Sevilla confronts the following dilemma: Do we approach ethics from transcendent ideals or from that which is immanent in everyday life? By addressing this question, Watsuji’s ethics can be situated alongside and contributing to other “selfless” approaches to ethics, such as those found in Engaged Buddhism (Thich Nhat Hanh, etc.) and its predecessors.
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While it is only in recent decades that scholars have begun to reconsider and problematize Buddhist conceptions of “freedom” and “agency,” the thought traditions of Asian Buddhism have for many centuries struggled with questions related to the issue of “liberation”—along with its fundamental ontological, epistemological and ethical implications. With the development of Marxist thought in the mid to late nineteenth century, a new paradigm for thinking about freedom in relation to history, identity and social change found its way to Asia, and confronted traditional religious interpretations of freedom as well as competing Western ones. In the past century, several attempts have been made—in India, southeast Asia, China and Japan—to bring together Marxist and Buddhist worldviews, with only moderate success (both at the level of theory and practice). This paper analyzes both the possibilities and problems of a “Buddhist materialism” constructed along Marxian lines, by focusing in particular on Buddhist and Marxist conceptions of “liberation.” By utilizing the theoretical work of Japanese “radical Buddhist” Seno’o Girō, I argue that the root of the tension lies with conceptions of selfhood and agency—but that, contrary to expectations, a strong case can be made for convergence between Buddhist and Marxian perspectives on these issues, as both traditions ultimately seek a resolution of existential determination in response to alienation. Along the way, I discuss the work of Marx, Engels, Gramsci, Lukàcs, Sartre, and Richard Rorty in relation to aspects of traditional (particularly East Asian Mahāyāna) Buddhist thought.
This systematic introduction to Buddhist ethics is aimed at anyone interested in Buddhism, including students, scholars and general readers. Peter Harvey is the author of the acclaimed Introduction to Buddhism (Cambridge, 1990), and his new book is written in a clear style, assuming no prior knowledge. At the same time it develops a careful, probing analysis of the nature and practical dynamics of Buddhist ethics in both its unifying themes and in the particularities of different Buddhist traditions. The book applies Buddhist ethics to a range of issues of contemporary concern: humanity's relationship with the rest of nature; economics; war and peace; euthanasia; abortion; the status of women; and homosexuality. Professor Harvey draws on texts of the main Buddhist traditions, and on historical and contemporary accounts of the behaviour of Buddhists, to describe existing Buddhist ethics, to assess different views within it, and to extend its application into new areas.
The interplay of religion and political protest is a familiar theme in Western studies of Japanese Christians who contributed significantly to the socialist movement in their country from the late Meiji period to World War II. Less well known is the fact that a minority of Japanese Buddhists likewise applied the ideals of their faith to political dissent in the movement. Their defiance of the State and the predominantly conservative Buddhist sects which generally supported Emperor, nation, and Empire in Asia constitutes in effect a modern Japanese Buddhist tradition of protest comparable in kind if not in scale to that found in Japanese Christianity. The purpose of the article in hand is to explore this tradition through a study of the Nichiren priest and Buddhist socialist, Seno'o Girō (1889–1961) whose career provides a striking illustration of the Buddhist dimensions of socialism in prewar Japan.
Honma Yui'ichi 本間唯一 1971 Hanshūkyō undō 反宗教運動
  • Harvey
  • Peter
Harvey, Peter 2000 Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. New York and London: Oxford University Press. Honma Yui'ichi 本間唯一 1971 Hanshūkyō undō 反宗教運動. In Nihon shūkyōshi kōza daiyonkan 日本宗教 史講座第4巻, ed. Saki Akio 佐木秋夫 et. al, 63–103.
Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen's Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press Kashiwahara Yūsen 柏原祐泉
  • Ives
  • Christoper
Ives, Christoper 2009 Imperial-Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen's Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 350 | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 39/2 (2012) Kashiwahara Yūsen 柏原祐泉 1990 Nihon Bukkyōshi: Kindai 日本仏教史―近代. Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan.