Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Esho Shimazu

The Sangowakuran Incident and its Significance for Engaged Buddhism

Although the Sangowakuran incident (三業惑乱1797-1806) is perhaps the most serious theological dispute as well as the most traumatic political incident in the history of the Nishi Honganji, not many scholars in recent times have studied this issue. In spite of this phenomenon in Japan, the present author recently found some negative comments on the results of the Sangōwakuran, which are not necessarily common in Japan, in the works of leading Western scholars of Shin Buddhism, which will be introduced later. This research is an attempt to introduce the incident to Western people and clarify its significance in connection with 'engaged Buddhism' in the contemporary world by examining the affirmative and negative evaluations of the results of the Sangōwakuran. First, we will provide an overview of the incident, then introduce three different perspectives in relation to it. Then we will clarify the core arguments and finally discuss the significance of the incident for engaged Buddhism. The Sangōwakuran incident was basically a political and theological dispute between the Academy and the anti-Academy groups. The terms usually used to indicate each party are as follows:

Pro-Academy side:
  • Shingi-ha (新義派 New-interpretation school)
  • Gakurin-ha (学林派 Gakurin Academy faction)
  • Sangō-ha (三業派 Three-karmic-action school)
Anti-Academy side:
  • Kogi-ha (古義派 Old-interpretation school)
  • Zaiya-ha (在野派 Non-office-holding party)
  • Monshin-ha ( 聞信派 Listening-and-trusting school)
  • Shukyū-ha (守旧派 Conservative faction)

The words such as 'new', 'old', 'conservative' unavoidably connote different value judgments depending on the user’s perspective and could easily lead readers to prejudging the issue. In this paper, therefore, we will simply refer to the two opposing parties of the Sangōwakuran incident as the 'Pro-Academy' side and the 'Anti-Academy' side to avoid confusion and biases.

I. An Outline of the Sangōwakuran Incident

Since the Sangōwakuran incident consisted of a series of many debates, violent clashes and successive court hearings which occurred over nearly ten years, we shall discuss the incident by distinguishing the following three stages: 1) the period of debate, 2) the period of violence and 3) the period of trials . To put it simply, this ten-year-long incident started as a series of scholastic debates between the Pro-Academy and the Anti-Academy sides, eventually developing into an extreme state of violent turmoil and finally ending with the Shogunate’s intervention. Since the Sangōwakuran incident involved many people and intricate affairs for about ten years, an excessively detailed description could be very confusing. Therefore, one can summarize the incident as follows.

A) The Period of Debate (May 1797 - March 1801)

The incident started in 1798 as a theological challenge by scholars in various rural provinces against the lectures of Chidō (智洞1736-1805), then the 8th "Nōke"(能化), or Head scholar of the Nishi-Honganji's official Gakurin Academy (学林), the predecessor of the present Ryukoku University. In this lecture, Chidō criticized the theory of shingyō-kimyō-setsu (信楽帰命説the theory that faith is essential for salvation) and maintained yokushō-kimyō-setsu (欲生帰命説the theory that desire for birth in the Pure Land is essential for salvation). Among the local scholars who opposed Chidō, the most notable were Daiei (大瀛1759-1804) in Aki province, Dōon (道隠1741-1813) in Kawachi, Rizen (履善1754-1819) in Iwami (Shimane) and Shuntei (春貞d. near 1806) in Kyoto. According to their criticism, Chidō's emphasis on the three religious acts (Sangō, meaning bodily, verbal and mental actions) was against Shinran's teaching of Absolute Other Power which does not admit of any form of self-power practice as a prerequisite to salvation. Chidō's group defended itself saying that a fervent religious aspiration enacted in bodily, verbal and mental religious acts was not self-power practice but the mark of authentic entrusting to Amida's Primal Vow which itself arose through the working of Amida's compassion. They also insisted that they just followed the orthodox interpretation of successive predecessors in the Academy such as the previous Nōke Kōzon.

In 1776, Kōzon published the provocative Ganshō-kimyō-ben (願生帰命弁) which propagated the yokushō-kimyō theory. It was criticized by many scholars. In spite of the criticisms, Kōzon, a stern disciplinarian scholar, was well respected and, therefore, could manage to avoid serious turmoil while he was alive.

However, as soon as Chidō became the head scholar of the Academy following the will of Kōzon, the dispute erupted in various provinces. Serious debates occurred in many local temples and became social issues. Two leading members of the Abbot's family (renshi 連枝), Kukyōin(究竟院) and Ekōin(恵光院) , tried to make the opposing parties reconcile their differences by giving Chidō and Dōon a chance to meet face to face at the Academy. This proposal seemed successful at first because both of them softened their mutual criticisms and Chidō promised Dōon a teaching position at the Academy. Furthermore, the Abbot Monnyo passed away right after this meeting and therefore both sides kept quiet for a while. However, the Academy side soon started provoking its interpretation again, which resulted in further confusions this time. Kukyōin and Jikōin sent Shuntei to debate with his former classmate Chidō. After debating thirteen times with Shuntei, Chidō finally wrote a statement of recantation. On the next day, the Abbot sent an official statement written in favor of the anti-Academy side to a group of followers in Settsu Province (Settsu-Jūsannichi-kō 攝津十三日講) who had inquired which side had the correct understanding of shinjin. However, soon Chidō changed his mind and denied his own recantation. This naturally fanned the flames even further . The entourage of Chidō, represented by the so-called ‘Eight Priests of the Academy’ (Gakurin-hasso 学林八僧) strongly opposed giving Dōon a teaching position at the Academy. They rejected any compromise and labeled Dōon a heretic. The pro-Academy group tried to monopolize the power and orthodoxy of the institution. Lay followers of local temples were so confused that some of them started saying that they should be under the Higashi-Honganji for a while or change their denominations. Due to these incidents, the Academy lost a considerable number of students .

During this confusion, Daiei's book, Ōchō-jikidō-kongō-hei(横超直道金剛碑, criticized the pro-Academy interpretation, specifically Kōzon's Ganshōkimyōben. It was published in May 1805. The Pro-Academy side soon requested the local authority, the Nijō City Commissioner's Office (Nijō-bugyōsho 二条奉行所), to prohibit the publication. At this point, however, about five hundred copies had already been sent to local temples directly from the anti-Academy group and over two hundred copies had been sold. Though there were many publications against the pro-Academy interpretation before Ōchō-jikidō-kongō-hei, Daiei's book came to have an overwhelming influence on this incident. It is said that Daiei suffered from tuberculosis and had collapsed many times while he was writing this three-volume book and eating medicinal carrots. In protest against the prohibition of the book, the anti-Academy side made a written submission to the Nishi-Honganji.

B) The Period of Violence (April 1801 - April 1803)

The pro-Academy group was not above resorting to violent means. They often confined anti-Academy people who came to Kyoto to inquire about genuine faith in a prison within the Nishi-Honganji or at inns where they stayed. Chidō was not politically powerless. He had strong connections with the Nishi-Honganji headquarters where the majority of the executive administrators supported Chidō's group. Therefore they were in a position to take forceful measures.

The anti-Academy followers soon reacted physically. The most visible incidents were the riots staged against the pro-Academy groups which occurred twice in January and July 1802. Several thousand people in Mino province (Gifu prefecture) gathered to protest against the suppression of the anti-Academy people by the pro-Academy group. Unavoidably, the local authority intervened in the incidents and reported them to the central Shogunate government in Edo (Tokyo) in detail. In July, the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines (Jisha-bugyō 寺社奉行), in charge of religious policies of the Edo government, issued a warning to the Nishi-Honganji that it should investigate the Pro-Academy group and settle the issue immediately.

The Shogunate warning favoring the anti-Academy group created a power-shift in the Nishi-Honganji executive administration from the pro-Academy to the anti-Academy direction. The desperate pro-Academy group mobilized hundreds of their followers for demonstrations in nearby provinces to the Nishi-Honganji almost every day. Also they started spreading rumors that Kukyōin had an ambition to make his son the next Abbot and his son's tutor, Dōon, the Head Lecturer of the Academy. The pro-Academy group even put up reprehensible posters at about 30 places near the Nishi-Honganji that advocated the immediate killing of Kukyōin and Ekōin claiming that they intended to murder the Abbot. They even created a scandal by paying actors to perform a theatrical play in Osaka in which righteous men prevented Kukyōin from assassinating the Abbot. They also blamed the anti-Academy executive administrators of the Nishi-Honganji, such as Shimotsuma Hyōbu(下間兵部), for being accomplices to this plot.

They had strong connections with the highest-ranking aristocrats who were related by marriage to the Abbot's family. According to Hanseikiryaku(反正紀略), there was a plot in which, if the coup succeeded, the pro-Academy group planned to invite a son of the Kujō-family (九条家)to be the future Abbot of the Honganji. Chōnen(超然), the editor of Hanseikiryaku, lamented that the plot was like the Hōjō-family inviting a puppet Shōgun from an imperial court in the Kamakura period.

Finally, they mobilized a mob armed with spears and knives to the Nishi-Honganji and forced the executive administrators and the Abbot to issue an official memorandum that the Academy had the final say in the orthodox interpretation of Shin Buddhist faith. Using the above mentioned highest-ranking aristocrats' political power, they confined Nishi-Honganji's executive administrators to their homes and placed Kōkyōji(廣教寺, a pro-Academy member of Abbot's family, in the highest administrative position of the Nishi-Honganji. This was an attempted coup by the pro-Academy group to seize religious authority from the Abbot.

These strong-arm tactics of the Academy group, of course, did not solve the dispute but further added fuel to the fire. This time, the anti-Academy group mobilized their followers for demonstrations at the Nishi-Honganji, the Academy, Chidō's residential temple and palaces of high-ranking pro-Academy aristocrats, which resulted in confining Chidō to his residential temple. Also, some members of the anti-Academy group requested their own local governments to report the incident to the central Shogunate in Edo in order to end the ceaseless turmoil as soon as possible.

C) The Period of Trial (May 1803 - December 1806)

Immediately before the coup attempt, the chief administrative officer of the Nishi-Honganji gave up trying to solve this state of extreme disorder through institutional means and requested the Shogunate’s intervention. Usually, the Shogunate government did not care for theological disputes within a particular denomination but, in this case, it could not neglect the violent actions caused by the dispute. Scholars from both sides, as well as lay demonstrators who committed crimes of violence, were summoned first to the Nijo City Commissioner's Office in Kyoto and then to the Commissioner's Office of Temples and Shrines in Edo for hearings. The records of these trials indicate that the investigations were very keenly pursued and harsh to both parties with the debates among scholars being very technical and serious. These trials were impressively fair for this period rather than being political or one-sided. In the Kyoto court, it was revealed that the ringleaders of the coup attempt in the Nishi-Honganji were Dairo and Shōun, members of the Eight-priests of the Academy, who were immediately imprisoned . Shuntei, Dōon and later Daiei were summoned to debate with Chidō in detail in front of the Kyoto City Commissioner. Judging from the lively record of the hearings, it is safe to say that the Anti-Academy scholars apparently defeated the pro-Academy side in the debates. It was therefore not surprising that the pro-Academy people were already treated as criminals when they were brought to Edo. Together with Dairo and Shōun, two high-ranking administrators of the Nishi-Honganji, Shimotsuma Kunai and Hirai Mondo, were arrested for bribery relating to this incident. Furthermore, two lay leaders, Iei and Emon, who had led the mob and threatened the executive administrators and Abbot at the Nishi-Honganji, were confined to cage-like palanquins like criminals. Chidō was confined to an ordinary palanquin with armed officers . The judge presiding over the trial in Edo was Wakisaka Awajino-kami Yasutada (脇坂淡路守安董1768-1841), the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines.

The Commissioner of Temples and Shrines was one of the most important posts of the Shogunate government. He was regarded as the elite among the elites and was appointed from among the most talented local lords (daimyo 大名). Among the Commissioners of the Temples and Shrines in the Edo period, Lord Wakisaka Yasutada was especially well-known as a man of integrity and wisdom. He was not only appointed to this position twice but also became one of the top administrative officers of the Shogunate government (rōju 老中) at the end of his career. His talent and wisdom can be easily confirmed upon reading the records of the Sangōwakuran trials. However hard the suspects tried to evade questions and made excuses, Wakisaka kept pressing Iei, Emon, Dairo, Shōun and Chidō until finally they confessed to crimes through his shrewd attacks on their contradictions.

What is amazing is that Commissioner Wakisaka was privately studying Shin Buddhism under Kōgatsuin Jinrei (香月院深励1749-1817) in his residence while he was conducting this unprecedented trial. Jinrei has probably been one of the most respected scholars in Higashi Honganji history to the extent that he is generally viewed as the scholar who established the foundation of Shin Buddhist studies in this lineage. The hearing consisted of not only harsh questions-and-answers on the facts but also considerably technical arguments on Shin Buddhist faith. Detailed records of these hearings indicate that the Commissioner's knowledge and understanding of Shin Buddhism was so impressively wide and deep that he could defeat Chidō even on theological issues . The hearings revealed the fact that the previous Abbot Monnyo left his closest men a will that ordered fighting against Chidō. Also it was found that Chidō had approved, beforehand, that Dairo and Shōun mobilize several hundred pro-Academy lay demonstrators at the Nishi-Honganji to force the young Abbot to issue a statement in which he would entrust the Academy with the interpretation of the Shin Buddhist faith. Dairo and Shōun gathered together lay leaders such as Ihei and Emon through letters to plot the coup. They denied the existence of such letters at first but the judge ordered his subordinate to read them aloud. They formed part of the evidence that had been sent from the Kyoto City Commissioner's Office. Ihei admitted that he took a spear that he found at the temple to attack one of the executive administrators of the Nishi-Honganji, and Emon confessed that he stabbed a tatami mat with his knife to threaten the Abbot.

The Commissioner Wakisaka did not arbitrarily make a decision on his own. He gave both Chidō and Dōon a last chance to write their understanding of Shin Buddhist faith (anjin 安心), while letting Honnyo (本如1776-1826), then Nishi Honganji's Abbot, to finalize their orthodoxy. The young Abbot ordered Rizen and Jiken (自謙1751-1846) , renowned scholars in Iwami province (Shimane prefecture), to examine each interpretation. Based on their reports, the Abbot requested Ekōin to write a draft of the official interpretation on anjin (settled mind) as Nishi-Honganji orthodoxy. After Jiken edited it, the Abbot himself wrote it down and sent it to Commissioner Wakisaka in Edo. Honnyo's interpretation of anjin was in accord with that of the anti-Academy, by which Judge Wakisaka made the final decision that the Academy interpretation was the heterodox view and that of its opponents, the orthodox one. Following this, Chidō and the Eight Priests of the Academy all wrote statements of recantation. Wakisaka, the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines, however, severely punished those on both sides who were involved in the Sangōwakuran incident in keeping with the law of this period. In the Edo Period, in cases of violent disputes like this, both parties are to blame (kenka-ryōseibai 喧嘩両成敗). Thus, the Sangōwakuran resulted in the sacrifice of many people. In the course of harsh trials, Daiei died of tuberculosis. Chidō died in prison due to illness while waiting to be exiled to a remote island. Many supporters of Chidō such as the Eight Priests of the Academy were expelled or confined. Dōon was forced to retire from his temple in Kawachi and had to live in another temple in Kyushu. Shuntei was to be confined but also died before his sentence could be carried out. Lay leaders of the coup attempt were sentenced to banishment. Four of them, including Rihei, died of illness in their prisons . The list of the people punished by this incident is lengthy. The Nishi-Honganji itself was ordered into quarantine for one hundred days. The Gakurin, which had been closed during the incident, was not re-opened until 1807. The Nishi-Honganji abolished the dictatorial position of the Head Lecturer (Nōke) of the Academy as the highest academic position and replaced it with a group of learned scholars (Kangaku 勧学) in 1824.

2. Three different perspectives on the Sangōwakuran Incident

There are three different perspectives among researchers on the Sangōwakuran Incident. The majority of scholars, Shin Buddhist ministers and lay intellectuals, have accepted the result of the incident: namely, that the pro-Academy interpretation was heterodox and the anti-Academy one, orthodox. Undoubtedly, in this traditional understanding, Daiei, a local scholar, and a dying tuberculosis patient, defeated the head Lecturer of the Academy in Kyoto. He has been long regarded as the hero who defended genuine Shin Buddhist faith. Another perspective is to re-evaluate the pro-Academy theology. Only a small number of people, however, are taking the side of, or are at least sympathetic, to the pro-Academy side. They explain that the Sangōwakuran Incident was solved neither by purely academic debates nor by fair trials. They maintain that the feudalistic government simply tried to avoid any kind of changes and therefore decided that the conservative side was the winner.

Another perspective is to try and avoid dealing with the numerous violent events and the results of the Sangōwakuran incidents and attempt to understand the theological differences between the pro-Academy and the anti-Academy scholars. Let us examine each position briefly.

1) Traditional Anti-Academy Stance

The traditional understanding of the Sangōwakuran incident can be found in Ryukoku-daigaku Sanbyakunen-shi (‘300 Year History of Ryukoku University’) edited by Professor Zuigi Ashikaga, then president, and officially published by the University. The chapter on the Sangōwakuran dispute in this book is undoubtedly the best work for getting a bird's eye view of the incident. It is not only informative but also academically well balanced in its contents, and therefore many other later researches were based on this book.

As far as the necessary research materials are concerned, we have sufficient documents such as Hanseiki, Hanseikiryaku and Zoku-Hanseikiryaku. These books contains a huge number of official records of the trials, diaries of the people involved in the incident, petitions from local nembutsu followers to the Nishi-Honganji and so on. Most of these documents specify the names and dates of the detailed affairs and therefore it is safe to say that these are reliable sources of information. In other words, what happened during the ten years of the Sangōwakuran incident is clear. The remaining problems for the researchers are how to summarize the incident based on the enormous amount of detailed documents in a meaningful way and how to interpret the historical facts established by the documents. In this sense Ryukoku-daigaku Sanbyakunen-shi has been the best work for anyone who tries to understand the incident for the first time.

The description of the incident itself in this book is therefore similar to the previous section of this paper and we should focus on how this book interprets the incident. It says that there have been people who insist that to know the meaning of the Primal Vow is sufficient for anjin and nothing else is necessary for salvation (mukimyō-anjin 無帰命安心), while some others maintain that Shin Buddhist faith requires practicers to earnestly beg the Buddha for salvation. According to this book, both of these understandings are extremes and not the genuine anjin of Shin Buddhism. Kōzon wrote Ganshōkimyōben to correct the former extreme position propagated by Ryūyō (龍養)in Echizen but he went too far to the extent that he fell into the latter extreme. Kōzon insisted that mere understanding of the story of the Primal Vow is not sufficient for salvation and Shin practicers need to beg Amida for salvation earnestly with bodily, verbal and mental actions (sangō).

Ganshōkimyōben was highly-valued for its contribution in correcting the error of mukimyō-anjin. Kōzon was eventually chosen as the seventh Nōke, the head scholar, of the Academy. He was a disciplinarian scholar and was well-respected for many years. But in his last years, many scholars in and outside of the Nishi-Honganji institution, came to criticize the Ganshōkimyōben. There existed about thirty pro-and-con books on Ganshōkimyōben. Among its critics were Hōgon(宝厳), a scholar of the Higashi-Honganji, and Hōkō(法高), the abbot of Kōshoji, whom Kōzon could not control with his authority as the Nōke. Hōgon's book, Kofukuki(興復記), became especially sensational because the Academy requested the Kyoto City Commissioner's Office (Kyōto Machi-bugyōsho京都町奉行所) to stop selling this popular book. However, they failed and, in the end, they bought the printing block itself from the publisher to prevent its circulation. In the meantime, Kōzon passed away and Chidō succeeded to the head scholar's position following the will of Kōzon. The finishing blow to the Ganshōkimyōben was Daiei's Ōchō jikidō kongō hei, which the Academy succeeded in preventing the circulation. The Academy could not rebut the precise critique of Daiei and instead tried to suppress the anti-Academy group by political power. The Ryukoku Daigaku Sanbyakunen-shi maintains that it was the spiritual degradation of Shin Buddhist followers and the unfair attitude of the Academy that caused the non-religious disturbance in the Sangōwakuran Incident. The Shogunate’s intervention and its decision was, according to this book, appropriate since the Nishi-Honganji did not have the power to suppress the riots, while the government left the final religious judgement to the abbot.

This book explains that if a person's desire for birth in the Pure Land was necessary for salvation, it would be the same as the teaching of the Seizan School of the Pure Land Buddhism (Seizan-gi 西山義). It is undeniable that Pure Land Buddhism as a whole put emphasis on the desire for birth in the Pure Land rather than faith. Therefore the pro-Academy emphasis on the desire for birth in the Pure Land cannot be considered the correct interpretation without some justification. However, the book says that Shin Buddhism is not only a kind of Pure Land Buddhism but rather the ‘True’ Pure Land Buddhism. Shin Buddhism is the pure Other-Power teaching that does not contain any remnant of self-power. Therefore what characterizes a follower of the Absolute Other Power are two kinds of deep faith (nishu-jinshin 二種深信), i.e. ki-no-jinshin (機の深信deep awareness of oneself as full of evil passions and incapable of salvation) and ho-no-jinshin (法の深信absolute trust in Amida's salvation). What Daiei clarified was, therefore, the essence of Shin Buddhism. The final conclusion of this Sangōwakuran chapter of the Ryukoku Daigaku Sanbyakunenshi is:

Looking at it in this way, we realize the great contributions made by Daiei and Dōon and that the Sangōwakuran was not a meaningless disturbance. It is consoling that, thanks to the incident, yokushō-shōin (欲生正因desire for birth in the Pure Land is the right cause for salvation) and sangō-kimyō-setsu (三業帰命説the theory that bodily, verbal and mental actions are necessary for salvation) were annihilated and that the genuine character of Shin Buddhism was made explicit, in spite of the fact that these theories had been influential in the Academy. In other words, a 'return to Shinran' movement was accomplished here and therefore the significance of the disturbance was great.

That the above-mentioned understanding of the Sangōwakuran incident has been the traditional and established theory can be confirmed in Honganji-shi (‘The History of the Honganji’) officially published by Nishi-Honganji from 1961 to 1984. The contents of the chapter dedicated to the Sangōwakuran incident is similar to the Ryukoku Daigaku Sanbyakunen shi and therefore we will not discuss it here.

A typical example of a traditional black-and-white type understanding of the Sangōwakuran can be seen in Fuji Shusui's book, Sangōwakuran . Fuji describes the series of violent events in the Sangōwakuran incident and makes a clear-cut evaluation: the pro-Academy group was oppressively heretical and the anti-Academy side was the righteous defender of the true faith of Shin Buddhism. In this book, Daiei is treated as the tragic hero of the incident. A graduate of Tokyo Imperial University, Fuji was one of the opinion leaders among the Nishi-Honganji intellectuals of his period and was known as one of the re-discoverers of myōkonin. It was Fuji whom D.T. Suzuki requested to gather information on Saiichi, a famous myōkonin whom D.T. Suzuki highly regarded in his book.

Another example of the traditional understanding of the Sangōwakuran incident can be found in Ianjin written by Dr. Mitsuyuki Ishida. He maintains that the pro-Academy interpretation of faith is a degenerate understanding of anjin because to desire to be saved by bodily, verbal and mental actions directed toward Amida is an arbitrary action by human beings. In his book, he quotes Kōzon's famous parable in Ganshō-Kimyō-ben that a chicken needs to send signals to his/her mother to be hatched though it is the mother who always embraces and warms the egg until the time comes to destroy the eggshell from outside. Dr. Ishida criticizes Kōzon for applying such biological relationships to the relationship between men and Amida. He insists that Shinran's "faith without reasoning" (hakarai naki shinkō) can be understood only when such a relationship based on biological or human love is overthrown and replaced by absolute obedience and reliance on Amida. According to Dr. Ishida, it is anti-Academy local scholars such as Daiei who protected the genuine understanding of anjin transmitted from Shinran, Kakunyo and Rennyo.

Professor Zensho Asaeda, a historian of Ryukoku University, also supports the above-mentioned traditional understanding of the Sangōwakuran incident. Following the order of events, he described those who abused religious authority and tried to suppress the people who requested that the Academy answer their questions on genuine Shin Buddhist faith. He warns that one should not try to understand the Sangōwakuran as a mere theological disputes apart from the historical facts.

To understand the Sangōwakuran incident as introduced above has been, as it were, the established theory and common knowledge even among ordinary Japanese. Since the Sangōwakuran was very dramatic, it has been attracting some writers such as Kosai Chigiri , a screenwriter, and Ryotaro Shiba , one of the most influential contemporary historical novelists in Japan. Both of them describe the Sangōwakuran according to the traditional understanding. These writers were not necessarily amateur researchers of the Sangōwakuran. Chigiri made intensive studies on the records of the Sangōwakuran such as Hanseikiryaku and Zoku-Hanseikiryaku. He also visited various relevant places and people to write his book, which has been the only comprehensive major work on the Sangōwakuran so far. Ryotaro Shiba frequently visited the Ohmiya library of Ryukoku University when he was a journalist specializing in religion before becoming an independent writer. According to Shiba, one of his forefathers was a member of the Saigatō who fought at the front line for the Honganji in the Ishiyama War against Oda Nobunaga – hence his interest in Shin Buddhism. Shiba comments that Chidō tried to add some ‘spice’ to Shin Buddhist faith but it was apparently against Shinran's teaching of Absolute Other Power.

2) Pro-Academy Stance

The second perspective is to re-evaluate the pro-Academy interpretation of faith. As mentioned before, the present author found that some leading Western scholars seem to take this position or are, at least, very sympathetic to Chidō.

For example, Dr. Kenneth Tanaka writes:

A major argument about doctrine broke out among the scholars of Nishi Honganji at the end of the 1700s. On one side stood the professors of the Academy (the highest center of sectarian learning) in Kyoto and, on the other side, were the scholars in the remote areas. The Academy professors wanted to emphasize the dynamic dimension of "Shinjin awareness" as manifested in one's daily activities. They thought it was important to express one's spiritual understanding in the way we act, speak, and think. The technical name for this is "the three karmic actions" (sangō) of mind, body and speech. The scholars from the outlying areas, on the other hand, argued that the serene mind of Shinjin awareness is central to the life of the person of Shinjin awareness. In their view, the three karmic actions become uncomfortably close to being self-power practice. The clash can be seen as a difference between a more active and outward interpretation versus a more passive and inward emphasis.

That is to say, Dr. Tanaka appears to support the Academy’s interpretation of anjin. He considers that the winners of the incident were decided by the politics of the period.

While arguments about doctrine were nothing new to the Shinshu tradition, what draws our attention to this dispute is how much the government controlled and interfered in the affairs of religious institutions. The government in the Tokugawa period was very much against any kind of change. It is not surprising, then, that the government courts finally brought an end to the argument in 1806 by deciding against any change in the doctrine. The winning side in this case happened to be the more passive definition favored by the scholars in the outlying areas. This decision was largely based on a simple rule: Accept the old and reject the new! Chidō, the head scholar of the Academy at the time, not only lost the case but faced a punishment of exile to a distant island. But because he had died in prison before the verdict was handed down, it is reported that his ashes were sent to the island in his place!

Dr. Tanaka understands the influence of Sangōwakuran as being politically solved by the Shogunate government in the following way:

The dispute and the way it was solved had a strong impact on the way the teachings would be understood. Today, the passive definition is dominant in the Nishi Honganji teachings. The emphasis is on the activities of Amida Buddha over those of the human seeker. There is little stress on the active definition of Shinjin whose advocates lost out in the government decision of 1806.

Dr. Taitesu Unno also seems to share the same understanding. Though he does not specifically mention the Sangōwakuran incident, he characterizes Shinshu-gaku, or orthodox Shin scholasticism, established after the Sangōwakuran as follows:

... Since Buddhism could pose a potential threat to Tokugawa rule, they utilized all kinds of strategies, such as temple registration (the basis of the monto-system), and encouraged sectarian scholarships by awarding prizes and favors to weaken institutional Buddhism. Thus was born Shinshu-gaku, a scholastic interpretation of Shinran's teaching, turning inward and deflecting any criticism of the government. In its place was secured a Confucian ideology which was ideally suited for a hierarchical feudalistic order. Among the several branches of Shinshu-gaku within the Nishi Hongwanji, one of the more conservative branches became dominant, and Shin doctrine became rigidly ideological. As a consequence, Shin has become irrelevant to the needs of contemporary people in Japan and even more so to the Japanese Americans.

Just like Dr. Kenneth Tanaka, Dr. Unno also seems to worry that traditional orthodox Shin Buddhist scholasticism put excessive emphasis on Other-power and neglected the potential of individual action.

Since the orthodox Shin teaching has stressed the working of absolute Other-power exclusively, any exploration of the individual to attain such an awareness has been rejected as a self-power deviation. The label of heterodoxy (ianjin) has been used to cut off any meaningful discussion of the personal quest.

Dr. Taitesu Unno also states:

The stress on absolute Other-power, the exclusive emphasis on faith, the discouragement of any questioning, the appeal to human feelings and so on all contribute to the anti-intellectualism contained in traditional Shin discourse. Shin Buddhism today has become an authoritarian religion, rejecting all forms of independent thinking and questioning.

In summary, these two American scholars seem to understand:

  1. The Sangōwakuran was politically solved by the Shogunate government because the feudalistic government disliked any kind of change that could threaten the social order.
  2. As a result, a backward-looking scholasticism (Shinshūgaku) was established as orthodox which overemphasized the Other-power and neglected human potential, and
  3. Shin Buddhism, as such, came to be irrelevant to contemporary people, especially for American immigrants.

A similar understanding of the Sangōwakuran incident does exist in Japan. For example, in his major work, Shinran niokeru Shin no Kenkyu, Professor Takamaro Shigaraki characterizes the Edo Shogunate policies on religion just as the above-mentioned American scholars do and maintains that the Shin Buddhist studies (shinshūgaku) established in the Edo period (Edo Shūgaku) subordinated itself to the Abbot of the Honganji and the Shogunate government. Shinshūgaku as such inevitably came to be excessively abstract and irrelevant to daily living. He also insists that the Sangōwakuran incident destroyed any meaningful discussion of the possibility of positive faith that the pro-Academy scholars insisted on . In another book, he states that Daiei 'understood practice (gyo行) excessively from the standpoint of the Buddha and did not look at it from the human perspective because he had to stand in the breach against the theory of the Gakurin Academy. As a result, his understanding became too abstract and lost reality. Sōei must have realized this shortcoming as he was watching [Daiei] from the closest place.'

Another Japanese researcher who understands the Sangōwakuran incident in a similar way is Professor Yūsen Kashiwahara. In his paper, Shinshu ni okeru Ianjin no Mondai, he briefly described the incident and comments that the differences between the pro-Academy and anti-Academy interpretation of faith is subtle and not decisive. The Shogunate judgement was made to maintain the institution, especially the authority of the Abbot. According to Professor Kashiwahara, the Sangōwakuran debate presupposed the absolute and inviolable authority of the Abbot.

Let us now examine if this type of understandings of the Sangōwakuran is accurate. First, as we saw in the earlier section of this paper, it was the Honganji that requested the Shogunate’s intervention in the incident. In other words, the Shogunate government did not care much about the incident until the dispute became a violent mass movement to the extent that the Nishi-Honganji head administrator could not handle the issue any longer. In fact, the Commissioner of Kyoto City said that he could not avoid questions about theological issues, which was irrelevant to the government, because they lead the violent turmoil. Also, if the feudalistic government intervened in the incident in order to prevent potentially harmful change for them, it is much more natural to think that the government should have stood for the pro-Academy side which had grasped both political and academic authority in the Nishi-Honganji as well as the Academy. The Shogunate government did not have any need to change the established Nishi-Honganji hierarchical power structure at all. The Academy was the highest academic and educational institution of the Nishi-Honganji, where Chidō's relatives and former students had the majority of the highest administrative positions. Besides, Chidō's interpretation was faithful to the traditional and orthodox Academy understanding of Shin Buddhist faith. In other words, it was Chidō's interpretation that was "conservative" in the Academy. What is more, the majority of executive administrators in the Nishi-Honganji supported the pro-Academy side at least until the Commissioner of the Temples and Shrines issued a warning favoring the anti-Academy side. Therefore, if the Shogunate government intended to prevent any social change, they would have suppressed the anti-Academy minority group.

Furthermore, both the Commissioner of Kyoto City and the Commissioner of the Temple and Shrines did not judge the disputes arbitrarily. Certainly they were very harsh in the hearings to both parties. They gave both sides enough time to debate in front of them. The incredibly detailed records of these trials prove how serious these trials were. Both judges not only tried to reveal as many facts as possible about the Sangōwakuran dispute by summoning people from both sides, but they also tried to understand the theological differences between the two parties by asking considerably technical questions to the scholars summoned in the trials as we will discuss later.

What is more amazing was that Commissioner Wakisaka in Edo tried to understand Shin Buddhism privately under Kogatsuin Jinrei, a third-party scholar belonging to the Higashi-Honganji. Besides, he also gave both Chidō and Doōn one more chance at the end of the trial to write about their understanding on faith and let the Abbot of the Nishi-Honganji decide which was orthodox. Also, the Commissioner severely punished both sides regardless of the orthodoxy established by the trial. Judging from these facts, it seems safe to say that the Sangōwakuran trials were conducted quite fairly. If the government really wished to suppress one of the parties, they could have done so easily without such troublesome and time-consuming judicial procedures held twice in Kyoto and Edo.

It should be also noted that our understanding of religion in the Edo period has been changing considerably in Japan. For many years since the study of Zennosuke Tsuji, it had been almost an established theory that the religion of the Edo period was completely subordinate to the oppressive Shogunate and therefore became obsessively abstract and irrelevant for the people. However, this reductionistic understanding of the religion of the Edo period has been challenged by recent historians and has been losing its credibility. For example, Professor Shiki Kodama, a historian of Ryukoku University, states that Shin Buddhism in the Edo period had something very powerful that threatened the Shogunate and therefore the Shogunate often suppressed Shin Buddhists. The suppressed Shin Buddhists, however, had enough power to protest against the government. If the Shin Buddhist temples were completely subordinate to the Shogunate and functioned as a tool for the government, we could not account for these frequent Shin Buddhist uprisings against the government.

Also, considerable freedom of religion existed even in the Edo period. For example, both Daiei and Sōei changed their residences a few times. Sometimes they were requested to be the residential ministers of particular temples by earnest lay followers and sometimes they were forced out of these temples because they neglected their daily obligations as residential ministers due to their intensive research activities. At the end of their careers, both scholars established their own private seminar schools in Aki Province where many students eventually became eminent scholars. Apart from the Academy in Kyoto, there were quite a few private seminars as such in various local provinces in the Edo period. If the Shogunate government intended to weaken the potentially threatening power of the Nishi-Honganji by encouraging research activities and if they really wanted to control religious affairs by taking advantages of the stable hierarchical system of the Nishi-Honganji, they would not have allowed such private seminars. Freedom of religion seemed to be more widely accepted in this period than we usually imagine.

Secondly, it was not necessarily true that today's Shinshugaku was established as the result of the Sangōwakuran incident. Even after the incident, there have been more than ten different academic schools in the Nishi-Honganji organization such as the Seien School (芿園学派Seien-gakuha), the Sekisen School(石泉学派), the Sekisyu School (石州学派)and the Kuge School(空華学派). The scholars loyal to each school seriously debated each other even after the incident, though these arguments did not lead to any violent turmoil. In other words, the Sangōwakuran incident was not the end of the theological disputes. Up until now, many different understandings of faith have been in existence and quite a few scholars were severely criticized as heretics by their opponents. It should also be noted that the Seien School, which the disciples of Daiei established, soon lost its influence . The school of the Daiei, which might have "overemphasized the Other-power and neglected human potentiality", has never been the orthodox stream in Shinshugaku, though Daiei alone established his name as a hero of the incident. This means that we cannot blame Daiei and his seemingly passive interpretation of Shin Buddhist faith as the origin of the serious issues that today's Shinshūgaku and Shin Buddhist communities are facing.

One of the academic streams that became very influential after the Sangōwakuran incident was the Sekisen School. The founder of this school was Sōei (僧叡 1762-1826), a younger cousin and the closest friend of Daiei. They were born and grew up in the same mountainous village and studied together in the capital of Aki province under the same master, Eun (1730-1782). Two days before Daiei's death, Sōei gave a lecture in Aki province to re-evaluate the issue of personal practices again, though his reasoning was different from the pro-Academy one, and was criticized bitterly by his colleagues. Also, when he gave a lecture in the Nishi-Honganji on the relationship between practice and faith (gyōshin 行信), some members of the audience criticized him as a heretic who maintained that chanting was the right cause for salvation (shomyo-shoin 称名正因). He was summoned by the Nishi Honganji to be questioned. In the end, however, Soei was chosen as one of the five eminent lecturers (shikyō 司教) of the Nishi-Honganji in 1825 at the end of his life. Many disciples of Sōei were chosen as kangaku later and Soei was also given the title of kangaku in 1911, though almost one century after his death.

Third, it is doubtful if Shin Buddhism became irrelevant for contemporary people because of the conservative Shinshūgaku established in the Edo period. It is true that the established Shinshūgaku has been dealing with an incredibly detailed analysis of almost every single word of Shinran, Rennyo, the Pure Land sutras, etc. to the extent that there seems nothing new to be studied any more and we cannot say anything until we read all the accumulated researches. The only thing we are allowed, it seems, is to memorize established cliches. However, we should not forget that serious debates have exisited throughout the history of Shin Buddhism and the established Shinshugaku was, as it were, the accumulated wisdom of Shin Buddhist history, which should not be taken lightly. What is to be blamed seems neither the Shinshūgaku established in the Edo period nor the Shogunate policy to control religious affairs but contemporary followers of Shin Buddhism who have forgotten honest questioning, serious inquiry and, above all, free arguments without restraint that we have seen among the scholars in the Edo period. The established Shinshugaku interpretation is sometimes criticized as too passive, but we should not forget that, with such seemingly passive shinjin, scholars like Daiei and Shuntei positively fought against the then political and academic authority at the risk of their lives.

3) Neutral stance

The third stance is to ignore both the violent turmoil and the Shogunate intervention and try to deal with the Sangōwakuran incident as a purely theological issue. For example, in an article included in Ryukoku-daigaku Sanbyaku-gojūnen-shi (‘350 Year History of Ryukoku University’), Professor Kenju Fugen did not mention what happened in the Sangōwakuran incident at all but evaluated Chidō as a great scholar. He admits that Chidō's interpretation of faith is one of the possibilities. Professor Fugen speculates that if Chidō had behaved like the disciplinarian Kōzon, the Sangōwakuran turmoil would never have occurred. The present author could not afford the time to check if Professor Fugen wrote about the Sangōwakuran incident in other papers with different perspectives. What is certain at least is that there is an astonishing difference between this book and its predecessor, Ryukoku Daigaku Sanbyakunenshi in dealing with the Sangōwakuran Incident.

Another example of this attitude can be seen in Professor Shōjitsu Ohara's book, Shinshū Ganshōron no Kenkyū. This is a comprehensible study on the theory of desire for birth in the Pure Land (gansho ron 願生論) that the pro-Academy scholars insisted upon. In this book, Professor Ohara tries to be neutral, clarifying the origins and the stream of the Sangōwakuran incident. This book also does not deal with the physical turmoil caused by the event. What, specifically, did the scholars of each side debate in front of the judges at the risk of their lives in the Sangōwakuran?

3. The core issue of the debate

The various themes debated between the two parties were almost all centered on the interpretation of Rennyo's word ‘tanomu’. To put it simply, the pro-Academy side interpreted it as ‘to beg’ and the anti-Academy side as ‘to rely on’. That is to say, the pro-Academy side requires Shin Buddhist practicers to ‘beg’ for salvation actively toward Amida. The opposing side, on the other hand, maintained that Nembutsu followers should just ‘rely on’ Amida's Primal Vow which promised that even the most sinful and ignorant people will be saved solely by the compassion of the Other Power.

Rennyo used ‘tanomu’ many times in his Letters (Gobunshō 御文章or Ofumi 御文), a collection of his letters. One of the typical sentences using this verb ‘tanomu’ is:

'Kokoro wo hitotsunishite Amida wo fukaku tanomi mairasete...'

The pro-Academy side would interpret this sentence as:

'Being single-minded, deeply beg Amida Buddha [to save us]... '

The anti-Academy side would understand it as:

'Being single-minded, deeply rely on Amida Buddha [who promised to save us]...'

In the trials, the Commissioner of Kyoto City and the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines also asked questions about 'tanomu'. The following dialogue between the Commissioner of Kyoto City and Daiei is just one of many examples of theological arguments between the judges and scholars:


If so, the New-School's [interpretation of] ‘tanomu’ (to beg Amida for salvation) seems to indicate that their faith is light and the Old-School's ‘tanomu ichinen’ (to rely on Amida single-mindedly) seems to prove that their faith is very deep.


What you said is exactly right. In shinjin (faith) of the Other-Power, there is no room for self-calculation. Because we completely rely on Buddha, our shinjin is very deep.


If we follow the New-school's interpretation and beg [Amida] for salvation, and there is no response from the Buddha, we cannot obtain anjin (settled mind), can we?


That is right. Since they insist on two requirements, i.e. single-minded begging and believing in the settlement of their salvation and birth in the Pure Land, they have this difficulty. From the beginning, they do not have the conviction of birth in the Pure Land upon trusting the message of the Primal Vow in which the Buddha promised our salvation. Calculating to be saved, they make a vow by themselves and therefore, if there is no response from the Buddha, they cannot acquire the conviction of being definitely saved.

Judging from other similar dialogues between judges and scholars, it is safe to say that the trials were conducted fairly by impressively intelligent and serious judges. These judges also knew that the interpretation of ‘tanomu’ was the focus of the theological arguments between pro-Academy and anti-Academy groups.

After all, which interpretation was correct? In the trial, Daiei pointed out that the word ‘tanomu’ was a synonym for ‘shin’ (faith) and did not mean to ‘beg’ or ‘request’ but meant to ‘rely on’ in Rennyo's usage. To prove this, Daiei quoted various ancient usages of this word. Rev. Sene Inagi, a contemporary kangaku, checked various dictionaries and concluded that this word usually meant to ‘rely on’ or ‘count on’ in Rennyo's days and did not imply ‘to beg’ or ‘to request’ as we generally mean by it today.

As mentioned before, Rennyo used ‘tanomu’ quite often in his Letters, but Shinran did not. According to Professor Tomoyasu Hayashi, Rennyo adopted this word following Yuien who used it often in Tannisho. This means that if Yuien and Rennyo meant ‘begging’ by ‘tanomu’, they should be labeled as heretical just as Chidō was. Daiei's bibliographical explanation of Rennyo's ‘tanomu’ as ‘to rely on’, therefore, saved the foundation of the Honganji lineage of Shin Buddhism. It should be noted here that Professor Chiko Matsuyama of the Takada School (Takada-ha 高田派) maintained, in 1959 - about one and a half centuries after the Sangōwakuran incident - that Rennyo's understanding of faith contains self-power because Rennyo's faith requires ‘tanomu’ (begging) and therefore is different from Shinran's faith. To this argument, Professor Sokusui Murakami rebutted him in a considerably resentful tone. Rennyo's use of ‘tanomu’ has been controversial throughout the history of Shin Buddhism.

4. Significance of the Daiei's Interpretation of Anjin

The Sangōwakuran incident sacrificed many people due to the differences in the interpretation of virtually just one word; namely, the meaning of Rennyo’s use of ‘tanomu’. Were these sacrifices worth the results? Was it only over the issue of the three modes of actions (sangō) for attaining salvation that this ten-year-long debate was pursued? How could it be meaningful for contemporary Shin Buddhists? What can we learn for engaged Shin Buddhism?

Through this incident, we have learned that even the most educated Shin Buddhist scholars such as Kōzon and Chidō, if not Daiei and Doōn , could misunderstand Shinran's teaching. Of course, this fact is not new for us at all. Zenran distorted his father's teaching. Yuen had to write Tannishō to lament the prevailing misunderstandings of Shinran's teaching. Kakunyo tried to correct heresies by his Kaijashō. Rennyo created a huge institution but he also had to write many letters to criticize distorted ideas that his followers had. Shin Buddhists had to create many technical terms to label heresies such as Jugō-hiji, Dozō-hiji, Zenchishiki-danomi, Mukimyō-anjin, Shōmyō-shōin, Koshin no Mida Yuishin no Jōdo, etc. If even talented scholars could fall into heresies so easily, ignorant ordinary people seem to be much more vulnerable. Is it not sinful and foolish ordinary men whom Shin Buddhism has been trying to save?

It is not only internal criticism but also outside challenges that contemporary Shin Buddhists have to worry about. Being critical of the Shinshugaku tradition is not unusual today among polemicists in various fields. Shinran has been overwhelmingly popular among contemporary Japanese intellectuals and we have now many different interpretations of Shinran's teaching made by historians, philosophers, Christian theologians, Marxists, novelists and so on. Besides, these writers' books circulate much better than traditional Shinshugaku scholars' books. As a result, our traditional understanding of Shin Buddhism is shaky. For example, some scholars are now insisting that Yuien, Rennyo and Myokonin distorted Shinran's faith. Provocative Post-modern Shin Buddhism (Post-modern no Shinshu) and Critical Buddhism (Hihan Bukkyo) movements are also challenging the core meaning of the traditional Shin Buddhism and Shin Buddhist institutions.

We also know that Shin Buddhism after the Meiji Restoration has been attuned to the prevalent thinking of the time such as nationalism, Christian theology, Marxism, existentialism, ecumenical movement and so on. It is true that comparative studies of Shin Buddhism and these ways of thinking are necessary to communicate with people living in a particular philosophical climate. However, are we sure that Shin Buddhists have been succeeding in clarifying the uniqueness of Shinran's teaching through the various comparisons? Are we supposed to appreciate the diversity of interpretations like a diamond emits different colors depending on our perspective? Or should we clarify the uniqueness of Shinran's teaching to retrieve the specific problems of particular people living in contemporary society which only Shin Buddhism can solve?

To look at the Sangōwakuran incident from a different angle, let us now think about the incident, using the ocean parable introduced by Dr. Kenneth Tanaka in his book Ocean. The story goes as follows:

At night a ship leaves the port of a tropical island. After many hours on the high seas a sailor falls overboard. No one on the ship notices that the man is missing, and the ship sails on its way. The water is chilly, and the waves are choppy. It is hauntingly dark. The sailor paddles frantically to keep afloat.

He then starts to swim toward an island he saw before he fell overboard. He has lost all sense of direction and is not sure that he is heading the right way. Though he is a good swimmer, his arms and legs soon grow weary. His lungs are tired, and he gasps for air. The sailor feels lost and totally alone in the middle of the ocean. This could be the end for him. As despair overcomes him, his energy drains from him like sand from an hourglass. He begins to choke on the water slapping his face, and he can feel his body being dragged under.

At this instant he hears a voice from the depth of the ocean, 'Let go. Let go of your striving! You're fine just as you are! Namo Amida Butsu.'

The sailor hears the voice and stops his useless striving to swim by his own power. Instead, he turns over on his back with limbs outstretched as if he were in a backyard hammock on a lazy summer afternoon. He is overjoyed to find that the ocean holds him afloat without any effort on his part!

As Dr. Tanaka states, this story 'captures the heart of Jodo-Shinshu spirituality' but, as far as the methodology to realize the buoyancy of the ocean is concerned, there could be different understandings. We could say that it was only after his striving that the sailor could find the power. Therefore his striving was not vain but necessary. We could also imagine that the sailor most likely knew the existence of such power because he must have learned it in his marine school when he trained to be a sailor. The only thing that he had to do was to calm down and remember the power that had been always existing from the beginningless beginning. We could argue endlessly on the methodology of how to get that realization as far as the protagonist was an experienced sailor.

Suppose another man also fell into the dark ocean and was drowning near this sailor. He was a peasant from a mountainous area and had been reluctantly brought to the ship to work like a slave. Of course, he had neither studied buoyancy nor practiced swimming in a school. He did not even have the basic education necessary to read books about the ocean and swimming. For the drowning peasant it was meaningless to understand what he should have prepared beforehand and too late to practice swimming. He was drowning right here and right now. What should he do? Is it the desire to be saved or the reliance on the ocean that save him? What would this sailor, who finally found the floating power of the ocean after long desperate struggles, suggest to this peasant? Dr. Tanaka’s parable was introduced to elucidate the difference in the respective self-understanding of the sailor and the peasant. The sailor could not remember the buoyancy until swimming exhausted him. The peasant could not help relying on the ocean because he was exhausted enough before he fell down the ocean and incapable of swimming: he did not have any other alternative. In other words, those who could rely on the buoyancy were those who had become exhausted in lengthy self-power struggle or those who thoroughly realized the vanity of self-power for salvation.

When we compare Kōzon's Ganshō-Kimyō-ben and Daiei's Ōchō-Jikidō-Kongō-hei we can easily find that Daiei repeats the ‘Two Rivers and the White Path’ (niga-byakudō 二河白道) parable and the importance of the two aspects of deep faith (nishu-jinshin 二種深信), while Kōzon does not say much about them. The biggest theological problem of Shin Buddhism in our contemporary world seems to be that it does not explain how to obtain shinjin, which is the only cause for the birth in the Pure Land and is supposed to be a gift from the Buddha. In other words, there is no way for aspirants to obtain the faith by themselves with self-power practices. Because of this lack of methodology to obtain shinjin, there have been many so-called heresies (ianjin) throughout Shin Buddhist history. What those heterodox thinkers usually try to offer Pure Land aspirants are specific methods to obtain faith, mystical conversion experiences, strong charismatic leaders and so on. In other words, these heretics provide the aspirants with a strong attachment which can be grasped in this world, which Shinran never tried to offer.

For the above-mentioned drowning peasant, however, there is no need for such methodology because there is no alternative for him. The only necessary wisdom for him is to realize the vanity of his self-power struggle and to trust the buoyancy of the ocean. He can realize the power much faster than the sailor who relies on his own power and skill until he gets completely exhausted. From the beginning, Shin Buddhism has been taught for poor people like the above-mentioned peasant and, in fact, the majority of Shin Buddhist followers have been such poor peasants. Both the ‘Two Rivers and the White Path’ parable and two aspects of deep faith indicates that Pure Land Buddhism is for those who do not have any other alternative except trusting Amida's Primal Vow. By emptying one's self-power or attachment to ego, one is able to realize the compassion of Amida for the first time. Shinjin awareness is a kind of Copernican change in our perspective, i.e. from an egocentric to an Amida-centric worldview. In order to receive this new perception, what we need is to realize the foolishness of ourselves instead of competing with our human wisdom.


Some people simply regard the Academy side as bad and its successful opponent as good. Others explain away the Sangōwakuran as politically solved by Shogunate intervention. They insist that the government of that time simply chose the seemingly passive traditionalists to maintain the social order and get rid of the Academy scholars with their more positive and progressive interpretations on religious practices. However, the Sangōwakuran incident was a far more complicated and serious issue that should not be treated with such black-and-white judgements. The fact that scholars of both sides seriously took up the debate at the risk of their lives should not be taken lightly. The Sangōwakuran Incident is still a very touchy issue but it is a crucially important incident requiring serious attention. The debate in this incident contains an invaluable theme for researchers, ministers and lay followers of Shin Buddhism.

When we think of how to get ourselves engaged with real society and what to do as Shin Buddhists in our contemporary globalized world, this tragic incident should surely give us many important clues. Or at least, the Sangōwakuran incident is able to provide us with an archetypical story of the Shin Buddhist riddle on the relationship between practice and faith. This incident always reminds the present author of the story in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (Liu-tsu t’an-ching 六祖壇経). In this famous Zen text, an illiterate peasant, Hui-Neng (慧能) who had neither practiced nor studied anything was chosen as the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen tradition by defeating an elite scholar-monk Shen-hsiu(神秀). The latter put emphasis on physical practice and the necessity of the continuous polishing of our inner mirror, while the former maintained that there was no such mirror from the beginning. Like a recurring dream, both puzzling stories would make us think of what is self-power and Other Power, practice and faith, knowledge and wisdom, and above all who is the ‘I’ who tries to practice when there is supposed to be no ego in Buddhism. When we seek to find the uniqueness of Shin Buddhist faith and the inherent reasons which enable it to contribute something unique to the world, the Sangōwakuran incident should surely give us important topics to consider. We do not need to repeat the same tragedy again. But in order to avoid the tragedy, we have to learn from it. Instead of ignoring it or making the incident a kind of scapegoat for our contemporary problems, we should see through this historical incident thoroughly and carry it on our back as our archetypical narrative by which we can consider the meaning of Shin Buddhist faith.

Lastly, let us think of Daiei and Chidō again. Daiei with irrecoverable disease was ready for his immediate death all the time, while Chidō faced it for the first time when he was exiled to a remote island. The present author would like to imagine that Chidō finally heard the call of Amida at the very moment he gave up his calling to Amida.

This paper is based on the author’s presentation in the 10th Conference of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies held during August 2 - 4, 2001 at Otani University.

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