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A Study of Honen's Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin shoki setsu)
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Bukkyo University, Kyoto
I. Varied Stages and Issues in the Study of Honen
During the last 25 years, we have seen various developments in studies of Honen. One of the causes of this is not only the adoption of normative studies based on Faith in the area of Jodo-shu's theology, but also of descriptive studies based on historical and bibliographical material. By adopting such methodologies as these, problems which were before confined only to the study of the sect's theology have been unveiled.
Generally speaking, the study of Honen comes under the confines of religious studies. When we suggest a methodology for this study, the one which Jachm Wach and Kishimoto Hideo used can be adopted for studying Honen. In this methodology, more attention is paid to descriptive objectivity than to the situation as dictated by subjective sect-Consciousness. As an example, we can introduce what Nakano Masaaki pointed out in his main work A Basic Study of Honen's Works (Tokyo: Hozokan,1994) that Shinran's A Teaching to the Western Land (saiho-shinan-sho) exemplifies the actual value of Honen's works.
a) The Problem of the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin shoki setsu) and the Discovery of the Daigo-bon
With such a tendency concerning the study of Honen, we can present the problems concerning Honen's Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin shoki setsu) as a typical example. I want to address this problem and talk a little about its background.
This problem was raised by the discovery of a new manuscript called A Biography of Honen Shonin (Honen Shonin denki) at Daigo-ji temple in Kyoto in 1917. Called the Daigo-bon for short, it contains the signature of one of Honen's leading disciples Seikan-bo Genchi. It was either written or directly transcribed by Genchi of what Honen preached.
The Story of One Life (ichigo-monogatari)
(Honen's) Replies to Zensho-bo (Zensho-bo no kotae)
An Explanation of the Threefold Mind (sanjin-ryoken ji)
A Separate Biography (betsu-denki)
Diary of (Honen's) Last Moments (gorinju-nikki)
The Record of (Honen's) Attainment of Samadhi (sanmai-hottoku-ki)
The third part, "An Explanation of the Threefold Mind (sanjin-ryoken ji)" is composed of 27 articles and sermons. Special attention can be paid to the 27th article since it has the title "If even a good person can be received in Amida Buddha's Land, so how much more can Evil one; this is an oral transmission." Genchi then added, "I understand that Amida's Original Vows were not set up for the good person who has the means to abandon Suffering by their own Power, but were mercifully made for only the evilest person who never has such means for salvation. By embracing Amida's Vow, if a good person can be received in Amida Buddha's Land, so how much more an Evil one can beg Amida's Power". These lines of Honen's, "If even a good person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more an Evil one", match the ones in Chapter 3 of Shinran's Tanni-sho as recorded by his Disciple Yui-en. We could deduce then that this saying is Honen's oral transmission.
At the time when the Daigo-bon was discovered, the modernization movement of Japan was in full swing. The Tanni-sho which had been sealed up to that time by the Jodoshin-sect was unveiled by two elders of the Jodoshin group called Seishin-kai, Kiyozawa Manshi (1867-1903) and Akegarasu Haya (1877-1954). The catch-phrase "Shinran equals the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin-shoki-setsu)" had become popular. The ensuing discovery of the Daigo Manuscript caused serious problems on how to judge its authenticity.
b) The Inauthenticity of the Diago-bon
Concerning this new material, Mochizuki Shinko (1869-1948), who was a high priest and a great scholar of Jodo Shu, published in 1918 a treatise called "On Honen Shonin's Biography in the Daigo-bon (Daigo-bon Honen Shonin denki ni tsuite) [The Study of Buddhist Materials, vol.37.28 ]. He wrote, "This sentence in the 27th article seems to be written by an editor. I cannot find the sentence, "If even a good person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more an Evil one" in the Collection of Honen's Preachings (Wago-toroku)." He concluded that the Daigo-bon was not an authentic work of Honen's. This became the ground for further Thinking and theories concerning its inauthenticity.
Ienaga Saburo, an authority on the historical study of Japanese Buddhism particularly Shinran, subsequently pointed out that, "The part that includes this Doctrine on Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin shoki setsu) is distinct and anonymous material not found in Honen's other articles or preachings." He also reached the conclusion that the Daigo-bon was not an authentic work of Honen's (A Study of the History of Buddhist Thought in the Middle Ages, Hozokan, 1947). For Ienaga, the grounds for inauthenticity centers on the reliability of this new material. Based on these two authorities, it was concluded that the Daigo-bon was not Honen's material. Subsequently, it was labeled as inauthentic material in Buddhist society.
In the Jodo-shinshu sect, through its powerful Faith-movement of spiritualism (seishin-shugi) which used the Tanni-sho as an axis, modern Japanese Buddhism moved forward more and more. In such a religious stream as this, the Daigo-bon was disregarded without any further examination. This problem about the Daigo-bon was seemingly untouchable for a long time from both the Jodo-shu sect and the study of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism.
c) The Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin shoki setsu) as an Oral Transmission
Nevertheless, there were a few scholars who published treaties with the hypothesis that the words in the Daigo-bon were actually Honen's. For example, Matsumoto Hikosaburo in his article "Some Problems on the Reformation in the Kamakura period" (1942) emphasized that the famous sentence is indeed Honen's. This problem had, in fact, been running through the bottom of the Japanese Pure land Buddhist researchers' academic Consciousness like a water vein.
It was in the paper "On the Genealogy of the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation" presented by Kajimura Noboru at the Japanese Association of Indian and Buddhist Studies' Annual Meeting in1970 that a new break in this issue was made. Kajimura wrote, "The Daigo-bon is a document recorded by Honen's immediate Disciple Seikan-bo Genchi.", emphasizing the reliability of this material. As such, he declared that Honen preached without a Doubt that "If even a good person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more an Evil one."
It was a study group's paper entitled "Studies of the Texts of Jodo-shu Buddhism" presented to Professor Kyoshun Todo on the occasion of his 70th birthday that since l986 has formed the basis for reexamining this problem. This group published a collection of essays and reprinted the original Daigo-bon. For the first time, all eyes could see Daigo-bon in its original Form. This was a watershed event.
There are 14 papers on the Daigo-bon in this volume of studies. Specifically, Tsuboi Shunei noted about the 27th article that, "'An Explanation of the Threefold Mind (sanjin-ryoken ji) seems to be Ryukan's Writing." Further, Takatoshi Hirokawa pointed out that the writer of the Sanjin-ryoken ji cannot necessarily be determined to be Ryukan, but possibly it was Shoku. I myself took a firm stand for the theory that the speaker was Honen himself, taking into account Honen's other preachings. Neither nor Hirokawa suggested the possibility of Honen himself.
After this, in 1988 yet more new material, the Rin-en-so was discovered at Saifuku-ji, a temple belonging to the Jodo-shu Seizan sect in Aichi prefecture. In it the sentence was found, "I understood that if even a good person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more an Evil one; the 48 Vows are like a raft." This matches the passage in the Daigo-bon and the Tanni-sho. It is believed that this material was heard and written by Shoku's pupil, Gyo-e, in 1386.
The discoverers of the Rin-en-so noted that, "Because the Tanni-sho was not included in the catalogue entitled Joten-mokuroku which Shinran's pupil Zongaku (1202-1373) edited in 1362, this sentence in the new material Rin-en-so is not a quotation from the Tanni-sho. After all, the sentence "If even a good person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more an Evil one" has not only one transmission, from Honen to Shinran, but also others, such as from Honen to Shoku and his own pupils.
Through such a process of discussion, in April, 1993, the Director of the Institute of Shin-shu Theology at Nishi-hongan-ji in Kyoto, Kakehashi Jitsuen presented an article entitled "The Originator of the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin shoki setsu) is Honen". He had previously intimated the necessity for a "reexamination of Shinran's Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation in his work A Study on Honen's Theology (1986).
Also in 1993, in August, NHK television broadcasted the program "Shinran: the Truth of the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation" and concluded that this Doctrine was based on Honen's words and Thought. Through the mass-media, the idea that that akunin shoki setsu was derived from Honen became popular.
2. Honen's Doctrine Of Evil Persons as the Object Of Salvation :
The Different Types of Akunin Shoki Setsu
We cannot find a direct definition of the concepts "Evil" or "Evil person" in Honen's preachings. However, as Honen expressed every time, the fundamental meanings of these terms can be found in phrases like "I myself am an ordinary person, subject to the cycles of birth and Death, always drifting in various states of existence for innumerable kalpas, and cannot reach the state of salvation" found Shan-tao's (Zendo 613-681) teaching of the "two kinds of deep Faith" (nishu-jinshin) in his Commentary on the Meditation Sutra (Kammuryoju-kyo sho). Shan-tao also said, "Ordinary people are sinful and Evil, caught in endless transmigration. They follow ignorant ways and violate The Precepts." ("Tozan-jo", The New Showa Collection of the Complete Writings of Honen Shonin (Showa shinshu Honen shonin zenshu) SHZ p.427). Further, "Sinful men do not wish to be received in Amida Buddha's Land, do not chant Amida Buddha's name and commit themselves to sin." ("Honen's answer to Oko-no-taro", SHZ , p.521).
In Honen's works, "Evil" is not defined relatively on the ethical level. His definition of "Evil persons" matches his attitude regarding himself as a person who could not practice the three learnings (sangaku) of precepts (kai), Meditation (jo) and Wisdom (e) but believed deeply in Shan-tao's "two kinds of deep Faith". Considering Honen's preachings from this viewpoint, we can define four types of "Evil persons who can be received into Amida Buddha's Pure land."
Type 1: "If one chants Amida Buddha's name, good people as well as Evil will be received in Amida Buddha's Land" ("Honen's answer to Tsuto-ro-saburo", SHZ, p.572). This type does not distinguish between good or Evil. Thus, Honen always said, "Repeatedly Chanting Amida Buddha's name, the good as well as the Evil together, men as well as women together, 10 persons together and 100 persons together, all will be received in Amida Buddha's Land ("Nembutsu-ojo-jogi-sho, SHZ, p.682).
Type 2: 'The good person chants Amida's Name as a good person; the Evil person chants Amida's Name as an Evil person; everyone chants Amida's Name by their own nature." ("Honen's words heard by Zensho-bo", SHZ, p.462). This type distinguishes between Good and Evil. Thus Honen said, "Individuals who chant Amida's Name, by their own nature, are received in Amida Buddha's Land ("12 dialogues", SHZ , p.639)
Type 3: "If even an Evil person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more a good person" ("Honen's letter to Ven. Kuroda", SHZ , p.500). Because it is difficult for a good person to be received in Buddha's Land, undoubtedly it's more difficult for an Evil person. This type is based on the good person. Thus, Honen said, "If even the sinful person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more so should the good person be" ("Honen's answer to Ogo-no-taro, SHZ, p. 524) Conversely speaking, "Because good persons cannot be received in Amida Buddha's Land without the Power of the Nembutsu, how much less Evil persons" ("Nembutsu-ojo-gi", SHZ, p.688). Here, this theory supposes "Evil" to be the negative state.
Type 4: "If even a good person will be received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more an Evil one. These words are an oral transmission." ("Daigo-bon", SHZ, p.454). In this type, an Evil person is superior to a good one. This concept of akunin shoki setsu is not found in Honen's other preachings. We must pay attention to the fact that these words were communicated as an oral transmission.
The significance of Birth for Evil Persons (akunin-ojo) in Honen's teachings is shown by the above four types. Honen's teaching of akunin shoki setsu was passed on to his disciples as a "Language of the Soul" in oral transmission. Thus, it is unnecessary to take up only this Type 4 as a conscpicuous concern. Basically, Honen's "Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation" is that one who is aware of their inability to practice the three learnings (sangaku) has the proper potential for receiving Amida's vows.
3. Recent Trends in the Study of Akunin shoki setsu
a) Concerning Taira Masayuki's Interpretation
Taira Masayuki published a work entitled Society and Buddhism in the Middle Ages of Japan in 1992. It challenged Ienaga Saburo's theory and shocked the community of studies of Japanese Buddhism in the Middle Ages. First, Taira emphasized the difference between "Established Buddhism" (kenmitsu bukkyo) and the heretical Buddhism of Honen and Shinran. Then, he pointed out that, "Honen's and Shinran's Buddhist Thought advocated the equality of all Sentient beings in this World. Thus, it was a Doctrine of Liberation in the Middle Ages. That is, the simple workers who were divided from and forced out of the establishment, the "negation of negation of the ancient age", wished for a land for the common people." (p.255)
Taira also wrote, "The Doctrine of Birth for Evil Persons (akunin-ojo setsu) focuses on the 'proper cause' (sho-in) for Birth in the Pure land as those who are of good social standing. That is 'If even Evil men (the secondary value) are received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more good men (the first value).'" In contrast, he added, "The idea in the Tanni-sho which regards the good person as of secondary value and the Evil person as of first value is called akunin-shoki setsu, literally the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Proper Object of Salvation.
Furthermore, he said, "In the case of the Daigo-bon, the sentence, 'If even good persons are received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more Evil ones' and Genchi's understanding that Amida's grace is given not to good persons but to Evil ones is typical of akunin shoki setsu which regards the Evil person as the first or main object of salvation and the good person as the secondary object (ibid, p.224). In this way, Taira upholds the meaning of Honen's akunin shoki setsu as presented in the Daigo-bon.
b) On the Opinion that the Senchaku-shu explains the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation
In 1992, Akunin shoki setsu by Honen and Jokei (edited by Inayoshi Manryo, Hakuba-sha, Kyoto) was published. In this book, the article "The Senchaku-shu explains the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation" by Inada, Inayoshi and others was printed. In conclusion, they said "When Honen dictated the Senchaku-shu, he had already established the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation. However, he did not declare it outwardly because of the social conditions at that time". Thus, they conclude as follows, "It is true that Honen did not say in the Senchaku-shu, "If even good persons are received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more Evil ones". However, he logically infer that the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation is really the true motive of the Meditation Sutra, Shan-tao's Commentary on the Meditation Sutra and the secret teachings of Jodo-shu (p.146).
In this presentation, I have given only an outline of the varied aspects and problems concerning the Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation (akunin shoki setsu) after the Daigo-bon vas discovered in 1917. I would like to review three important points as follows. 1) The so-called Doctrine of Evil Persons as the Object of Salvation, "If even good persons are received in Amida Buddha's Land, how much more Evil ones" is, in the end, Honen's original words. 2) This sentence is not contradictory to Honen's Doctrine. Especially through Honen's reflections, we can accurately grasp the Doctrine of Birth for Evil Persons (akunin-ojo setsu) which involves a wide meaning. We should not be given over to narrowly defining the meaning of akunin shoki setsu. 3) Concerning recent issues, we noted two points. One is Taira's narrow understanding of akunin-shoin and akunin-shoki; the other is Inada, Inayoshi and others' opinion that the Senchaku-shu explains akunin-shoki setsu. By making clear the points of both studies, the theme akunin-shoki setsu can be taken to a higher level.