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The Soto Zen School in Modern Japan

Nara Yasuaki
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I. Introduction

The major issues faced by the Soto Zen School in modern Japan are primarily of a social and policy nature. These issues cannot simply be resolved on the level of doctrinal reflection, but have to be approached from an interdisciplinary perspective which includes cultural anthropology, ethnography, Buddhist studies, and religious studies. Therefore, in this paper, I will explore the emergence and directions of these issues from this kind of broad-ranging academic perspective. Especially given that we are at the precipice of a new century and celebrating the 800th anniversary of Doen's Zenji's birth, it seems like a perfect opportunity to explore how the Soto school should face these critical social and political issues now and in the future. This study is, however, neither a descriptive report of the current state of affairs nor the official position of the school, but rather an analysis of issues in contemporary Japanese Soto Zen that the author personally conceives as important.(1)

Since 1991, the Soto school has officially announced three major areas of concern: 1) human rights, 2) peace, and 3) the environment. In terms of human rights, the issue of the school's attitude towards the "buraku" (marginalized villager) population has been most dominant, but this concern certainly isn't limit to that topic. For example, in the 1980 Sotoshu Headquarters publication, Sotoshu kaigai kaikyo dendoshi (The History of Sotoshu's Overseas Propagation), some phrases which suggested ethnic discrimination as well as the school's participation in Japan's wartime militarism with its post-Meiji missionary temples particularly in Taiwan, Korea, and Sakhalin became apparent. Because of this, the publication was recalled and in explaining its actions, the Soto school officially admitted its wartime responsibility and publicly apologized.(2)
As for the environmental issue, most Buddhist schools in Japan have been active with this issue. With the Soto school, its "Green Plan" has highlighted the importance of environmental preservation to the general lay membership through activities (including the publications of pamphlets, short books, and calendars) sponsored by individual temples, youth groups, and women's groups. From a Buddhist perspective, the environmental issue also requires careful doctrinal reflection in addition to action. In the West, this type of work has already begun in earnest. For example, the recent publication of Buddhism and Ecology is one example.(3) Although Japanese Buddhist should have a great deal to say about environmental issues or the preservation of biodiversity, the list of works in this area is relatively small and is a promising area of future study.(4)

Another contemporary issue in Japan that the Soto school, as well as other Buddhist schools, has faced is bio-ethics, especially the issues of brain death and organ transplants. Unlike the West, there is relatively little consensus on these issues in Japan. Although the Brain Death and Organ Transplant Law passed in 1995, it took two years before the first transplant was conducted and up until 1999, only four operations have been authorized and completed. Through its Research and Propagation Center, the Soto school has developed its official position on this issue which was published as a special issue of the Sotoshu Shuho in 1999.(5)

Thus starting with the Soto school, Buddhist schools in modern Japan have actively engaged contemporary social issues. This type of activity on the part of Buddhist schools or its lay organizations would have been unthinkably just a few decades ago. But with rapid social changes and globalization, religious people have had to look at their responsibility in the world and actively engage it.

The Soto school has developed various institute to reflect and formulate policies on these contemporary issues. Up until the recent past, the Soto Zen school had three institutes that addressed issues such as outlined above: the Institute for Soto Studies, the Sotoshu Propagation Research Institute, and the Research Center for Modern Soto Studies. The first two institute have had a history of over 30 years and the Research Center for Modern Soto Studies was created in 1991 to most directly deal with these questions (for example, the main research on the school's position on bio-ethics and environmental issues was conducted here). But since April 1, 1999, the new Sotoshu Center for Buddhist Studies was created. The new center — which includes the above three institutes in a somewhat autonomous system — was not simply a lumping together of the three institutes, but has intentionally tried to develop clearer lines of communication among the three institutes and to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to these issues. To realize this goal more concretely, collaborative research themes have been instituted (the first being the theme of "funerals" which I will take up later).

In this paper, of all the contemporary social issues, I will focus on the questions of discrimination and funerals within the school.

II. The Human Rights Issue in the Soto School

The Background

The problem of discrimination has been the central aspect of the issue of human rights among religious organizations in Japan. Not only the Soto school, but other Buddhist schools and even Christian organizations, have had to face up to this issue. With the Soto school, this problem came into sharp relief since 1980 when vocal criticism of the school from the Buraku Liberation League (an association composed of "buraku" (lit. marginalized villagers) who have been discriminated against historically in Japan) began. The particular criticism of the Soto school began after the so-called "Matsuda incident" of 1978. At the 3rd World Conference on Religion and Peace, Rev. Matsuda (the President of the Administrative Headquarters of Soto Zen Buddhism) declared that there had never been any villages discriminated against (or any person treated as "untouchables") in Japan. He further claimed that only a small group of activists raised such issues and removed all references to this issue in the conference report. Although the claims of Buddhist discrimination by the Buraku Liberation League goes all the way back to the Meiji period, after the "Matsuda incident," the nature and enormity of this problem was suddenly magnified.(6)

To deal with this issue, the Soto school set up a review committee — the Dowa Shingikai — in 1981. The following year saw the establishment of the Human Rights Division (Jinken Yogo Suishin Honbu). Since that time, the school has aggressively tried to weed out all the aspects of religious discrimination including the changing of discriminatory posthumous names (sabetsu kaimyo), the scrubbing off of those names from grave stones, and the recall of all publications with discriminatory phrases.

On Karma
One of the main reasons why not only the Soto school, but the entire Buddhist tradition, has faced the problem of discrimination is the basic Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth. These two doctrines of karma and rebirth were a part of the popular Indian religious imagination long before the emergence of Buddhism and at the time of Shakyamuni, they were so firmly embedded in the social fabric of India that no one questioned their validity. According to this worldview, the human basically consisted of a soul that according to the good or bad actions (karma) in a previous existence determined the fate of the soul in the afterlife. The afterlife consisted of a heaven that people with good karma ascended to and a hell that people with bad karma descended into. And being born into the human realm was considered simply a part of the process of karma and rebirth into one of the realms of karmic existence. In addition to the human, heavenly, and hell realms, one could be reborn into one of six realms (rokudo rinne) that also included an animal, hungry ghost (Skt. preta), or fighting demons (Jpn. ashura) realms.

Although the word karma (also karman) has its roots in the idea of "action," it also includes the nuance of a "latent power" or "karmic energy" that shapes the future. The immovable principles in the doctrine of karma are "the inescapability of the fruits of karma" and "the karma of each self returns to that self." As long as karmic effects linger, one is not able to escape the realm of existence. The timeframe of karma is often discussed within the framework of the "three karmic periods," namely this present world, the next world, and the world after the next world. Also, the idea that "the karma of each self returns to that self" means that since no one else can shoulder the karma of someone else, one's present situation is the result of karmic actions one performed in the past.

Furthermore, the workings of karma found expression in the phrase "bad actions lead to bad results and good actions lead to good results" (or more precisely, bad actions lead to suffering and good actions lead to comfort). In other words, one's present situation was directly linked to one's past actions such that, for example, if one had physical handicaps, it was because one didn't worship Buddhism enough. This simplistic ethics without very much empirical evidence is close to the theory of destiny. However, there is some room to guarantee a better future in this theory because if one performs good action in this present life, one can attain a better situation in the next. This theory of karma, when attached to the theory of rebirth, propelled a worldview in which the past created the present and the present created the future. In terms of social ethics, this theory was thus used to explain inequality and injustice in the present society as well as to advocate a morality in this world to achieve a better situation in the next.(7)

This worldview, however, can be thought of as a cruel perspective for those born into a lower social class or status or with physical handicaps because they are blamed for their current condition because of bad actions that they must have performed in the past. The advocates of this doctrine would encourage such people to accept their current fate as there was nothing to do. As they could hope for was to perform good actions now so that a better life might emerge next time around. Although social inequality or handicaps ought to be dealt with by society as a whole, these people were told that their conditions could not be resolved by themselves. The doctrine of karma and rebirth thus provided an explanation and a rationale of social discrimination. This point of view was uncritically accepted by Buddhists historically and they have, in fact, been a major promulgator of these ideas. We have to admit that the Buddhist tradition has indeed reinforced such discriminatory views throughout its history.

But there is an alternative view of karma which I would like to call "the self-awareness of karma" or "the existential view of karma" that have emerged among Buddhist following Shakyamuni. In this interpretation of karma, the Buddha taught that one must become aware of one current situation (the suffering of which may have its causes in historical or social causes) which is nevertheless reality as it is. Rather than blame one's situation on fate or on the gods, the Buddha taught that we must accept responsibility for our present and to do good is to actualize a better present. Surely, this interpretation of karma has more religious meaning and optimism than a fatalistic view of karma. Thus Shakyamuni encouraged us to unwaveringly understand the "now" that we inhabit and to start from there. This interpretation of karma operates at quite a different level than the usual one and is akin to Shinran's "destined karma" or Dogen's notion of leaving home and becoming a priest.

This alternate interpretation of karma is also reflected in the "Repentance Verse" which can be found not only in the Soto school, but in other schools of Buddhism: "All the evil karma of the past--boundless greed, anger, and delusion--has been created by my mind. All of this, I repent this now." In other words, repentance is to admit to the fact that one is and has been unable to live up to the Buddhist teachings and that this is the root of all the evil karma that is now present. However, the verse doesn't refer to any specific evil deed, but points to the fundamental aspect of being a human being which involves the three "poisons" of karma. Thus, a bad situation or suffering provides us with the opportunity to question who we are. This leads us to take refuge in the Buddha and to start a salvific life.

We can analyze "the self-awareness of karma" as existing in the following structure: 1) At the base is the mental readiness to question "Who am I?", 2) To understand that all karma flows from the self, 3) An awareness and repentance of the fact that one is unable to live in accord with the Buddhist teachings, 4) Repentance (which is at the center of one's life) which can overcome karma (by alleviating bad karma or removing it as well as promoting good karma).
Dogen, in his "Sanjig*" fascicle of the Shobogenzo, states: "Immediately we should cease from doing wrong and repent, and when we see another doing good we should be joyful; both these acts will increase our good karma. This is the meaning of undiminishing karma." The popular view of karma was that karma never disappears until all its fruits run their course, but in Dogen's view, repentance can actually lessen or even remove karma. Dogen's existential approach to karma is part of a broader current in Buddhist thought which operates at a different level than the traditional view.(8)

But even this view of karma, there remain problems in terms of its discriminatory impulse. This is because even this interpretation stresses the need for the individual to accept their karmic situation as their own. If taken too literally, even if the advice is for the purposes of religious salvation, this view of karma can quickly be turned into tell someone else to accept their karma as their own and to therefore accept it as fate. This is no different from the earlier popular understanding of karma. There is therefore the danger of even this view of karma as an act of self-awareness turning into an act of someone telling someone else their karma, which can lead to discrimination, rather than self-awareness and liberation.(9)

In fact, this impulse to tell others of their karma instead of view karma as an opportunity for self-awareness, that been the mainstay in Buddhist history. This history of using the Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth to discriminate against those less fortunate has been an unfortunate fact. While it is not possible to discard the theory of karma as a Buddhist, one of the key questions for those of us interested in a Buddhism free from discrimination, is how to advocate a view of karma that doesn't so easily led to this usage.

The Theory of Original Enlightenment as Another Source of Discrimination

The first person to fully explore the issue of the relationship between the theory of original enlightenment and discrimination was Hakamaya Noriaki in his essay "Sabetsu jisho o umi dashita shisoteki haikei ni kansuru shiken."(10) This topic of this essay was born from discussions on karma sponsored by a specially-assembled committee, the Sotoshu Kyogaku Shingikai Senmonbukai Godokaigi. Even when this special committee disbanded, several participants continued this research including Professor Hakamaya's work Hongaku shiso hihan (Okura shuppan, 1989) and Professor Matsumoto Shiro's book Engi to ku: Nyoraizo shiso hihan (Okura shuppan, 1989). Ever since, this debate has been engaged by scholars in Japan and abroad and in this regard, the scholarly value of these debates raised by the two scholars from Komazawa University must be recognized.

Hakayama's main argument is as follows: Dogen severely criticized as non-Buddhist the prevalent notions in medieval Tendai doctrinal studies of his time. These doctrines included both the idea that salvation lay in knowing that though one's physical body may disappear, one's soul remains and the idea that since one was originally enlightened, whether one practiced Buddhism or not, one would after death return to the original state of "the sea of enlightenment" where rebirth was did not exist (these criticisms can be found in Dogen's Bendowa). That Dogen criticized these ideas which were popular at Mt. Hiei was his way of criticizing the theory of original enlightenment.

According to Hakamaya , "Original enlightenment means that enlightenment exists for all people in an equal way, but on a realm of reality which transcends this phenomenal world. Furthermore, as long as one is unaware of this, one continues to transmigrate in the world. This is none other than the theory that though one's physical body may disappear, one's soul remains." (Hakamaya, p. 204). The reason this theory has provided support to social discrimination is because of the logic that though all are originally equal, the workings of cause and effect in the phenomenal world causes discrimination and difference to naturally emerge. The acceptance of social discrimination derives from the idea that ultimate reality naturally includes an aspect of difference and discrimination. Prof. Hakamaya has skillfully drawn on post-Meiji sermons based on commentaries to the Shushoi, to highlight ways in which this theory has been used to support social discrimination.

In this essay, I have no intention of fully exploring theory of original enlightenment as it is too large a topic and strays from the purpose of this essay, but I would like to briefly touch on the following two points: 1) The basic understanding of the theory of original enlightenment by Japanese critics of the theory is the following: Terms such as original enlightenment, thusness, tathagata-garbha, or Buddha-nature all denote the same thing, namely that all people originally have such base and therefore one can attain a sense of peace from that. Furthermore, since one is originally enlightened, there is no need for practice.
This type of interpretation of the theory certainly has been a part of Buddhist history. There is no denying that Buddhists have said in the past that reality is ultimately indivisible and therefore the ultimate world of equality is coequal to the relative world of difference or that equality is the no different than discrimination. In this sense, when this notion is applied socially, Hakamaya is correct in asserting that the theory of original enlightenment has served as a basis for social discrimination.

However, because this theory has undergone many levels of refinement and debate in both China and Japan, one has to be careful in labeling doctrines as diverse as thusness, Dharma nature, or Buddha nature as foundational to all Buddhist theory. At least from my perspective, in terms of Dogen's thought, a somewhat different view is possible. For example, if one takes the case of his view of Buddha-nature, he radically re-reads the famous passage from the Nirvana Sutra that "All beings have Buddha-nature" to "All beings are Buddha-nature" by changing the regular grammatical order of reading classical Chinese. However this new interpretation of Dogen is often misunderstood to simply mean that Dogen, in a pantheistic way, equated Buddha-nature with phenomenal reality as it is. This view is clearly no different that the idea that one's physical body may disappear, one's soul remains which Dogen took so much pains to disagree with. Rather, as Dogen argues in his Bussho chapter of the Shobogenzo, Buddha-nature is only real or actualized when one realizes that one is one with it, realizes it, follows it, and works it into one's everyday life. In other words, Buddha-nature becomes real only when one practices it. Although a religious person may have no recourse but to say "It exists" when pressed about the truth of Buddha-nature, it doesn't exist as some type of reality in itself, but rather it only appears experientially as part of practice. For Dogen, this meant the practice of zazen and the monastic life that follows out of zazen practice.

This can be seen in his Bendowa chapter as "Although this inconceivable Dharma is abundant in each person, it is not actualized without practice, and it is not experienced without realization" and in his Bussho chapter as "Buddha-nature is actualized only after becoming a Buddha, not before. Actualization of Buddha-nature and attainment of Buddhahood occur simultaneously."(11) In other words, Buddha-nature is found in activity and thus is not always present. It becomes present only through simultaneously by realizing that one is the Buddha-nature itself and by the process of actualizing it in one's daily life. Since zazen or practice is possible and available at all times, it is in this sense, that Buddha-nature is also possible and available at all times. Thus, it is only someone who puts Buddhist life into practice that can say that Buddha-nature exists. For someone who doesn't practice, it doesn't exist because Buddha-nature is not something grasped intellectually. Rather, for people who have not yet experienced Buddha-nature, the only thing to do is to follow the admonitions of one's teachers, practice zazen and other forms of Buddhist practice, and believe that this is way to meet the Buddha. To recognize that this is the path is expressed in the Soto tradition with the term "Junjuku" and in the Rinzai tradition as "Kensho." Although these two terms are slightly different in nuance, I think they point to the same thing.

To take a somewhat different example, I think that "love" is rather similar to Dogen's concept of Buddha-nature. For example, if we ask ourselves if such a thing as love exists, we would say "yes." However, it doesn't exist as a thing in itself, but only appears when two people fall in love with each other. In other words, it is only when is in love that one can for the first time recognize love as a reality.

In a comparative perspective, one could also point to St. Paul's words "for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us. For by him we have life and move and exist" (Acts 17:27-28). His words that God exists in such a fashion could only have been spoken by somewhat who had experientially realized and actualized God. In the same way, to interpret Dogen's words from a logical and simplistic viewpoint causes misunderstandings and only when we take a more experiential perspective (one could call it a logic of enlightenment), can one come to understand Dogen on his own terms. Or at the very least, to understand Dogen or his Shobogenzo, we need sympathy for this experiential perspective. And it is not just Dogen, but many teachings in the Zen tradition as a whole such as "the identity of one and many" or "the identity of equality and difference" or "the entirety of the ten-directional world is itself the true human body" also require this spiritual worldview.

To take this one step further, if one interprets such teachings from a non-spiritual perspective, they are bound to cause misunderstandings and misapplications in society. This is way over 30 years ago, Suzuki Daisetsu argued that it was pseudo-Buddhist to try to apply the doctrine of karma to social injustice or economic inequality.(12) Despite such dangers, the way Buddhist doctrines have been interpreted over time has emphasized the idea that Buddhists teach that all is truth and equal. Because so many famous Buddhist priests have taken this idea (in the form of the theory of original enlightenment) to explain social discrimination, Hakamaya's critique of the theory has validity.

Therefore in future research, we need to further refine our understanding of the theory of original enlightenment. We need to question the role this theory has played in social discrimination, but also question those who seem to think that social discrimination would not have existed if it weren't for this theory. In other words, we should also be clear that the human species, sex differentiation, discrimination against buraku villagers, or handicapped people didn't come into existence because of this theory. The Soto school as a whole needs to clarify in the future whether this theory created either the unequal reality or mind of discrimination because the idea that this Buddhist doctrine is the sole basis of either simply goes too far.

III. Buddhism and Funerals

The Problematic
The issue of the role of funerals and memorial services in Buddhism is a pressing one not just for the Soto school, but for all Japanese Buddhist schools. In the past, both the study of funerals (and other death rites) as well as the study of ancestor worship had been conducted primarily in the domain of religious and folklore studies. But recently, there has been a trend in Japan to view funerals and ancestor worship as a combined set, which has led to their study from an interdisciplinary perspective including folk, Buddhist doctrinal, and historical studies. Because of these developments, a new term "sosai" has been coined to capture this topic.

The association of Buddhism with these activities was so strong that the term "funerary Buddhism" (sohiki bukkyo) had been employed from some time ago in a critical way to point to a perception that Buddhism was completely identified with funerary practices. But this traditional connection, in recent years, has started to be questioned. New practices and ways of thinking about funerals such as returning cremated remains back to nature, non-sectarian funerals, or a shift from being interned with one's ancestors to the building of individual tombs or non-family group tombs, have emerged. New economic considerations have also played a role with some individuals refusing to pay for expensive Buddhist posthumous names (kaimyo), such especially those with the characters "in" and "koji," with some religious studies scholars even advocating the making up of one's posthumous name by oneself, rather than by a Buddhist priest.(13)

It is not just the Soto school, but all Japanese Buddhist schools, which also face the crucial question of how to connect the Buddhist doctrinal ideals of enlightenment, rebirth into a better state, and relief from suffering with the ideas and actual practices on a popular level of funerals. Funerals are not and have never been a essential, doctrinally orthodox aspect of Buddhism. However, funerals and memorial rites have always played an essential religious function in social life. To discount everything outside of doctrinally orthodox ideas such as enlightenment has been the mainstream interpretation in the Buddhist tradition.

Because of this, in India, Buddhist monks did not perform funerals or other folk rituals for regular laypeople. This fact, however, constrained the Buddhist order in India and it never became a dominant force in that country. Focused on the ordained, monastic Sangha, the Buddhist tradition in India was never able to develop a strong social presence with a network of believers. This is one of the chief reasons why Buddhism in India was eventually swallowed up into Hinduism and lost its distinctive character.(14) In contrast the Theravada Buddhists of South and Southeast Asia or the Mahayana Buddhists in China and Japan performed funerals, which was one of the reason they were successful in becoming a part of their respective societies. In these countries, not only were the funerals presided over by Buddhist priests, there was the perception that funerals were a distinctly Buddhist ritual. This identification of funerals as a Buddhist ritual on a popular level occurred after Buddhism intermingled with local folk traditions which allowed the Buddhist order to flourish and continue.

In Japan, all the Buddhist sects began to develop funerary rituals for regular laypeople during the Kamakura-Muromachi periods. Buddhism was able to become a part of the Japanese religious landscape not only through the appeal of practices like the nenbutsu or zazen, but through funerary practices which were developed through a combination of local, indigenous traditions and Buddhist ideas and practices.(15) But most eminent monks in Japanese Buddhist history saw funerary practices occurring at a different level than proper Buddhism and therefore did not try to explain Buddhist funerals in doctrinal terms. Despite the fact that funerary practices and prayers for this world benefits (kito) have become the main economic basis of all Japanese Buddhist schools, even today, there is little explanation of the proper doctrinal interpretation of funerals. It's not that explanations about funerals is completely lacking, but the texts of Buddhist leaders have historically dwelt more on the methods of funerary performance, rather than on its doctrinal explication. In the Soto tradition, there have also been manual-like texts (or sometimes just a single sheet of paper) called kirigami, which records Soto teachings secretly handed down from master to disciple. With these documents, there are not only detailed descriptions of how to perform funerals, but in some cases, doctrinal reflections on the meaning of the ritual.(16) However, even in this case, these doctrinal reflections simply make facile associations between a selected number of Soto Zen concepts and funeral practices, rather than provide logical explanations on the meaning of funerals for laypeople.(17) This is probably due in part to the fact that making clear doctrinal explanations of funerals and its relationship to Buddhist soteriology is not particularly easy.

In recent years, this problem has taken some interesting turns. A recent combined issue of the journal Dendoin kiyo (Nos. 29-30, 1985), a publication of the Jodo Shinshu Honganji school, focused on "Customs and Popular Beliefs" in which a new area of doctrinal reflection was advocated. This new approach was forward by several scholars, who while admitting the depth and strength of traditional doctrinal reflection on the writings of Shinran for example, found doctrinal reflection on funerals or this-worldly prayers at the individual temple level quite lacking. Thus they have advocated a new, more comprehensive area of study that includes both traditional doctrinal study and studies of the "field" or actual sites of religious practice.(18) The very same style of question also emerged in the Soto school in 1980 when a book, Shumon sosai no tokushitsu wo saguru,(19) explored the meaning and place of funerals based on the ideas found in the Shushogi.

Thus there has been a sense of ambivalence among Japanese Buddhists who while knowing that traditional Buddhist doctrine has nothing to say on the soteriological or doctrinal meaning of funerals, find that they are performing funerals on a regular basis. Thus among Jodo Shinshu priests involved with the new reflections on funerals, there have been comments that while theoretically in their heads priests might know that funerals are not doctrinally sanctioned, nevertheless their feet move in that direction constantly. This separation of what the head thinks and what the feet does is a shared experience of Japanese Buddhists of all sects.(20) Although individual priests have to perform and think about funerals, in none of the sects are there shared, common understandings of its function and meaning.

This phenomenon might be somewhat difficult to understand for those from a Christian background. Among most Christians there is a shared understanding that both the dead and the living belong to a common organization--the church--which has formulated a vision of funerals based on the grace of God. For example, in John 1:14, we find the passage, "So the Word became flesh and resided among us." What this suggests is that, though different in nature, both the Christian dead and the living become a part of Christ's flesh, his body. To care for the dead in Christianity, then, was a natural part of a priest's work as the teachings to receive God's love and to love each other was so fundamental to the tradition.(21)

In contrast, the most fundamental teaching of Buddhism is to have insight into the nature of the self and to live in accord with one's true self. Therefore, to awaken to the self or to become liberated therefrom is of primary significance, while social acts have traditionally received a secondary place in Buddhist doctrinal considerations. But our modern times have demanded that Buddhist organizations more squarely face up to the question of the place of the funeral and other issues in Buddhist thought. While I cannot taken this up here (due to space limitations), Buddhist schools have recently started getting more overtly involve in social service and making pronouncements on issues of social significance.(22)

Buddhism and Funerals

There have two major ways to understand the relationship between Buddhism and funerals. The first takes the point of view that, while funerals have folk elements, over time Buddhist ideas and cosmology (also recognizing that different sects have different styles) increasingly influenced the method of performing the ritual. According to this view, the methods to deliver the deceased to the world beyond, the state after death, and the relationship between the dead and the living were increasingly "Buddhicized" in a more sophisticated manner. Thus this first approach sees a continuum between Buddhist and folk elements of funerals.
The second approach takes the opposite view that Buddhism and funerals operate on a complete different level. In this view, funerals are a part and parcel of folk religiosity to which Buddhism ought to have no relation. Thus when priests perform funerals, they perform them not on the basis of any doctrinal justification, but as a folk religionist that might even be called the "shamanization of Buddhism."

One important aspect of the performance of funeral, as analyzed in religious studies and psychology, is its power to heal those that remain alive. Thus to ease the pain of a family that has just lost a loved one and share in their pain is a fundamental religious act. But this approach to funeral has the possibility of not having any relationship to religious faith. Another approach to funerals is to classify it as a opportune moment for Buddhist proselytizing because the relatives would be feeling the reality of impermanence. But the pitfalls of this approach is the lessen of the religious significance of the funeral itself--the healing function of the ritual--if the sermon and other proselytizing efforts are stressed too much. The basic framework in which a truly Buddhist funeral must be performed involves the following: to wish the best for the deceased, to console the living, to weep together, and to pray sincerely for the eventual Buddhahood of the deceased. However, this basic approach still needs to be reconciled with the teachings in each Buddhist school.(23)

The Problems Associated with Funerals

The method of conducting funerals in present-day Soto Zen is fundamentally based on the Chinese Zen text, the Chuan-yuan Qing-gui (The Pure Regulations of the Zen Monastery), written by Zong Ze in 1103. Herein is described the funeral method for a monk who has died while training in a monastery. In Japan after the Kamakura period, this text became the basis for Zen funerals for laypeople though the Chinese predilection for combining Zen with Amidist thought was dropped. The problem with using this text, however, was that since the original Chinese text was meant for the ordained clergy, to use its funeral method for laypeople, required a process to give precepts (jukai) for the purposes of ordaining the deceased layperson as a monk or a nun. Therefore, even today, funerals are broken down into two parts: first, a precept ordination ceremony to ordain the deceased and second, the performance of a monastic funeral.

The problem with this method was that originally the precept ordination ceremony was conducted while the person was alive to confirm the person's vows to live a Buddhist life. At that time, a Buddhist precept name (kaimyo) was given to the believer.(24) Although it is not altogether unheard of to receive a precept name before death, for the vast majority of laypeople, the funeral is the occasion to receive the kaimyo. Is it possible to ordain someone in the Buddhist path after death (botsugo sakuso)?

Another question has to do with the fact that the newly deceased, in addition to receiving the name, is immediately called an "enlightened spirit" (kakurei). Is it possible to become enlightened to swiftly after ordination? How are we to think of this Zen version of the precepts?(25) This is related to another interesting Japanese innovation, which is not confined to the Soto school but used broadly through Japanese Buddhism, which is the convention of called the deceased a hotoke (literally, a Buddha). Obviously, there is no doctrinal basis for calling the dead a Buddha. This folk convention had its roots in indigenous ideas about the dead turning into deities. Buddhism naturally and skillfully incorporated this and other folk ideas into its vocabulary within the dynamic process of its enculturation into Japan. Sasaki Kokan has recently discussed the flexibility of the term "hotoke" which he suggests should neither be completely thought of as equivalent to the Buddhist "Buddha" nor to the indigenous notion of a deified soul (tama). However, the term includes a combinative dimension and enjoys a flexibility to approximate both the Buddhist "Buddha" and the indigenous "tama."(26) Future discussions of the relationship between funerals and Buddhism will need to account for the emergence of terms like this.

To conclude, I have taken up two issues among many facing the contemporary Soto school to orient the reader by providing a basic descriptive and analytical framework for understanding the problems. Although I have taken up these two issues, many more contemporary issues remain, including how to interpret the Shushogi. As for outstanding issues that ought to be taken up in the future both in sectarian and Dogen studies, one might look to the article by the late Professor Ishikawa Rikizan, "Dogengaku no ima,"(27) which articulates a categorization of topics for future consideration. They are: 1] The treatment of biographies of Dogen (especially regarding his birth and parents, comparative studies with Eisai, and historical matters such as Mt. Hiei's animosity toward him, the destruction of Koshoji, and his move to Echizen province); 2] The interpretation of the Shobogenzo (which includes the issue of what kind of interpretive weight should be placed on the various versions--the 75, 12, and 60-fascicle versions--in addition to how to understand Dogen's interpretation of the difference between the monastic and lay as well as the possibility of women's enlightenment); 3] The relationship between Dogen Zen and original enlightenment theory, and 4] The relationship between what traditions are down within the Soto school and Dogen Zen (this includes the transmission of the "three articles" and kirigami)

(1) In the abstract to this paper, I wrote that I would take up Soto Zen in "modern" Japan and defined that to mean the post-Meiji (1868-1912) period which brought about a host of new issues for the Soto Zen school. But in this paper, because of space limitations, I will only explore the issues from the post-war period. For the same reason, though I stated in the abstract that I would use the survey found in the 1995 Sotoshu Shumucho publication Sotoshu shusei sogo chosa hokokusho, I will leave that topic for another occasion.
(2) On the recall of the publication, see 'Sotoshu kaikyo dendoshi' no kaishu ni tsuite (Tokyo: Sotoshu shumucho, 1992), pp. 1-5. This was republished the following year as part of the Sotoshu booklet series: Shukyo to jinken (Tokyo: Sotoshu jinken suishin honbu, 1993).
(3) See Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Ryuken Williams, eds. Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997). In this volume, there is a lengthy bibliography complied by Duncan R. Williams on pp. 403-25 which gives a good sense of Western research on this topic.
(4) See Tsunoda Yasutaka, "Bukkyo to kankyo mondai," Komazawa tanki daigaku bukkyo ronshu (1, 1997) 3: 181-93; (2, 1998) 4: 183-92 and Nara Yasuaki, "Bukkyo to kankyo mondai, shiron," Komazawa daigaku daigaku'in bukkyogaku kenkyu nenpo 32 (1999): 1-22. Although not directly on the topic of Buddhism and ecology, an unique perspective on nature and Buddhism can be found in: Hakamaya Noriaki, "Shizen hihan to shite no bukkyo," Komazawa daigaku bukkyogakubu ronshu 21 (1990): 380-403. A critique of Hakayama's essay can found in Lambert Schmithausen, Buddhism and Nature: The Lecture Delivered on the Occasion of the EXPO 1990, An Enlarged Version with Notes (Tokyo: Studia Philologica Buddhica, Occasional Paper Series VII, The International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 1991), pp. 53-62.
(5) See "Noshi, zokiishoku ni kansuru toshinsho," in the special issue of the Sotoshu Shuho (1999).
(6) See Kashiwabara Yusen's Bukkyo to buraku sabetsu: Sono rekishi to konnichi for an overview of each Buddhist school's involvement with this issue.
(7) In fact, the theory of karma and rebirth forms the center of Theravada Buddhism, which is prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and other southeast Asian countries. A number of cultural anthropologists have explored this issue. Melford Spiro's has called this kammatic Buddhism in contradistinction with the ultimate goal of Buddhism, nibbanic Buddhism. See his Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and its Burmese Vicissitudes (London, 1971), pp. 2-5. For more research on the kammatic form of Buddhism, see the anthropologist Stanley J. Tambiah's Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in Northeast Thailand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) and the Indologist Richard Gombrich's work, Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highland of Ceylon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).
(8) The "Sanjigo" passage from Dogen's Shobogenzo is taken from the Nishiyama Kosen's translation. See his Shobogenzo, Vol. 3. (Tokyo: Nakayama shobo, 1983), p. 111. On this alternate view of karma from a Jodo Shinshu perspective, see Komori Ryuho, Kaiho riron to Shinran no shiso: Sogai no kuno kara mutoku no ichido e (Kaiho shuppansha, 1983) and Go, shukugokan no saisei: Ningen fukken e no shukyoteki shiron (Kaiho shuppansha, 1986).
(9) See Nara Yasuaki, Butsudeshi to shinto no monogatari: Avadana (Chikuma shobo, 1988), pp. 3-14. For more details, also see my "'Suttanipata' ni okeru goron," Part I In Indo tetsugaku to bukkyo (Tokyo: Fujita Kotatsu Hakase kanreki kinen ronbunshu, Heirakuji shoten, 1989), pp. 145-61 and Part II In Indotetsugaku bukkyogaku 4 (1989): 41-61.
(10) This can be found in Komazawa daigaku bukkyogakubu kenkyu kiyo 44 (1986): 198-216.
(11) The Bendowa translation is taken from Tanahashi Kazuaki, ed. Moon in a Dewdrop (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985), p. 143 while the Bussho translation is taken from Nishiyama (Vol. 4 ), Ibid., p. 126
(12) See Daisetsu T. Suzuki, Outline of Mahayana Buddhism (London: Luzac and Co., 1907; rpt. 1963), pp. 186-92.
(13) See the two works by Shimada Hiromi. Kaimyo: Naze shigo ni namae o kaeru no ka. (Tokyo: Hozokan, 1997) and Kaimyo wa jibun de tsukerareru (Tokyo: Hozokan, 1999).
(14) See Nara Yasuaki, Bukkyoshi I: Indo, Tonan Ajia (Tokyo: Yamakawa shuppansha, 1979), pp. 318-29.
(15) See Tamamuro Taijo, Soshiki bukkyo (Tokyo: Daihorinkaku, 1963). Another work which has Soto practices at its fore, but treats Japanese Buddhist schools as a whole, is Minagawa Kogi, ed. et. al. "Waga kuni ni okeru sosai no ayumi to sono mondaiten," Kyoka kenshu 12 (1969): 57-137. I have also previously argued the significance of funerals in the enculturation of Buddhism in Japan, see Nara Yasuaki, "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment! An Aspect of the Enculturation of Buddhism in Japan," Buddhist-Christian Studies 15 (1995): 19-42.
(16) The late Professor Ishikawa Rikizan was a pioneer in the collection of and the publication of studies on kirigami. A bibliography of his works has been compiled in Komazawa daigaku bukkyogakubu ronshu (Commemorative Volume on Ishikawa Rikizan, 1998)
(17) I have included a translation of a typical funeral-related kirigami in Appendix 2 of Nara Yasuaki, "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment! An Aspect of the Enculturation of Buddhism in Japan," Buddhist-Christian Studies 15 (1995): 19-42.
(18) This line of inquiry has continued in such works as listed in Sasaki's article. Sasaki Shoten, "Shugaku, Sotoshugaku, Minzoku, Minzoku shinko," Kyoka kenshu 30 (1987): 94ff.
(19) Shumon sosai no tokushitsu wo saguru. ed. Shinsuikai of the Sotoshu Kyoka Kenshusho (Tokyo: Dohosha shuppan, 1980).
(20) A publication that reflects this new Jodo Shinshu approach is Fujii Masao and Ito Yuishin, eds. Sosai bukkyo: Sono rekishi to gendaiteki kadai (Nonburusha, 1997).
(21) For a Japanese Catholic view, see Nihon Catholic shoshuyo i'inkai, ed. Sosen to shisha ni tsuite no Catholic shinja e no tebiki (Tokyo: 2nd rev. ed., Catholic chuo kyogikai, 1985), pp. 5-7.
(22) For more on this issue, see Nara Yasuaki "Bukkyo no shakaisei o kangaeru," Chugai nippo (Feb. 4, 1999).
(23) Fore more on this subject, see Nara Yasuaki, "Bukkyo to nichijo girei," Jimon koryu (Jan. 1999); Sasaki Kokan, "Sosai bukkyo no mondai, 1-3," Jimon koryu (Apr.-June 1999); Tsunoda Tairyu, "Shumon to sosai: Dogen zenji no kyosetsu to sosai no setten."
(24) For more on the Soto school and kaimyo, see Sotoshu Gendai Kyogaku Center, ed. Kaimyo no imi to kino. (Tokyo: Sotoshu shumucho, 1995).
(25) On Zen and precepts, see Kagamishima Genryu, "Zenkai shiso to jukai-e," Kyoka kenshu 16 (1973); Ishitsuki Shoyu, "Zenkai, shironko: Man osho no chosaku o shi'en to shite," Shugaku kenkyu 8 (1966); Kawaguchi Kofu, "Zenkai ni tsuite," Sotoshu kyogi howa taikei 20 (1990); Watanabe Kenshu, "Zenkairon no tenkai," In Dogen shiso no ayumi 3. (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1993); Kurebayashi Kodo, "Zenkai ni tsuite," Shugaku kenkyu 17 (1975).
(26) Sasaki Kokan, "Hotoke to tama no jinruigaku: Bukkyo bunka no shinso kozo," Jimon koryu (June 1999), p. 33.
(27) See Sotoshu shika yoseijo kogiroku (1991), pp. 15-47.