Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

"The Matter of the Zen School": Fukansai Habian's Myotei Mondo and His Christian Polemic on Buddhism

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

"The Matter of the Zen School": Fukansai Habian's Myotei Mondo and His Christian Polemic on Buddhism

Article excerpt

Japan's Christian Century (1549-1650) was not only marked by ascending and waning political fortunes, but also by polemical ones. Both the polemical apogee and nadir came from the hand of one man, Fukansai Habian, a former Zen monk who, as an enthusiastic Christian convert, authored Myotei mondo (The Myotei dialogue), and post apostasy wrote Hadaiusu (Deus destroyed). Within his refutation of Buddhism in Myotei mondo, Habian individually takes up the Zen school, asserting that it is not a valid path to salvation since it takes emptiness/ nothingness as its central doctrine and does not advance the possibility of an afterlife. Habian calls on an assortment of Zen texts and teachings in his refutation, making full use of the tradition's accommodating nature. While tracing Habian's arguments, this article will demonstrate that even as a Christian zealot he was working within the Zen tradition, having not divested himself of his Buddhist pedagogy and polemic.

KEYWORDS: Zen-Christianity-Fukansai Habian-Myotei mondo-Edo- refutation-emptiness-afterlife-koan

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

The advent of Christianity to Japan in the mid-sixteenth century posed a momentous challenge to contemporaneous belief systems. While Confucianism and Buddhism were originally transmitted from the continent, by the time of Christianity's arrival, both systems of thought were already thoroughly assimilated into the Japanese cultural landscape. Christianity, however, being the more recent foreign arrival and lacking common geographical or philosophical roots, became an object of concerted criticism and attack from Buddhist, Confucian, and Shinto sources. It has been observed that the extreme response that Christianity provoked was due to the two factors of its exclusivity in a non-exclusive culture, and its politicized nature in the contemporaneous unstable political environment of Japan (Breen and Williams 1996, 1). Yet even in persecution Christianity managed to exert a lasting influence on Japanese intellectual systems. Kiri Paramore has persuasively demonstrated that the anti-Christian discourse during the Edo and Meiji periods was a formative factor in the establishment of certain ideologies, most significantly the nationalist Kokutai discourse (Paramore 2009). Christianity at this early period expressly refers to the Catholicism introduced by the Jesuits. For most Japanese of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Christian ideas such as a single omnipotent God as well as the doctrine of original sin seemed fundamentally incongruent with normative Buddhist modes of religious practice and belief.1 This was perceived to be particularly the case with the Zen school. In this article we will examine one episode of the Buddhist-Christian discourse in Japan by looking at the Japanese Christian convert Fukansai Habian's ... (1565-1620?) attempted refutation of the Zen school. Habian is significant in that he is the first Japanese Christian thinker, and his writings aid in our understanding of exactly how Christianity was understood by Japanese during the middle of the "Christian Century" (Sueki 2011b, 286). As Paramore has effectively shown, the historical fallacy of treating Habian and his work within the assumed mutually exclusive categories of "Eastern thought" and "Western thought," this article will not examine Habian within the paradigm of East versus West (Paramore 2008, in particular 232-34, and 2009). Rather, our investigation into his writings will reveal salient features of his own Christian criticisms of Buddhism as a whole and Zen in particular, showcasing how his Christian anti-Zen discourse was indebted to and still retained elements from the Buddhist pedagogy and polemic he acquired before converting to his adopted faith. As Habian's text Myotei mondo ... (The Myotei dialogue) was the first systematic refutation of each contemporaneous Buddhist school, within this discussion we will also see how Zen was critically understood within the political and intellectual tumult of the early seventeenth century. …

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