Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Inexhaustible Lamp of Faith: Faith and Awakening in the Japanese Rinzai Tradition

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Inexhaustible Lamp of Faith: Faith and Awakening in the Japanese Rinzai Tradition

Article excerpt

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Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, Japanese scholars such as D. T. Suzuki, Hisamatsu Shin'ichi, and Nishitani Keiji have extracted Zen from its original cultural and institutional context and promoted it as science of the mind, a spiritual technique that is founded on nothing but one's genuine experience. Adopting what is sometimes regarded as a "Rinzai approach," these Zen advocates and others have emphasized the experience of satori ? or kensho ?? over all other aspects of the tradition (Faure 1993, 55-60).1 Indeed, in the modern period, slogans such as "Kill the buddhas! Kill the patriarchs!" have been utilized to depict a critical, defiant stance toward authority and iconoclasm as the foundations of Zen training. Though still quite common in popular literature,2 this idealized notion of Zen has been criticized by scholars ever since the late 1980s.3 Yet despite significant advances in Zen studies over the last three decades, very little has been written about the role of faith in the Zen tradition.4

This article aims to fill in this lacuna by examining the role of faith in the Rinzai Zen School.5 It will show that, regardless of popular impressions, faith is an integral part of the Zen doctrine, and therefore a special appreciation of its actual role is imperative for arriving at a balanced understanding of what is considered as traditional Zen practice. As an approach to achieving this aim, I will focus on Shumon mujinto ron, 6 a text written by the Japanese Rinzai monk Torei Enji ???? (1721-1792). This particular text was chosen for three main reasons: 1. the prominence of the text and its author; 2. its extensive discussion of faith; and 3. the fact that this discussion has been largely ignored.

Torei was one of the most eminent Zen masters of premodern Japan. He was the chief disciple of Hakuin Ekaku ... (1686-1769), and played a major role in reviving the Japanese Rinzai school in the eighteenth century. Torei was a prolific writer, but Shumon mujinto ron [hereafter referred to as the SMR] is generally considered as his magnum opus; there he provides the most comprehensive presentation of the Rinzai system, as formulated by Hakuin.7

SMR has an entire chapter devoted to faith, as well as numerous references to faith throughout the text.8 The word faith (shin ?) appears in the text more than any of the other concepts usually associated with the Rinzai tradition, including satori and kensho.9 However, whereas SMR is largely acknowledged as one of the most important works of the Japanese Rinzai tradition, its discussion of faith was largely overlooked.10 Consequently, this article will utilize SMR to make a case for the central role of faith in the Rinzai tradition, demonstrating it to be vital to better understand the dynamics of practice, and for achieving the Buddhist goal of enlightenment.

A Matter of Faith

In his popular introductory book to Buddhism, What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula argues that faith "as understood by most religions has little to do with Buddhism" (1958, 8). Although few scholars would be inclined to make such a direct judgment regarding this matter, Rahula's fundamental position no doubt approaches the norm.11 According to this position, faith is a concept more typically associated with theocentric religions, most notably Christianity, where it has been most prominent. As used in this context, "faith" implies total submission to a transcendental, omnipotent entity, a perspective that is fundamentally alien to both Indian and Chinese thought. Hence, before we can move on to discuss faith in Torei's work, we must establish at least two premises. The first is the applicability of the term to the Buddhist context; the second is the presence of corresponding concepts in Buddhist thought.

The first step in applying faith as an analytic category is to clarify the range of its connotations and interpretations. …

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