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Imperial-Way Zen

Ichikawa Hakugen's Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist Ethics

Christopher Ives

Publication Year: 2009

During the first half of the twentieth century, Zen Buddhist leaders contributed actively to Japanese imperialism, giving rise to what has been termed "Imperial-Way Zen" (Kodo Zen). Its foremost critic was priest, professor, and activist Ichikawa Hakugen (1902–1986), who spent the decades following Japan’s surrender almost single-handedly chronicling Zen’s support of Japan’s imperialist regime and pressing the issue of Buddhist war responsibility. Ichikawa focused his critique on the Zen approach to religious liberation, the political ramifications of Buddhist metaphysical constructs, the traditional collaboration between Buddhism and governments in East Asia, the philosophical system of Nishida Kitaro (1876–1945), and the vestiges of State Shinto in postwar Japan. Despite the importance of Ichikawa’s writings, this volume is the first by any scholar to outline his critique. In addition to detailing the actions and ideology of Imperial-Way Zen and Ichikawa’s ripostes to them, Christopher Ives offers his own reflections on Buddhist ethics in light of the phenomenon. He devotes chapters to outlining Buddhist nationalism from the 1868 Meiji Restoration to 1945 and summarizing Ichikawa’s arguments about the causes of Imperial-Way Zen. After assessing Brian Victoria’s claim that Imperial-Way Zen was caused by the traditional connection between Zen and the samurai, Ives presents his own argument that Imperial-Way Zen can best be understood as a modern instance of Buddhism’s traditional role as protector of the realm. Turning to postwar Japan, Ives examines the extent to which Zen leaders have reflected on their wartime political stances and started to construct a critical Zen social ethic. Finally, he considers the resources Zen might offer its contemporary leaders as they pursue what they themselves have identified as a pressing task: ensuring that henceforth Zen will avoid becoming embroiled in international adventurism and instead dedicate itself to the promotion of peace and human rights. Lucid and balanced in its methodology and well grounded in textual analysis, Imperial-Way Zen will attract scholars, students, and others interested in Buddhism, ethics, Zen practice, and the cooptation of religion in the service of violence and imperialism.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful for everything Pat Crosby and her staff at the University of Hawai‘i Press, as well as copy editor Drew Bryan, have done to bring this book to publication. While working on the manuscript I also benefited from a number of colleagues in Japan. For meeting with me there, answering my questions, or sending me materials, I thank Tom Kirchner, Tokiwa Gishin, Abe Masao, Ishii Kōsei, ...

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pp. 1-12

Preaching a gospel of non-violence, the Dalai Lama has presented Buddhism to his wide audience as a religion of peace. Jack Kerouac and other Beat writers imagined an East Asian Zen populated by poets, hermits, and eccentrics, defiantly extricated from conventional morality and political co-optation. While these representations may hold sway in the popular imagination, history presents a different Buddhism. ...

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Chapter One: Useful Buddhism, 1868–1945

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pp. 13-52

Facing the threat of Western imperialism, Japanese leaders in the Meiji period dedicated themselves to what Joseph Kitagawa once termed “renovation” and “restoration”: renovating economic and political institutions while restoring the emperor, on paper at least, to his position as head of the body politic.1 They took steps to “open” Japan and promote “civilization and enlightenment” (bunmei kaika),2 ...

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Chapter Two: Peace of Mind at Any Price

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pp. 54-82

Buddhists contributed actively to Japan’s attempts to forge itself into a modern nation-state and pursue imperialism throughout Asia. They lent their social status and homiletical skills to propaganda campaigns run by the state to cultivate obedient imperial subjects; pursued social welfare activities; organized and participated actively in patriotic groups; exhorted parishioners to “serve the public” in wartime ...

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Chapter Three: Indebted in Our Proper Places

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pp. 83-100

Zen’s political stances cannot be attributed solely to the “accommodationism” deriving from Zen peace of mind or to metaphysical schemes that valorize the status quo. Ichikawa also criticized Zen’s approach to society and history, focusing on its view of equality, inequality, and karma; the notion that “differences are none other than equality”; “pan-moralism” in East Asia; Zen’s treatment of poverty, class, and ...

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Chapter Four: Modern Buddhism for the Protection of the Realm

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pp. 101-127

In his arguments about the causes of Imperial-Way Zen, Ichikawa focuses on Zen’s epistemology, metaphysics, and views of society and history. He situates the first of these foci at the center of his critique, writing at length about the ethical pitfalls of Zen “peace of mind.” While critical of the political stances D. T. Suzuki took from the Meiji period onward, Ichikawa appropriated Suzuki’s privileging of Zen ...

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Chapter Five: Quick Conversions and Slow Apologies in Postwar Japan

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pp. 128-155

Whether one views Imperial-Way Zen primarily as an inevitable outcome of an overemphasis on “peace of mind,” an extreme expression of the historical “unity of Zen and the sword,” or a modern instance of “Buddhism for the protection of the realm,” hovering over Zen and other sects of Japanese Buddhism is the issue of the extent to which their leaders and institutions should bear responsibility for Japan’s ...

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Chapter Six: From Collaboration to Criticism

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pp. 156-166

The Zen leaders who responded to Ina Buitendijk’s letters and participated in the Road to Peace Symposium complemented their apologies with remarks about how Zen could promote peace and avoid mistakes in the future. In his letter to Buitendijk, Hirata Seikō calls on Zen Buddhists to follow the example of Pope John Paul II’s apology to Jews and begin “sincerely acknowledging the errors resulting from our ...

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Chapter Seven: Absent Ethics, Present Ethics

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pp. 167-188

Hovering over the historical record is the question of the extent to which Buddhist ethical constructs and values may have checked Imperial-Way Zen and at present provide resources for the kind of ethic that Myōshinji clerics and Ichikawa Hakugen deem necessary for Zen. One might look to the precepts, especially the first precept with its proscription of harming. Another possible brake on Buddhist ...


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pp. 189-244


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pp. 245-260

Bibliography of Ichikawa Hakugen’s Major Works

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pp. 261-262


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pp. 263-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862961
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833312

Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 647928419
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Imperial-Way Zen

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Subject Headings

  • Ichikawa, Hakugen, 1902-1986.
  • Buddhist ethics -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Zen Buddhism -- Political aspects -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Buddhism and state -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Nationalism -- Religious aspects -- Zen Buddhism.
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