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Tendai Hongaku Doctrine and Japan’s Ethnocentric Turn

Ruben L. F. HABITO

O NE OF HAKAMAYA NORIAKIS early essays presenting his thoughts

on Critical Buddhism was given as a talk at a Buraku Liberation

Center in Osaka. 1 In it he examines discriminatory attitudes and

language within the Sõtõ Sect and traces their roots to hongaku shisõ, or the doctrine of originary enlightenment. 2 He has ampli³ed these thoughts in subsequent essays, and his position can be summarized as fol- lows: hongaku shisõ is to be rejected as a pernicious way of thinking that harbors and abets attitudes not only of social discrimination but also of cultural chauvinism and ethnocentrism. 3 The surge of militaristic nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which motivated Japan to invade and colonize neigh- boring Asian countries and which eventually led her to an aggressor’s role in the Second World War, can be seen as an outcome of these attitudes. Further, these problematic attitudes were not eradicated with Japan’s defeat in the war, but were even further fanned by the economic successes Japan has enjoyed since the postwar years, continuing up to the present. This same set of attitudes also serves to bolster and maintain the hier- archical structure of Japanese society, often depicted as a pyramid with the Tennõ 4 at the top. It is within this hierarchical structure that certain groups (such as Koreans, Chinese, and Southeast Asians residing in Japan, as well as members of the groups traditionally treated as outcasts in soci- ety, namely those who come from the hisabetsu-buraku or discriminated communities) are treated as second- or third-class citizens. The key point here is that these problematic attitudes of cultural chauvinism, ethnocentrism, and social discrimination, connected with many of Japan’s past and present social ills, ³nd their roots in a mode of thinking nurtured in the Japanese Buddhist tradition, that is, the doctrine



of originary enlightenment (hongaku shisõ). Developed in medieval Tendai circles, this doctrine and the way of thinking associated with it continued to inµuence various aspects of Japanese culture and society from the medieval period on. 5 Here we will not take up the intricate philosophical arguments pre- sented by Hakamaya. Rather, this essay is offered as an excursus that may shed light on possible historical connections between Japanese ethnocen- tric attitudes and Tendai hongaku shisõ. The ³rst section will present a rough outline of this Tendai doctrine of originary enlightenment. The second section will highlight the shift in Japanese consciousness that occurred around the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, a shift that we may call an “ethnocentric turn,” discernible from a comparison of two texts dealing with Japan’s imperial lineage: the Gukanshõ (written by the Tendai monk Jien around 1219) and the Jinnõ shõtõki (written by Kitabatake Chikafusa between 1339 and 1343). The third section will examine other late-thirteenth-century texts that corroborate this shift in the understanding of Japanese identity. Our fourth (³nal) section will offer reµections on the possible link between this ethnocentric turn and the Tendai doctrine of originary enlightenment.


It was the work of Tamura Yoshirõ, who held the Chair of Japanese Buddhism at the prestigious University of Tokyo in the 1970s, that brought wide attention to the signi³cance of the Tendai doctrine of orig- inary enlightenment (hongaku) in Japanese cultural, social, and religious history. Here we will present only the barest outline of the subject. 6 In brief, the doctrine of hongaku shisõ involves an absolute af³rma- tion of this world of phenomena—this world of birth-and-death—as the very embodiment of the perfection of Buddhahood itself. The following passages illustrate this kind of af³rmation.

As one thinks of attaining Buddhahood, of inevitably becoming born in the Land of Bliss, one is to think this way: My very mind—this itself is the truth of Suchness. As one thinks that the Suchness that pervades throughout the Dharma-realm is my own body, then I myself am the Dharma-realm, and one is not to think that there is anything other than this. As one is enlightened on this, the myriad Buddhas of the Dharma- realm and all the bodhisattvas all dwell within my very body. Apart from



my own body, looking for Buddha elsewhere is to lack the realization that my very own body is Suchness itself. If I realize that Suchness and I are one and the same thing, Š„kyamuni, Amit„bha, Bhai¤ajya-guru, and all the myriad Buddhas of the ten directions, Samantabhadra, Mañjušr‡, Avalokitešvara, Maitreya, and the myriad bodhisattvas are not apart from my very own body. 7 Therefore, we are the body of Suchness: as one thinks thus, in the evening and in daylight, in action, standing still, sitting and lying down, without forgetting, and keeps it in one’s mind, there is no doubt about the fact that this very body itself is the Buddha. If so, then, believing in the teaching of the Esoteric (Shingon) sect, wherein one is enjoined to think: “I am Mah„vairocana,” this very body itself is Buddha. All my actions and movements become the sign of Suchness. Therefore, every utterance of the tongue, every word, is itself true mantra. Every form of the body, every movement, is itself the secret mudra. Every thought and every memory is the Central Point of Veneration (honzon). Every delu- sive idea and thought is itself Esoteric contemplation. Have this mind in you, do not forget: keep it in mind, this very body itself is Buddha. I myself am Suchness. I myself am Mah„vairocana. 8

The doctrine of originary enlightenment expressed in its most extreme form is an af³rmation of this ordinary human being as such, full of desires and delusions and imperfections, as nothing less than the perfection of Buddhahood itself. In other words, it af³rms that this very self is Buddha, that there is nothing that is not Buddha, and that what is called “attain- ment of Buddhahood” is nothing but realizing the fact that one already is Buddha just as one is. Consequently, to aspire to Buddhahood in the con- ventional sense, that is, by leaving home, entering a monastery, taking up rigorous discipline and religious practice of meditation, is to pursue a mis- guided ideal if one does so thinking that one could thereby become what one is not (that is, a Buddha). On the basis of this logic, Š„kyamuni—the historical Buddha who was born in India and who attained enlightenment after years of arduous practice, who taught the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and established the sangha—is considered only a “provisional” Buddha, as with the other Buddhas named in the sutras. This very body, here and now—this is the real Buddha. This extreme form of the doctrine of originary enlightenment could easily (and has) become an excuse for religious laxity or the abandonment of practice altogether, or could lead to rationalizations of immoral or irre-



sponsible behavior. The doctrine thus came under severe criticism from serious Buddhist practitioners, such as the Tendai monk Hõchibõ Shõshin (twelfth century) and Zen Master Dõgen (1200–1253). 9 Tamura Yoshirõ has demonstrated how the founders of the new Buddhist movements of the Kamakura period (notably Hõnen, Shinran, Dõgen, and Nichiren), having spent part of their religious careers as monks at the Tendai training center on Mt. Hiei, came to know of this doctrine in some way or other, and formulated their core teaching either as a reaction to or under some form of inµuence of this doctrine, and how it was indeed a pervasive inµuence in Japanese medieval society. 10 Kuroda Toshio has noted how this doctrine came to serve an ideological buttress for the religiopolitical establishment (kenmon taisei) of the medieval period, characterized by an intertwining power structure involving mutually advantageous ties among elite groups, including the imperial court and ruling families, the military class, and religious leaders based in their tem- ples with huge landholdings (shõen). 11 In short, the absolute af³rmation of this-worldly reality that was the central thrust of this doctrine of origi- nary enlightenment served to provide religious legitimation to the politi- cal and economic structure of the time, bolstering an “orthodoxy” based on the convergence of political, economic, and religious interests of the ruling elite. 12 In the next two sections we will look at historical documents that reµect features of Japanese mentality from around the thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries, as a basis for considering the role of hongaku thought in Japanese history.


The Gukanshõ and the Jinnõ shõtõki, written roughly a century apart, both describe the reigns of Yamato rulers and emphasize their continuity in the line of succession. Both provide a list of the successive Japanese Tennõ with descriptions of their reigns, but each in its own way is written with a particular intent, that is, to demonstrate a particular theme or argue a case in point addressing issues faced by its author’s contemporaries. The running theme in the Gukanshõ is the elucidation of the cosmic principles (dõri) for the governance of the land of Japan, based on fol- lowing the will of the gods. The “will of the gods” being argued for in this case is in favor of a policy of cooperation between the imperial



courtiers and the military rulers who have set themselves in positions of power in Kamakura. The point to note here is that the gods are depicted as taking special concern for the welfare of the inhabitants of this land ruled in direct suc- cession by the descendants of Jinmu Tennõ. It is in this connection, that is, referring to Japan as a country especially under the protection of the gods, that the term shinkoku is used. In short, the special favor the gods confer over the land of Japan is directly linked to the fact that it continues to be ruled by a descendant of Jinmu, at whose service many of the pre- sumed intended readers of the Gukanshõ (that is, imperial courtiers and others sympathetic to the court in Kyoto) ³nd themselves to be. The guiding concern of the Jinnõ shõtõki, on the other hand, is the legitimation of the lineage of the Southern court ruled by the Tennõ Godaigo, at that time set in direct political and military conµict with its Northern rival. In other words, the emphasis on the direct line of succes- sion of Tennõ since ancient times up to Godaigo is linked with the claim that “the gods are on our side,” as opposed to the usurpers in the Northern court. The following are some notable features of the Gukanshõ:

First, its geographical view is very much based on traditional Buddhist cosmology, which places the center of the world at Mt. Sumeru. The Buddhist dharma is depicted as spreading outwards from this center, from Jambudv‡pa (the Indian subcontinent), eastwards to China, and then to Japan. Thus Japan is presented as on the outer fringes of this cos- mos, as a “peripheral land” (hendo). Second, its view of history is based on the Buddhist notion of the Latter Age of Dharma (mappõ). There appears also a view that Japan would have a hundred rulers (hyaku-õ) before the coming of the end. It is in this light that the opening lines of the treatise can be understood:

“Now we are on the eighty-fourth reign and not many more are left.” 13 The implication here is that the movement of history is that of decline, and that the only way to stem the decline temporarily is to manage the affairs of the state according to cosmic principles (dõri) as ordained by the gods. It is to elucidate these principles and to persuade the reigning authorities to abide by them, and thus bring the chaotic states of affairs characteristic of the times to some semblance of order, that served as motivating factors in the writing of the Gukanshõ.



In sum, in this treatise, the term shinkoku does not appear to present any signi³cant development in meaning since its use in the Nihon Shoki, wherein it simply referred to Japan as a land that the gods favored and whose governance they took an active interest in as it continued to be ruled by a direct descendant of Jinmu. 14 With the Jinnõ shõtõki written a century later, however, we ³nd a marked change in the image of Japan. First, Japan is no longer described as in the periphery of the Buddhist cosmology, but is now depicted as at the center of the world, still using the imagery from the same cosmology but now reversing it in Japan’s favor:

Japan is in the ocean off the continent of Jambu. The Great Teacher Dengyõ of Mt. Hiei and High Priest Gomyõ of Nara both wrote that Japan is the “central land.” This would make it the land of C„mara between the southern and eastern continents. Yet the Avata½saka Sutra says: “In the ocean to the northeast is a mountain. It is called Diamond (kongõ) Mountain.” This seems to refer to Mt. Kongõ of Japan, and therefore indicates that our country is situated in the ocean to the north- east of both India and China. As a land apart, it has been independently ruled by a divinely descended line of sovereigns. 15

Secondly, the view of the future based on the acceptance of decline in the Gukanshõ gives way to an optimistic prospect of an eternal reign of the descendants of Amaterasu. For example, dispelling a popular “(mis)conception” that the imperial regalia had been destroyed or lost in the past during those troubled times in which the reigning Tennõ were besieged by enemies, the Jinnõ shõtõki af³rms:

People must be clearly informed about the nature and history of the imperial regalia. One hears that those not so informed believe the mirror met destruction in either the Tentoku or Chõkyð eras of the ancient age, and that the Kusanagi sword was lost in the sea at Dannoura. This is absolutely untrue. We regard the original regalia as absolutely vital to the very existence of our country and as the seed bed of its virtue. So long as the sun and the moon continue to traverse the heavens, we can be secure in the knowledge that none of the regalia is missing. How can there be any doubt about this when Amaterasu in her mandate has stated: “The imperial institution shall prosper eternally with heaven and earth them- selves”? We must continue to have absolute faith that there will be such prosperity in the future. 16



This is a signi³cant point to note, in that the Jinnõ shõtõki appears to have cast aside the consciousness of the Latter Days of Dharma that character- ized twelfth- and thirteenth-century thinking, and that lay in the back- ground that led to the rise of the noted new Buddhist movements of the Kamakura period. In place of this consciousness of a degenerate age, we ³nd an optimism toward the future that is grounded in the faith that the gods will continue bestowing their favor on this land. 17 On the above two points, then, namely in the shift in Japan’s place in the cosmological scheme from periphery to center, and in the displacement of the pessimistic sense of the “latter days” giving way to an optimistic vision of a prosperous future for Japan, we ³nd the marked difference in the view of Japanese identity in the Gukanshõ and the Jinnõ shõtõki. Another aspect that shows a marked difference in the attitude to self- identity that sets the Jinnõ shõtõki apart from its predecessor is that shinkoku Nippon is also understood as including the sense of sacredness both of the land as well as of the people inhabiting it. In other words, in the Gukanshõ as well as in previous writings that refer to the term shinkoku, it is presented on rather abstract terms as based on the favor accorded by the gods toward the land of Japan and on the fact that the descendant of the gods continues to “rule” the land (as Tennõ). 18 The Jinnõ shõtõki in contrast presents a very concrete and vivid picture of this divine blessing, describing the sacredness of the land itself, with all the gifts of nature therein, as well as the divine lineage of the inhabitants themselves.

The rice we daily eat is an imperial bene³ce, and the pure well water we drink each day is a blessing from the gods. 19

The people of the land (tenka= literally, “under heaven”) are all children of the gods. The gods have thus made it their earnest wish (hongan) to bring people’s lives to true peace and contentment. 20

This sense of sacredness of the land and the people is a new feature in the understanding of the term shinkoku. This is a sense referred to in the Jinnõ shõtõki that we can also ³nd expressed in other writings composed around this time, one that was not fully manifest in previous writings. 21 There is another difference to be noted: although the term shinkoku appears in both treatises, the latter presents it as an expression that pro- claims Japan’s superiority over other countries known at the time. For example, the author compares Japan with India and China, and refers to



the creation stories and the vicissitudes of history characteristic of each.

In our country alone, the imperial succession has followed in unbroken line from the time when heaven and earth were divided until the present age. Although, as inevitable within a single family, the succession has at times been transmitted collaterally (katawara yori), the principle has pre- vailed that it will invariably return to the direct (sei) line. This is entirely the immutable mandate of Amaterasu, and is the reason why Japan dif- fers from all other countries. 22

To summarize, there is a marked shift in attitude that has taken place between the Gukanshõ and the Jinnõ shõtõki regarding the understanding of Japan and its place in the world. From being in the periphery (hendo) of the known world, Japan is now placed at the center of the cosmos. From being in a “latter age of the dharma” that is only heading toward further degeneration, the land of Japan is af³rmed as going toward a glo- rious and prosperous future with the blessing of the gods. Further, the meaning of Japan as divine land has now advanced one signi³cant step: in addition to the understanding of shinkoku as a land favored by the gods and as a land wherein the descendants of the gods “rule” in unbroken succession, the sense of the sacredness of the land and the people of Japan comes to the fore in the latter treatise. These three aspects in the under- standing of shinkoku Nippon become the basis for af³rming Japan’s supe- riority over other countries in the world.

Great Japan is the divine land. The heavenly progenitor founded it, and the sun goddess bequeathed it to her descendants to rule eternally. Only in our country is this true. There are no similar examples in other coun- tries. This is why our country is called the divine land. 23

This raises a question: is the difference in the view of Japanese self- identity between the Gukanshõ and the Jinnõ shõtõki as described above simply a difference in the individual perspectives of the respective authors who happened to write a century apart, or is this difference one that reµects at least to some degree a change in the social awareness of the time? If the latter is the case, a concomitant question is: what were the factors that brought about this change? A thorough examination of the events and features of Japanese society around this period from the early thirteenth to the early fourteenth cen- tury based on available evidence is necessary to answer the above ques- tions properly. My suggestion is that the difference was more than an



individual one between Jien and Chikafusa, and that it is indicative of a changing awareness of Japanese self-image reµected in other textual sources as well. The next section will offer support for this suggestion.


Thirteenth-century Japan was a tumultuous period in many ways. It was a period of sociopolitical and economic upheaval, as well as one of religious and cultural ferment, and in many ways was a pivotal period. 24 A singular element stands out as a likely factor in the change in Japanese self-image around this time: the sense of national crisis brought about by the Mongol invasion threats, and the widespread jubilation after the double defeat of the Mongols as they approached Japan’s shores, greatly aided by auspicious storms that devastated the invading µeets (1274 and 1281). These storms were dubbed kamikaze (divine winds), bolstering the belief that Japan was indeed a land favored by the gods. The Hachiman Gudõkun, a treatise describing the prayer rituals con- ducted at the Hachiman Shrine at Iwashimizu, composed during the reign of Hanazono (1308–1318), glori³es the “noble and wise divine land of Nippon,” 25 whose populace joined in earnest prayer and ritual observance imploring the gods and buddhas for help against the invader. The same treatise gives an account of an invocation supposedly offered by the respected monk Eison (Shien Shõnin) of Saidai-ji in Nara during a public prayer service, including the following:

As a foreign country threatens to invade us, men and women from high and low all lament in sorrow…. “Are the gods now about to destroy this divine land? Have the buddhas all abandoned it?”… The promise made by the god Hachiman, “as the authority of the noble rulers weakens, and the power of the people comes to naught (I will come to their aid)”—is this not precisely for this moment? We implore, then, quickly send your divine power and dispel the hateful enemy. If we compare foreign countries with this our land, the Mongols are descendants of dogs, while on the other hand the people of Japan are descendants of the gods. The difference between these is as great as the distance between heaven and earth. How can one compare gods with dogs? 26

The very ³rst page of this same treatise already indicates the tenor of the whole regarding its view of the land of Japan:



The ³ve provinces and seven paths of this island of Akitsu (Japan), as well as the drifting clouds and rains that fall, are all shrines and altars. Each and everyone of its people, from the ruler to the masses, are all descen- dants of the heavenly and earthly deities. This land is outside the reign of the great Brahma, the deva king. It is separated from the Middle Country (China) and from other foreign regions. The three Koreas have recognized fealty to this land, but our country has never belonged to another. The gods of the three thousand thrones and the hundred deva kings all protect its gates…. The gods are never derelict in their protec- tion. The buddhas never cease to extend their invisible aid. Who would dare go against this divine land (shinkoku)? 27

This Hachiman Gudõkun, written by a priest or priests of a Shrine dedicated to the war-god Hachiman some years prior to the Jinnõ shõtõ- ki, reports of the concerted efforts of the whole populace at invoking the help of the gods in a time of national crisis. It is one further testimony of the new self-understanding of shinkoku that includes the sense of sacred- ness of the land and of its people, coupled with a sense of superiority to other countries. Another document of extreme interest is the Keiran Shðyõshð, reportedly written in the year 1318 by a Tendai monk named Kõshð. This is a voluminous work that presents in encyclopedic form the various facets of Tendai Buddhism practiced and taught at Mt. Hiei at the time. On the basis of what is written in an introductory section of the document, the author was a monk who was not only schooled in the Tendai and Shingon traditions, but also learned in other Buddhist schools such as Zen, Kegon, Sanron, Hossõ, Kusha, and Jõdo, in addition to being well- versed in Shinto doctrine and ritual. The following passages are noteworthy:

Since our country (Japan) is a divine land, there are numerous appear- ances of the gods. This being the case, the god that is the appearance of the Great Teacher Š„kyamuni for our times is Hie, the Great Manifestation. 28

The gods are no other than Dainichi (Mah„vairocana). Š„kyamuni is an appearance of Buddha. Now at this present time our country is the home country of Dainichi. Saiten (India) is the country of the provisional Buddha, Š„kyamuni. Therefore, the tree of enlightenment that is the place of the coming into the world of the Mountain King (Sannõ) is this home land of Dainichi (Nippon).



The bodhi tree in Saiten (India) is a place of the manifestation of the provisional body. 29 Our country is the center of the Three Thousand Great Worlds. Therefore it receives the protection of the gods. Because of this it can never be invaded by a foreign country. 30

The last passage is particularly worthy of note in that it places emphasis on Japan’s invulnerability to “foreign invasions”—an obvious reference to the experience of recent decades, which from all indications has made a strong imprint in the popular mind. The two previous passages call attention to the reversal of traditional Buddhist cosmology, where the Indian subcontinent (as the birthplace of the Buddha) was at the center and Japan at the periphery. 31 Japan is now regarded as the center of the cosmos, and the Mountain King Hie (god of the shrine at Mt. Hiei, seat of the Tendai school) is identi³ed as the very embodiment of Š„kyamuni. The Š„kyamuni who was born in India is regarded as a (mere) provisional body, whereas the home of the true Dharma-body identi³ed with Dainichi (Mah„vairocana) is this land of Japan. 32 Another set of writings that offer testimony to a new understanding of the self-image of Japan are the works that laid the foundations of Ise Shinto, the Shintõ Gobusho, or “Five Treatises of Shinto.” Attributed to the Watarai family (Watarai Yukitada, 1236–1305; Watarai Ieyuki, 1256–1362; Watarai Tsunemasa, 1263–1339), these were most likely written in the middle part of the Kamakura era, that is, the late thirteenth century. The Yamatohime no Mikoto Seiki, one of the ³ve treatises (probably written between 1177 and 1180), 33 proclaims:

Thus I have heard: The Great Country of Nippon is a divine land. Receiving the protection of the gods, the nation (kokka) attains peace and well-being (anzen). Receiving the worship and devotion of the nation, the gods increase in power and majesty. 34

These ³ve Shinto treatises develop this basic idea and present the details of the establishment of the country by the gods, and of the continued maintenance of the same under divine protection. Two notable features here are, ³rst, the use of the term “nation” (kokka), and, second, the description of the mutual bond of give-and-take between the nation and the gods. In other words, the gods bestow protection and ensure the well-being of the nation, and the nation accords its worship and devotion



to the gods, glorifying them and increasing their power and majesty. “Nation” here can be read as the populace as a whole—from the ruling Tennõ and the nobility, the religious functionaries, to the masses of peo- ple, united in mind and heart. Needless to say, this union of mind and heart in worship and devotion toward the gods was the experience real- ized in the prayer services and rituals performed vis-à-vis the threat of Mongol invasion. There are many more documents from this period that corroborate the above ³ndings regarding the change in Japanese self-image that occurred from the latter part of the thirteenth century. 35 Here I have introduced only a few salient examples that support the suggestion that an “ethnocentric turn” happened at this point in Japanese history.


In the above sections we have highlighted a period in Japanese history, namely, the early thirteenth to the early fourteenth century—the period between the writing of Jien’s Gukanshõ (1219) and Kitabatake Chika- fusa’s Jinnõ shõtõki (1339). Taking our cue from the noticeable difference in the view of Japan’s place in the cosmos between the latter and the for- mer, we took a look at some other documents written within this period, looking for corroboration of the thesis that the difference was more than just between the two individual authors. We have called this change in awareness an “ethnocentric turn,” based on the difference in the view of history, of Japan’s place in the cosmos, and on the difference in the understanding of the term shinkoku. Our hypothesis, then, is this: the kind of logic operative in the doc- trine of originary enlightenment provided a theoretical basis for the shift in the placement of Japan from the periphery to the center of the cosmos. Our clue is in the mode of thinking that af³rms that “this very body is the (real) Buddha” and that regards the historical (Š„kyamuni) Buddha born in India as merely a “provisional” Buddha. This logic could be called a “reverse Copernican turn,” as it inverts the respective places of the sun and the earth in the scheme of things. The sun (Dainich i= the “real” Buddha, the dharmak„ya) is located in this very place, that is, Japan (Nippon = “the source of the sun”), and the earth (the historical Buddha who walked this earth and lived in India) is “over there” on the other side. Needless to say, this involves the reversal



of the traditional Buddhist cosmology that places Mt. Sumeru at the cen- ter (with Jambudv‡pa, or India, as the southern subcontinent contiguous to the center) and locates Japan at the periphery (hendo). The passage cited above from the Keiran Shðyõshð presents a clear example of this logic put in application: Dainichi (Mah„vairocana), whose home is Japan, is the real Buddha; Š„kyamuni, who was born and lived in India, is only a provisional Buddha. Underlying this logic of reversal is the mode of thinking that distin- guishes “real” (honmon = genuine, originary, true) from “provisional” (shakumon = appearance, trace, vestige), a key feature of the Tendai tra- dition originating from the works of T’ien-t’ai Master Chih-i (538–597). This is a mode of thinking applied in the interpretation of the Lotus Sutra, wherein the ³rst half is considered “provisional teaching,” that is, the teaching of the historical Buddha in India based on skillful means of guid- ing sentient beings to awakening, and the second half is regarded as the “real teaching,” the teaching of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life that transcends history and continues to work on behalf of all sentient beings throughout all ages. This real-provisional distinction is a thought category in the Tendai tradition that had great inµuence in many circles. This category also came to be a pivotal one as Buddhism spread its inµuence in Japan, as it served a useful function in addressing the ques- tion of the nature of the relationship between the gods who protect Japan and the Buddhas named and described in the sutras that came from India, China, and Korea. Thus, the theory that the Japanese divinities are (pro- visional) manifestations of the (real) Buddhas from the Western lands (India)—the honji-suijaku theory—served as a framework for under- standing the relationship between the gods and the buddhas. This theory ³nds frequent mention in writings that date from the late Heian period on, and it became an accepted framework for several centuries. In writings that date around the latter part of the thirteenth century, however, we begin to see a reversal of the roles of buddhas and gods within the framework: the gods are now viewed as “real”(honji) and the buddhas as “provisional” (suijaku). This reversal has been called the han- honji-suijaku theory, and we ³nd its fuller development in the writings of Yoshida Kanetomo (1435–1511) 36 and subsequent Shinto theorists. 37 Here again, the role of the Tendai doctrine of originary enlightenment has been identi³ed as quite signi³cant in grounding and encouraging such developments.




Japanese ethnocentrism found unequivocal of³cial expression in the Kokutai no hongi, issued by the Ministry of Education under the mili- taristic Japanese government in 1937. 38 The fervent nationalism that swept the whole country in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth cen- tury, coupled with the militarism that drove Japan to invade its neighbor- ing Asian countries, eventually plunging her head-on into the Second World War, can be seen as concrete manifestations of the ethnocentric mentality that took shape and developed through the earlier centuries of Japan’s history. After its disastrous defeat in the Second World War, Japan undertook a remarkable program of reconstruction, and within a generation suc- ceeded in achieving the status of a world economic power. At this point of history, various indications point to the continuance, and arguably the resurgence in different forms, of those same ethnocentric attitudes that have informed the Japanese self-image and their ways of relating to the rest of the world. 39 Critical Buddhism has raised a sharp socioethical critique against the Japanese Buddhist establishment and Japanese society as a whole, for har- boring and abetting attitudes of social discrimination, cultural chauvinism, and ethnocentrism. This critique has touched a sensitive nerve, felt not only in Japanese Buddhist circles but also in the wider public arena. The discussion deserves to be pursued on various levels, to include the histor- ical as well as the philosophico-religious and sociopolitical aspects of the issue. This paper is but one modest attempt to contribute to the discus- sion, considering the putative link between Japanese ethnocentrism and the Tendai doctrine of originary enlightenment.