Classical Japanese Buddhist Philosophy

Masato Ishida

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Classical Japanese Buddhist Philosophy

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The word philosophy, or tetsugaku in modern Japanese, can be perceived as problematic when applied to Japanese Buddhism. There was no explicit term or concept in the Japanese mind corresponding to philosophy in the Western sense up to the late 19th century, while various conceptual and doctrinal formations of Japanese Buddhism mostly took place in the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the language and logic employed in Japanese Buddhist philosophy operate very differently from how they work, for example, in Indian Buddhist philosophy. There is rarely a logical argument that purports to convince the audience rationally, nor can there be found any clear division of philosophy into the common branches of epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics. Japanese Buddhist philosophy is more or less practice-oriented, and the distinction between philosophy and religion is often blurred, accordingly. On the other hand, scholastic approaches to canonical Buddhist texts have been valued in the literate sphere, which resulted in numerous commentaries on works by past masters. Classical Buddhist texts, brought to the country through China and the Korean Peninsula, were read and studied mostly in Chinese translations. A greater number of domestic Buddhist theories and texts appear in and after the Heian period, reflecting the complete naturalization process of Buddhism in Japan. The growth of honji suijaku (true nature manifestation) theory, according to which indigenous Japanese gods are transformed manifestations of the Buddhist pantheon, and the development of hongaku (original enlightenment) theory, which asserts the strict non-duality of the phenomenal and the real, offer fine examples of Japanese creativity. Syncretism is found across both theory and ritual practice in all sects of Japanese Buddhism, integrating Buddhist views with Shintoism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Buddhist philosophy has remained influential throughout the intellectual and cultural history of Japan since its introduction to the country in the mid-sixth century. Modern Japanese philosophy, initiated by Nishida Kitarō, the founder of the so-called Kyoto school philosophy, can be seen as a synthesis of Buddhist traditions and Western philosophical views encountered by Japanese intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th century. Postwar Japanese Buddhist philosophers have involved themselves in comparative philosophy in order to enrich East-West dialogue in the modern world.

Article.  6613 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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