Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 05, 2013 6:29 am

There's an interesting short article I found on the subject of Chinese Buddhist perceptions of Japan before and during WWII.

Sueki Fumihiko, "Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War" in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.

http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/3001

Aside from the issues related to war, I found this interesting:

At first, Leguan had a positive view of Japanese Buddhism, which was the reason he went to Japan to study when he was young. He was disappointed by the poor facilities of Kachio-dera, but he was greatly impressed by the prosperity of Buddhism when he moved around Japan. His autobiography states:

    Generally speaking, when I observed Japanese Buddhism, I found that its adherents were very active in establishing various provisional methods; priests and monks have progressive ideas, are fully aware of nation and race, enter the secular world, and work for the welfare of people; therefore they are respected and widely believed by ordinary people. On the contrary, Buddhism in our country is loose and irresponsible, and is corrupt. (Leguan 1947, 103)

These are Leguan’s words, but many Chinese Buddhists who had a sense of crisis in Chinese Buddhism were astonished by the prosperity of Buddhism in Japan and thought it a model for the modernization of Chinese Buddhism. As stated above, Leguan, at that time named Yuanyin, changed his name to Beiguan because he was so pessimistic about the future of Chinese Buddhism compared with Japanese
Buddhism.


Nowadays there is a widespread notion that Buddhism in Japan went into decline because of the married priesthood, whereas it actually was quite prosperous before WWII even with the married priesthood and even Chinese monks recognized this.

This has led me to think the decline of Buddhism in Japan had more to do with post-WWII secularization and an extremely rationalist education system.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby plwk » Thu Sep 05, 2013 6:51 am

For example, in a 1938 article, “Will Evil Japan Attain Self-recognition?,” he charged that Japan had abandoned the spirit of Buddhism and Confucianism
and invaded China employing cruel methods. However, he did not forget to urge Japanese people to remember the spirit of Buddhism and Confucianism and save themselves by overthrowing the military government.
This brings me back to my visit to Nanjing some years back and when I was at the war victims memorial area, my tour guide told us that back then, nothing stopped the Japanese soldiers from their reckless murders, not even those in the temples and monasteries. Some of the Chinese then hid in the Buddhist temples and monasteries thinking that it would be 'safe' considering that the Japanese would spare them on the notion of a Buddhist brotherhood thingy, little did they know and found out it was one of the worst places for hiding for apparently the invaders knew that some would seek refuge in such places and are thus easy targets. One can shudder to recall if what was attributed to the late DT Suzuki and his imperialism by many scholars and historians had any truth, in what I would summarise as 'when shooting, shoot'...
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:21 am

The war is a very touchy subject because the details of it still serve contemporary political interests, which is why China and Korea constantly bring it up and have their own version of the events different from the right-wing Japanese version. Other countries like Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore have largely moved on it seems.

In hindsight it is easy to condemn Japanese Buddhists for their support of the war effort, but we need to recall a few things.

    - They thought it was a matter of national survival and perhaps the well-being of Buddhism was associated with national security. If they didn't defend themselves against predatory western nations, they were going to be conquered and subjugated. One best seller during war by Ōkawa Shūmei, who was a capable scholar of Pali and Sanskrit incidentally, describes the history of Anglo-Saxon aggression in East Asia. This was a real concern for Japanese politicians and intellectuals throughout the Meiji, Taisho and early Showa periods (late 19th, early 20th centuries)

    - During the war a lot of field commanders behaved in a rogue fashion without orders from Tokyo. I don't think a lot of people knew this at the time.

    - The amount of information the average Japanese citizen had in Japan was limited.

    - Even if they did support a "defensive war", would they have encouraged atrocities and massacres?

In any case, I think if the Japanese had won, the new Asian history would have painted them as liberators of Asia, casting out the white imperialists and creating a sound co-prosperity sphere of which all peoples and races could benefit from. All the atrocities and massacres would have been pasted over, just as was done with the ghoulish misdeeds of the Allies in Asia and Europe. The Allies are hailed as the good guys simply because they won.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Konchog1 » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:39 am

The head of the U.S. bombing campaign in Japan said after the war, that the only reason he hadn't yet been hung for his actions during the war was because his nation had won.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:52 am

Konchog1 wrote:The head of the U.S. bombing campaign in Japan said after the war, that the only reason he hadn't yet been hung for his actions during the war was because his nation had won.


Such is the nature of war.

If we can imagine Germany and Japan having won the war, a lot of British aristocrats, intellectuals and officers probably would have been tried for imperialism (India, Africa, etc), carrying out aggressive warfare (Central Asia) and any number of other charges. History would remember the British Empire as having been largely evil and bent on world domination.

It came perhaps uncomfortably close to happening like that, too. If the US hadn't entered the war, Britain would have eventually fallen.

Actually the Yasukuni version of WWII states that Roosevelt actually wanted to provoke the Japanese into attacking so the American public would support the US joining the war in Europe. This seems likely to me given how the US had already been supporting Britain and how unrealistic the Hull note was:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hull_note

http://www007.upp.so-net.ne.jp/togo/dic ... lnote.html

This article was the ultimatum:

    The Government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and from Indochina.


They had hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens settled in Manchuria at the time, to say nothing of the high numbers of war dead from the ongoing Sino-Japanese war.

The Americans calculated how if they won, and it was a pretty sure bet they would, they would basically take over the world from the British Empire and make themselves enormously powerful and wealthy.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby shaunc » Fri Sep 06, 2013 3:45 am

As an Australian. I had relatives that served in that war. One that made the ultimate sacrifice and another that survived the infamous changi prison camp (Singapore). Sure, if the Germans and Japanese had won things would be different, but they didn't. Yes, victors write the history books, but let me ask you, if you can't deal yourself a winning hand, what's the point in dealing. As far as Buddhism in Japan goes, to my knowledge during the war SGI were the only sect to speak out about it.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Fri Sep 06, 2013 4:04 am

shaunc wrote:As an Australian. I had relatives that served in that war. One that made the ultimate sacrifice and another that survived the infamous changi prison camp (Singapore). Sure, if the Germans and Japanese had won things would be different, but they didn't. Yes, victors write the history books, but let me ask you, if you can't deal yourself a winning hand, what's the point in dealing. As far as Buddhism in Japan goes, to my knowledge during the war SGI were the only sect to speak out about it.


Realistically speaking, at the time in Japan if you spoke out against the war, you risked being killed, or at the very least jailed. There wasn't also a widespread need to speak out against a war which was seen as defensive and in the interests of Buddhist countries around Asia.

In any case, in 1941 the Americans told Japan to get out of China and SE Asia or be cut off entirely from oil exports. There was the alternative of pulling out, sure, but that would have been politically infeasible given the high number of Japanese war dead already, to say nothing of the need to secure oil somehow in the face of unfriendly nations like the Soviet Union and USA. If the Japanese central government tried to order their military out of China I imagine it simply would not have been possible. Some heads would have rolled in Tokyo. There was no going back. Everyone in the administration knew this. The war council knew they could go at it with the Americans for at least two years and after that it was anybody's guess.

There's also the fact it simply seemed like Japan and its allies would win. The world was going to change. The British Empire was going to be destroyed, Europe was to be dominated by Germany, and Japan was to lead Asia. A new world order was to be established. In 1941 it certainly seemed like this would happen. In the years leading up to 1941, we need to bear in mind even in America some people felt sympathetic to the Germans. The Soviet Union likewise was not inherently the ally of Britain and America.

In hindsight, sure, things could have been decidedly differently amongst Japanese Buddhist institutions, but at the time, given what they knew and could discern, they behaved quite logically.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby ylee111 » Sun Jan 05, 2014 2:15 am

"Realistically speaking, at the time in Japan if you spoke out against the war, you risked being killed, or at the very least jailed. There wasn't also a widespread need to speak out against a war which was seen as defensive and in the interests of Buddhist countries around Asia."

Yet there have been Buddhist holypeople, such as those during the Vietnam War, who have given their lives to their causes. Whether it be through peaceful means or self-immolation or self-mummification, these folks, whom I can't help but respect, gave their lives and possibly a chance to reach Enlightenment. So the question is: were there cases of any Japanese Buddhist monks, nuns, or priests who martyred themselves for pacifism during World War II?
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby shaunc » Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:56 am

ylee111 wrote:"Realistically speaking, at the time in Japan if you spoke out against the war, you risked being killed, or at the very least jailed. There wasn't also a widespread need to speak out against a war which was seen as defensive and in the interests of Buddhist countries around Asia."

Yet there have been Buddhist holypeople, such as those during the Vietnam War, who have given their lives to their causes. Whether it be through peaceful means or self-immolation or self-mummification, these folks, whom I can't help but respect, gave their lives and possibly a chance to reach Enlightenment. So the question is: were there cases of any Japanese Buddhist monks, nuns, or priests who martyred themselves for pacifism during World War II?


As far as I know some leaders of Soka Gakkai (SGI) spoke out against the war & were jailed. I believe one of them died in prison. SGI is quite a controversial sect of Japanese Buddhism. I feel that many others would have as well, however I'm not able to verify this. In any war bad happens on both sides but only the victor gets to write the history books.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jan 19, 2014 8:49 am

ylee111 wrote:"Realistically speaking, at the time in Japan if you spoke out against the war, you risked being killed, or at the very least jailed. There wasn't also a widespread need to speak out against a war which was seen as defensive and in the interests of Buddhist countries around Asia."

Yet there have been Buddhist holypeople, such as those during the Vietnam War, who have given their lives to their causes. Whether it be through peaceful means or self-immolation or self-mummification, these folks, whom I can't help but respect, gave their lives and possibly a chance to reach Enlightenment. So the question is: were there cases of any Japanese Buddhist monks, nuns, or priests who martyred themselves for pacifism during World War II?


The holy people who torched themselves in Viet Nam didn't seem to make much of a difference. Plenty of people still died and the communist regime won the war.

In the pre-WWII days the common perception in Japan was that if Japan didn't fight for its survival, it would end up as a colony like Burma, or conquered by the Soviets. Japan's resource scarcity was such that it had to firmly secure essential industrial resources from overseas. Simply relying on trade agreements and the good will of nations like the US (for oil) was politically unwise, and the Japanese leadership understood this.

The Buddhists largely saw the war as one of self-defense and self-preservation. All things considered, as Buddhists it was in their interests to support the Japanese state. Who else were they going to side with? Communist Russia, America? They had no other options really.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Malcolm » Sun Jan 19, 2014 2:21 pm

Indrajala wrote:The holy people who torched themselves in Viet Nam didn't seem to make much of a difference. Plenty of people still died and the communist regime won the war.
.


They made a huge difference. That image from Vietnam is one of the most enduring images in history. It will live on when most of the details of what caused it have faded from memory.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Seishin » Sun Jan 19, 2014 2:57 pm

Indrajala wrote:Nowadays there is a widespread notion that Buddhism in Japan went into decline because of the married priesthood, whereas it actually was quite prosperous before WWII even with the married priesthood and even Chinese monks recognized this.

This has led me to think the decline of Buddhism in Japan had more to do with post-WWII secularization and an extremely rationalist education system.


This is very encouraging for priests of the Japanese schools. Thank you Ven. Indrajala.

Gassho,
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby rory » Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:15 am

I wonder if Buddhism wasn't semi-abandoned by the Japanese people because they lost the war. Many Buddhist ceremonies had to do with the preservation of the state and the rituals and the gods didn't do their part.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby kirtu » Mon Jan 20, 2014 5:18 pm

ylee111 wrote:Yet there have been Buddhist holypeople, such as those during the Vietnam War, who have given their lives to their causes. Whether it be through peaceful means or self-immolation or self-mummification, these folks, whom I can't help but respect, gave their lives and possibly a chance to reach Enlightenment. So the question is: were there cases of any Japanese Buddhist monks, nuns, or priests who martyred themselves for pacifism during World War II?


In this case the holy people who spoke out were mostly laypeople, and they were executed. Brian Victoria mentions some cases in "Zen at War". They were mostly lay Pure Land people plus some SG people. People were apparently reluctant to oppose expansive militarism within Japan. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, left for the mountains with his family and some students in 1943 after concluding that the war was unjust and supposedly after a vision of black soot raining from the sky (Stevens).

Japanese militaristic society controlled how people thought and some Buddhist teachers had written that the war was just. It's difficult to oppose contrived thoughts and conclusions in isolation.

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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 21, 2014 7:33 am

Malcolm wrote:
Indrajala wrote:The holy people who torched themselves in Viet Nam didn't seem to make much of a difference. Plenty of people still died and the communist regime won the war.
.


They made a huge difference. That image from Vietnam is one of the most enduring images in history. It will live on when most of the details of what caused it have faded from memory.


The war still continued, the communists won and America lost, only to engage in wars again and again in the following decades.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby PorkChop » Tue Jan 21, 2014 7:56 am

Indrajala wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Indrajala wrote:The holy people who torched themselves in Viet Nam didn't seem to make much of a difference. Plenty of people still died and the communist regime won the war.
.


They made a huge difference. That image from Vietnam is one of the most enduring images in history. It will live on when most of the details of what caused it have faded from memory.


The war still continued, the communists won and America lost, only to engage in wars again and again in the following decades.


Wait, weren't the communists the de facto party of the Buddhists? because the Republic of Vietnam had been oppressing non-Catholics... If anything, communist Vietnam's had fewer wars since than America has...
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 21, 2014 9:04 am

kirtu wrote:Japanese militaristic society controlled how people thought and some Buddhist teachers had written that the war was just. It's difficult to oppose contrived thoughts and conclusions in isolation.

Kirt


Are you unaware how many Japanese elites at the time tried to avert war with America? Like Konoe? Educated Japanese weren't stupid either. They knew the Americans wanted to see the collapse of Japanese power in the Pacific which would have left Japan isolated, defenseless and humiliated.

Roosevelt wanted the Japanese to strike first so he could finally get American public backing for entering the European theater, though he underestimated Japanese military capacities. In fact, Roosevelt's administration already had plans for a preemptive attack against Japanese cities from the air well before Pearl Harbor (the plan was approved on July 18th). The plan was to launch air raids using the Flying Tigers from China and destroy major Japanese cities between September and October, 1941.

And then there's the Hull note which was seen as an ultimatum.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hull_note

The Japanese were stuck between a rock and a hard place. This is what actually fueled public support for militarism. People felt understandably threatened by the West and Soviet Russia. There were extreme elements in the Japanese Army and Navy, yes, but much of the state was simply responding to difficult circumstances.

After becoming acquainted with the Japanese perspective of the early 20th century, I can understand why Buddhists generally fully supported the Japanese state. It was an ugly situation, yes, but they had no other alternative. America was not a friend to Japan in the two decades before 1941, so what other alternative did they have? Japan needed resources to support its industrial base. The alternative was becoming prey to a western power or Soviet Russia.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 21, 2014 9:14 am

rory wrote:I wonder if Buddhism wasn't semi-abandoned by the Japanese people because they lost the war. Many Buddhist ceremonies had to do with the preservation of the state and the rituals and the gods didn't do their part.
gassho
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I'm not so sure the majority of people knew that much about Buddhism. For most people, it was about blessings, rituals and social activities (like funerals), not unlike how it is in most Buddhist countries today.

Materialism is the unofficial ontology of the Japanese education system. That leaves no room for actually existent kami, to say nothing of Buddhist karma and so forth.

Actually in Japan the only time, generally speaking, the concept of karma is commonly invoked is when someone is unemployed and down on their luck. It is said it must be their karma to be unemployed, homeless, hungry, etc... and this justifies kicking them when they're down.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Heterodox Garden » Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:48 am

Rather than discuss Japanese Buddhism in relation to WWII (which is an important topic but also, I've found, a rather endless and heated one), I would address the OP's point about the "prosperity" of Japanese Buddhist institutions. I believe to a large extent it is due to the tax-free status of temples (which persists today). I have also heard rumors of Buddhist temples being used for money-laundering and other shady purposes, although I can't corroborate that either way. There are also enormous amounts of gold, silver, and art, treasures, and precious artifacts that have accrued in many temples over the past millenium and a half without being plundered, for the most part. (Although there are notable exceptiopns, such as Nobunaga's sack of the Tendai Enryakuji complex, or the destruction of the original Todaiji in Nara, among others).

I think a lot of the "prosperity" of Japanese temples can also be chalked up to Japanese culture. Although it is cliched at this point to note that Japanese culture values clenliness, precision, attention to detail, and fastidious preservation, I believe these are valid and accuate generalizations. The temples are often spotless, every twig and blade of grass in immculate condition, every corridor clean enough to eat off. This has been -- and continues to be -- maintained to a large degree by the unpaid work of legions of monks trained to value discipline, order, and clenliness. Clenliness can go a long way to enhancing the impression of prosperity.

Lastly, when people speak of the "decline" of Japanese Buddhism since the Tokugawa era, they are generally speaking of the decline of doctrinal innovation. (This point is overstated in my opinion as well, but that is also a whole other topic unto itself). Even if we accept this rather oversimplified contention, doctrinal rigidity/decline in no way implies financial decline. Temples have made vast amoutns of revenue from their involvment in the funiary business, and funerals have traditionally been very expensive for most Japanese. In recent decades this income source has been dwindling along with the general downward drift of the Japanese economy, but it is still a potent revenue stream. General donations and tourist fees also remain strong.
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Re: Chinese Buddhism and the Anti-Japan War

Postby Malcolm » Tue Jan 21, 2014 3:14 pm

Indrajala wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Indrajala wrote:The holy people who torched themselves in Viet Nam didn't seem to make much of a difference. Plenty of people still died and the communist regime won the war.
.


They made a huge difference. That image from Vietnam is one of the most enduring images in history. It will live on when most of the details of what caused it have faded from memory.


The war still continued, the communists won and America lost, only to engage in wars again and again in the following decades.


That image was one of the main things that caused the anti-war movement in the US. The US lost because of the US anti-war movement, not because the communists "won".
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