Masaharu Anesaki’s “History of Japanese Religion” continues to be a much-cited pillar of Japanese studies and is now available in digital format.
The original draft of the present book was an outcome of the author’s lectures at Harvard University during the years 1913-15, when he had the honor of occupying there the chair of Japanese Literature and Life. In response to the encouragement given by several friends at Harvard, the author tried to put the material of the lectures into book form and redrafted it from time to time. The book was eventually published in 1930.
This blog post was originally published Nov. 8, 2015, and is reprinted here as the last quote from the History of Japanese Region book.
For the past several weeks I’ve been publishing quotes from History of Japanese Religion. Today’s quote from the book concerned a battle fought in Miyako in 1536 between followers of Nichiren and soldier-monks of Hiei in alliance with Ikkō fanatics. The Nichiren followers were driven out of town after 21 of their great temples were burnt down.
Shouts of “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō,” the slogan of the Nichirenites, vied with “Namu Amida Butsu,” the prayer of the Ikkō men; many died on either side, each believing that the fight was fought for the glory of Buddha and that death secured his birth in paradise.
This history of Japanese Buddhism written in 1918 stretches from the passion of warring monks to the then modern view:
For the people at large religion was rather a matter of family heritage and formal observance than a question of personal faith.
Today, I attended the Komatsubara Persecution service at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church, surrounded by people who have been followers of Nichiren and members of Nichiren Shu for generations. The church in Sacramento was founded in the early 1930s, and many members can tell you the various addresses in downtown Sacramento where the church was located before the current church was built in 1970 in south Sacramento.
During the Dharma talk at the end of the service, Ven. Kenjo Igarashi explained that it is important to remember and celebrate the various trials and tribulations suffered by Nichiren because it was these trials suffered while propagating the Lotus Sutra during the Latter Day of the Law that prove the sutra’s predictions. And they also illustrate Nichiren’s need, and by example our own, to expiate bad karma.
On the part of many of its enthusiasts, it amounted to a religion of hero-worship, which remains still a force in the religious life of the Japanese. But many of the followers of Nichiren have narrowed down the horizon of Nichiren’s spiritual vision to the limits of chauvinistic patriotism. Thus, the movement has subsided to a great extent, but it is yet to be seen whether Nichiren’s profoundly religious ardour will inspire coming generations.
Attending Nichiren Buddhist services in Sacramento, California, nearly 100 years later, I’d like to think Nichiren’s “profoundly religious ardour” has indeed inspired many generations. And while for some it may be just formal observance and ritual, it remains vital and alive for many others.
The last and bitterest of the combats was fought in Miyako in 1536, when the soldier-monks of Hiei in alliance with the Ikkō fanatics attacked the Nichirenites and burnt down twenty-one of their great temples in the capital and drove them out of the city. Shouts of “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō,” the slogan of the Nichirenites, vied with “Namu Amida Butsu,” the prayer of the Ikkō men; many died on either side, each believing that the fight was fought for the glory of Buddha and that death secured his birth in paradise.
[Nichiren’s] disciples went into temples and monasteries where their adversaries were preaching or giving lectures and entered into hot debates with them, crying: “Be converted to the right faith, or convince me and I will surrender to your standpoint.” In this respect the Nichirenites revived the method of the Indian fighter Arya-deva, and like him offered even their own lives if defeated in the debate. This fierce side of the “repressive propaganda” was, however, supplemented by the “persuasive way” of meek admonition and kind counsel.
Nichiren’s conception of the Buddhist Church was an extension of his idea of the paradise inherent in every soul and to be realized in the life of each enlightened soul as well as in the universal communion of such souls.
By sin Nichiren understood nothing else than estrangement from the truth and the teaching of the Lotus, the falling away of individuals from the primordial oneness of the universal life. But sin was not merely a matter of the individual person, it was a common heritage of all beings, for all had estranged themselves from the unique truth of the Scripture.
The graphic scheme was … intended to be a miniature of the cosmos, including all kinds of beings arranged about the cosmic Lotus of Truth, in adoration of it, and illuminated by the wisdom and mercy of Buddha. The representation was, however, neither a picture of those beings nor a mere symbolic diagram, but an arrangement in titles, of all classes of existence according to their respective grades of spiritual ascent around the primordial Buddhahood, which was represented by the Sacred Title. Nichiren regarded this representation of the Supreme Being as the chief work entrusted to him by Buddha for the salvation of mankind in the latter days, a predestined mission to be achieved by the “Messenger of Buddha.”
The Sacred Title of the Lotus had established this standard for oral utterance, and now [Nichiren] proposed to furnish the same for spiritual introspection through visualization, because the vast universe, with all its beings, was nothing but an extension, an outward manifestation of everyone’s Buddha-nature. The visualized standard was made for the purpose of impressing one’s soul with the true and everlasting nature of its own identity with the eternal Buddha and that of every other existence. The Supreme Being meant a perfect union of the individual and the world, the oneness of the Buddha-nature and its inexhaustible manifestations.
The “Supreme Being”, according to Nichiren, is Buddha in his metaphysical entity, the enlightened soul in full grasp of the whole truth of existence. This entity, the Buddha-nature, is inherent in every being, whether human or celestial, or even bestial and infernal, and can be, ought to be, realized in every soul when it enters into full communion with Buddha. This truth was embodied in the person of the historical Buddha and his eternal life revealed in the Lotus of Truth.