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Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism (Kuroda Studies in East Asian Buddhism) Paperback – May 31, 2003
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A careful reading and re-reading by this reviewer has only served to confirm the aptness of the superlatives lavished by the above colleagues, themselves pace-setting scholars of Japanese Buddhism., The Eastern Buddhist XXXII
A sophisticated and complex study, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
A brilliant presentation and analysis of an influential discourse in Japanese Buddhism, religion, and culture.... Everybody must get Stone., Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
Stone’s excellent treatment ... will become the new benchmark for all subsequent inquiries into this topic., Journal of Japanese Studies
One of very few seminal works on Japanese Buddhism.... Stone’s meticulous research and style brings a greater understanding of perhaps the most important period and movement in Japanese Buddhist history., Daily Yomiuri
This book brims over with stimulating discussions, sharp analyses, and a variety of interesting topics., IIAS Newsletter
Eine ausgezeichnete Grundlage, NOAG
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In contrast, the doctrine of "original enlightenment" (hongaku) makes liberation readily accessible to all beings in a moment's realization. Jacqueline Stone writes :" Liberation is reimagined, not as the eradication of mental defilements or as achieving birth in a pure land after death, but as the insight, or even the faith, that one has been enlightened from the very beginning." This idea was immensely appealing to the Japanese who lived in the dangerous Kamakura period (1185-1333), and suffered from a whole series of natural disasters and violent events, but its source was much earlier. Jacqueline considers the most influential source to be the sixth century treatise "The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana" which likened the originally enlightened mind to the still depths of the ocean which when stirred by the winds of ignorance produces waves of deluded thoughts. In truth, a similar idea can already be found in the Shakyamuni's Numerical Discourses (not mentioned in this book) " mind, monks, is luminous, but it is cleansed of taints that come from without. This the educated disciple understands as it really is". Moving on to chapter twelve of the Lotus Sutra, which reflects Shakyamuni's later thought, we find an example of instant and universal enlightenment in the attainment of Buddhahood in a moment by the eight year old daughter of the dragon king. If such a lowly creature can attain enlightenment so quickly, maybe we all can? This example was cited by Saicho (also known as Dengyo) who founded the Tendai school in ninth century Japan and asserted the superiority of The Lotus sutra over all others because it reflected the Buddha's own enlightenment. But if the self is postulated to be a delusion where does Buddhahood come from?
The Nirvana Sutra postulated the existence of a universal Buddha nature (the tahagata-garbha or womb of Buddhahood).and the sixth T’ien-t’ai patriarch Chan-jan argued that not only human beings but even the grasses and trees have Buddha nature. Jacqueline Stone writes:
"the doctrine of the Buddha nature of insentient beings would exert a profound influence on both Tendai thought and Japanese Buddhism generally"
In the Kamakura period, a privileged group of well-educated male aristocrats filled the ranks of the clergy in the established Buddhist institutions of Tendai, Shingon and Nara which shared a base in esoteric Buddhist teachings and practices, while each school propagated its own particular exoteric doctrine. Fundamental to this exoteric-esoteric system (known as kenmitsu) were the esoteric magic Mikyo rituals performed by the temple shrine complexes for their aristocratic patrons to ward off danger and invite prosperity.. In return they received grants of extensive private estates. "Original enlightenment" doctrines were perfectly suited to establishment needs. Siacho initiated new precepts expressing innate Buddhahood, but the de-emphasis on external regulations led to the abandonment of moral guidelines, the development of warrior monks who razed rival temple shrines and also married and amassed property in violation of the monk's code. Clerical positions were kept within the noble families by father-to-son secret precept-essence transmissions or sold.
It was no wonder,that in this corrupt environment, there emerged new Kamakura Buddhist sects led by Nichiren, Honen, Esai, Shinran and Dogan "who began their careers as Tendai monks and studied on Mt. Hei, where hongaku thought was flourishing. They shared many ideas with Tendai hongaku like the direct access to Buddhahood for all even evil and ignorant people, and the primacy of faith. Each one of the new founders emphasized a single practice of Buddhism as a means of salvation e.g Nichiren chanting daimoku (the title of the Lotus Sutra), Honen reciting nembutsu (Amida;s name), Dogen's zazen. They were united in their condemnation of the corrupt self-interested establishment which gave priority to abstract thought divorced from the reality of everyday life. Nichiren, in particular was highly critical of Tendai scholars who now" fashion a document describing that heritage, put it in a brocade bag and hang it around their neck, or hide it away in a box and sell it for a high price".
The new movements denied the authority of the religious establishment, none more so than Nichiren, Jacqueline Stone expresses the uniqueness of Nichiren's ideas." Nichiren's uniqueness (as opposed to the Tendai or Shingon schools) was that, for him, the identity of the saha world (our world of suffering) and the Buddha's land was not only to be realized subjectively in the moment of practice but manifested in actuality; as faith in the Lotus Sutra spread from one person to another, there would occur an objective visible transformation of the outer world." For this, to happen it would be necessary to maintain staunch faith not only to realize Buddhahood but also to continue proving its effectivity in overcoming the adversities of this world. On the one hand, Nichiren saw innate Buddhahood as readily accessible for everybody so he could write" With regard to the Lotus Sutra, when one’s hand takes it up, that hand immediately attains Buddhahood, and when one’s mouth chants it, that mouth is itself a Buddha, " On the other hand, he strongly emphasized the need for continuous practice in order to triumph over inner darkness and their inevitable reflection in outer obstacles. In his words :"To accept is easy; to continue is difficult. But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith"
Jacqueline Stone has written a fine book about "original enlightenment" emphasizing its central role in transforming medieval Japanese Buddhism. This is book is a classic in its field.
From flyleaf: Original enlightenment thought (hongaku shiso) dominated Buddhist intellectual circles throughout Japan's medieval period. Enlightenment, this discourse claims, is neither a goal to be achieved nor a potential to be realized but the true status of all things. Every animate and inanimate object manifests the primordially enlightened Buddha just as it is. Seen in its true aspect, every activity of daily life?eating, sleeping, even one's deluded thinking?is the Buddha's conduct. Emerging from within the powerful Tendai school, ideas of original enlightenment were appropriated by a number of Buddhist traditions and influenced nascent theories about the kami (local deities) as well as medieval aesthetics and the literary and performing arts.
Scholars and commentators have long recognized the historical importance of original enlightenment thought but differ heatedly over how it is to be understood. Some tout it as the pinnacle of the Buddhist philosophy of absolute nondualism. Others claim to find in it the paradigmatic expression of a timeless Japanese spirituality. According to other readings, it represents a dangerous antinomianism that undermined observance of moral precepts, precipitated a decline in Buddhist scholarship, and denied the need for religious discipline. Still others denounce it as an authoritarian ideology that, by sacralizing the given order, has in effect legitimized hierarchy and discriminative social practices. Often the acceptance or rejection of original enlightenment thought is seen as the fault line along which traditional Buddhist institutions are to be differentiated from the new Buddhist movements (Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren) that arose during Japan's medieval period.
Jacqueline Stone's groundbreaking study moves beyond the treatment of the original enlightenment doctrine as abstract philosophy to explore its historical dimension. Drawing on a wealth of medieval primary sources and modern Japanese scholarship, it places this discourse in its ritual, institutional, and social contexts, illuminating its importance to the maintenance of traditions of lineage and the secret transmission of knowledge that characterized medieval Japanese elite culture. It sheds new light on interpretive strategies employed in premodern Japanese Buddhist texts, an area that hitherto has received little attention. Through these and other lines of investigation, Stone problematizes entrenched notions of "corruption" in the medieval Buddhist establishment. Using the examples of Tendai and Nichiren Buddhism and their interactions throughout the medieval period, she calls into question both overly facile distinctions between "old" and "new" Buddhism and the long?standing scholarly assumptions that have perpetuated them. This study marks a significant contribution to ongoing debates over definitions of Buddhism in the Kamakura era (1185-1333) , long regarded as a formative period in Japanese religion and culture. Stone argues that "original enlightenment thought" represents a substantial rethinking of Buddhist enlightenment that cuts across the distinction between "old" and "new" institutions and was particularly characteristic of the medieval period.
Top international reviews
A "must have" for anyone interested also in an in depth study of Nichiren Buddhism.