Dear List Members,
See information below about an upcoming online lecture by Professor James Mark Shields of Bucknell University on "Shōwa Buddhist Socialism (1930s)." This is the final of a four-part Spring 2022 lecture series by Professor Shields on "Progressive and Radical Buddhist Experiments in Modern Japan," sponsored by the Associated Kyoto Program. For more information, see the AKP website: https://www.associatedkyotoprogram.org/events/
Date and Time: Wednesday, April 27 at 7:00 PM Eastern, 6:00 PM Central, 4:00 PM Pacific (Thursday, April 28 at 8:00 AM Japan Time)
Location: Online via Zoom
In the early decades of the twentieth century, as Japanese society became engulfed in war and increasing nationalism, the majority of Buddhist leaders and institutions capitulated to the status quo, preaching, in the words of Joseph Kitagawa “the virtues of peace, harmony, and loyalty to the throne.” One notable exception to this trend, however, was the Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei (Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism), founded on April 5, 1931. Led by Nichiren Buddhist layman Seno’o Girō (1889–1961), and made up of young social activists who were critical of capitalism, internationalist in outlook, and committed to both an pan-sectarian and more “rational and practical” form of Buddhism that would work for social justice and world peace. In many respects, the League was an extension of earlier movements towards Buddhist modernization and reform dating back to the 1880s. And yet, by the time they were founded, Japan had entered a very different, and much more conservative (some would argue fascist) stage. Their activities in support of poor farmers, striking workers and burakumin “outcastes” eventually led to the arrest of Seno’o and the League’s forced dissolution in 1937. The Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism has been called the first—if not only—“engaged Buddhist” movement in modern Japan, and along with contemporary Engaged Buddhism, might be criticized for placing secular liberal (in this case, socialist) values of rights and freedoms above traditional Buddhist doctrines. This paper analyzes the views of the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism as found in the writings of Seno’o Girō, in relation to the historical and political context and with specific reference to various “problems” surrounding the emergence of Buddhist socialism in modern Japan, including the use of Nichiren’s Risshō ankoku ron, the Lotus Sutra, and the relation of Buddhism to materialism.