Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chaps' Dharma Talk: "Advance Towards the Pure Land, Retreat Into Hell!" - The Ikko Ikki

Hello all!
This third post in my series on warrior Buddhists will draw from the history of the school I belong to, the Jodo Shinshu, or literally in English the "True Pure Land School." Our head temple, the Nishi-Hongwanji ("Western Temple of the Original Vow"), is located in Kyoto, Japan, and the North American district or kyodan is known as the Buddhist Churches of America, or BCA.

First, let's think about even the name of this school. What does it imply, the word "true"? Jodo Shinshu is an "exclusivist" teaching, in the sense that it explicitly rejects Shinto practices (and is now interpreted to include things like fortune-telling, belief in ghosts and spirits and other "superstitions"), but also rejects what can be considered very traditional Buddhist practices, like meditation. This may come as a surprise to those who assume Buddhism is inclusive, which it generally is as a whole (for example there are Buddhists who also practice elements of Shinto, Taoism, and Buddhists who also consider themselves Christian, Jewish, etc.), but Japanese Buddhism developed strict divisions over what was considered "true" practice versus everything else, or heterodox practice. This doctrinal development is too long and complex to discuss in depth in this particular post, so the major point to remember here is that the many schools of Japanese Buddhism developed distinct sectarian differences from each other, which means that today you will typically not see Zen-style zazen practice in Jodo Shinshu temples (although now some temples do offer a basic type of meditation practice), or vice versa, and there are also different types of practices within Zen (Rinzai, Soto, Obaku), Jodo Shinshu, Nichirenshu, and so on. Jodo Shinshu tends to be strictly confined to recitation of the nembutsu, which is the recitation of Namo Amida Butsu or "I take refuge in the Amida Buddha." Similarly, the adherents of the Nichirenshu (the school of Nichiren), and Soka Gakkai focus exclusively on the teachings of Lotus Sutra, and they are the ones who recite Namo Myoho Renge Kyo. Depending on the individual of whatever school you may ask, they may not even recognize a person from the Jodo Shinshu, Zen, or Nichiren tradition, as even being a properly practicing Buddhist (whatever that means)!

Ikki in Japanese means a violent rebellion or uprising; these occurred sporadically throughout Japanese history up until the 19th-century, and were often associated with the peasant class. The type of ikki we are concerned with here are the ones associated with the Jodo Shinshu tradition belonging to the Hongwanji school. Ikko means "single-minded" and may have been the name of another Pure Land sect distinct from Jodo Shinshu, but which later merged into the latter, due to the immense missionary activities of Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499), considered as the "Second Founder" of the Jodo Shinshu tradition because of such activities, and also because under his leadership, Hongwanji became not only a major Buddhist school, distinct from other sects (until then it was considered part of the Tendai school), but also a political and a military power. "Single-minded" referred to the single or only practice of that school, which in this case was singular devotion to the Amida Buddha. Ikko Ikki, or "Leagues of the Single Minded" fought at various times against various daimyo (samurai warlords) and most spectacularly against one of the greatest daimyo of Japan's Warring States period, Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who openly detested Buddhism, in particular the Buddhist temples' independence from government (i.e. warlord) control.

Ikko-ikki emerged at the beginning of the Warring States or Sengoku Period (and differed very much from later ikki of the Tokugawa period); in the case of Ikko-ikki they were not solely composed of peasants, but may have included more well-to-do townspeople, priests (like today, Jodo Shinshu priests were not monks) and also samurai, or people familiar with military tactics and strategy; Ikko-ikki were comprised of both foot soldiers and cavalry. They were temporary groups, appearing in different provinces, coming together for a specific grievance or issue and dissolving once that issue was settled or disappeared. ca Shonin did not create the Ikko-ikki, and even wrote against certain Ikko-ikki activities at various times, but made no effort to prevent them, and almost certainly used some of them for protection and certain advantages. Ikko-ikki were really uncontrollable, even to warlords, and of course, it was often the depredations, or perceived injustices, of the warlords that the Ikko-ikki fought against. The daimyo of Kaga Province was killed by Ikko-ikki in 1488 and the province ruled by the Ikko-ikki for nearly 100 years the only time prior to the modern Japanese era a province was not ruled by aristocrats or the samurai class.

By the time of the later Warring States period, the Ikko-ikki confronted Oda Nobunaga, who wanted the strategic area that was then occupied by the Ishiyama Hongwanji (now the present-day site of Osaka Castle), and was also intent on smashing the independence of the Buddhist institutions. Nobunaga and the Ikko-Ikki waged an 11-year conflict which left tens of thousands dead on both sides (the destruction of the Nagashima Hongwanji was especially destructive, with approximately 40,000 killed), and was only ended when the Imperial Court in Kyoto intervened, and Hongwanji gave up the Ishiyama location. It was lated relocated to its present site in Kyoto, and then split into Nishi ("Western") and Higashi ("Eastern") Hongwanji to curb its power. The split remains to this day. Oda Nobunaga, of course, has a bad reputation in the Jodo Shinshu histories! More on him later.

Why did the Ikko-Ikki fight? Historians have debated this there does not seem to be a conclusive answer. Most likely, there is no single "answer" but a multitude of reasons, religion being only one of them. But because a religious element was involved, we cannot discount the power of religion, Buddhism in this case, to inspire people to fight, whether for their way of life, freedom of practice, safety of their families, economic benefits, political power, and so on. One of the "battle flags" of the Ikko-ikki was inscribed "Advance into the Pure Land, Retreat into Hell!" (the image above) thereby suggesting, if not a literal interpretation of what would happen in battle, at least the concept of singular devotion to Amida Buddha on behalf of the fighter. Belonging to an ikki reinforced or contributed to a certain religious identity whether it was Ikko or its counterpart, the Hokke or the "Lotus Leagues" (which deserves its own discussion so I haven't gone into that here). We also cannot discount the possibility of belief in an exclusvist or rigid doctrine (the only "true" doctrine!), as Jodo Shinshu was in those times, to inspire people to incredible acts. We can also see examples of this during and after the West's Protestant Reformation with its millennarian Christian sects, and of course, today.

Buddhists on this occassion did fight on behalf of school allegiances and to preserve their temples, the physical construct and the community to which it belonged, and maybe something like independence, although after the Tokugawa period began, this history became rather problematic for later Hongwanji scholars, for obvious reasons; it still seems within the Jodo Shinshu tradition itself, that the Ikko-ikki is still something of a "taboo" topic; in a 1960s(early 70s?)-era BCA book entited Young Peoples' Introduction to Buddhism, meant for BCA Boy Scouts, there is only an extremely vague reference to "soldier-clerics," whose power "was not exercised on behalf of religious convictions," or in other words they had nothing to do with Jodo Shinshu or Buddhism. Now, however, the history of the Ikko-ikki is more accessible, and should also be discussed, just as the topic of Buddhists in the armed forces, Buddhist concepts of "just war," Buddhism and violence, should be seriously addressed and not forgotten or glossed over as aberrations, a glitch in time.

There is also a gatha, or hymn, that is sung in many Jodo Shinshu temples, both in Japan and here in America, called Ondukusan, inspired by one of Shinran Shonin's verses (Shozomatsu Wasan). It is unlikely that it had anything to do with the Ikko-ikki, but its lyrics may echo some idea of the determination these Buddhists possessed to defend their way of life. Plus its a very nice melody. The English lyrics are:

“Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.”

Namo Amida Butsu

War and Faith: Ikko Ikki in Late Muromachi Japan by Carol Richmond Tsang (2007, Harvard University Press)
Japanese Warrior Monks AD 949-1603 by Stephen Turnbull (Osprey)
Japanese Fortified Temples and Monasteries AD 710-1602 by Stephen Turnbull (Osprey)
(These texts specifically discuss aspects of Ikko-Ikki, and also information can be found in most history books about medieval Japan. The Osprey titles tend to conflate different kinds of ikki and the Tendaishu sohei all together as "warrior monks", which does not seem to be completely accurate, I think, but is still worth reading and has great illustrations)


Gerald Ford said...

Ah, the Ondukusan. I attend a Jodo Shinshu here in the US, and we sing this hymn often. There are two melodies to it, by the way: one is slower more sad, the other kind of upbeat but bittersweet.

My take on the Ondokusan has been not so much a determination to defend Buddhism at all costs, but rather a kind of joy that one experiences their whole life (until their bones are dust) in being carried along by Amida Buddha and the Vow.

Also, my own take on Jodo Shinshu is not so much an exclusive one, but more of a straightforward one. I've dabbled in other Buddhisms in the past, and things can get overwhelming. Whereas in Jodo Shinshu, the only thing we do is take refuge in Amida Buddha. Anything else we do is just out of joy and gratitude. :)

It's nice because other Buddhist practices become an expression of joy rather than requirements, or reasons to worry. Meditate as much or as little as you like, because you don't feel pressure for not doing it enough.

Anyways, a few folks have been recommending I check out this site (though I am not in the military), so I wanted to drop in and say hi. I think it's great that there's a military Buddhist blog, so please keep up the good work. :D

--Gerald Ford

LT Jeanette Shin, CHC, USN said...

Hi Gerald!

Nice to hear from you! Which temple do you attend?

I prefer the Ondokusan melody which is the more upbeat, and it brings out the lyrics better, I think. It seems to be one the most used in temples. We always sing it in Japanese, I don't know if anyone ever uses the English translation.

I like Ondokusan because it's one of the best expressions of Jodo Shinshu; sometimes we get a bad rap as "the Buddhists who don't do anything" (?!) because we are not required to do practices like meditation. But in fact we DO do a lot! It is really not at all that easy as people think, to sincerely take refuge and express gratitude. Jodo Shinshu is not about slamming other Buddhist practices, but it is liberation in the real Buddhist sense of the word. People will only go to a Buddhist temple, and keep on going, if they have real joy in the Three Treasures, as you said, and generations of Shin Buddhists have felt that. So Ondokusan helps remind us of our responsibility to keep that tradition alive.

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