Seiji Kumagai at the 2019 Tathāgatagarbha Symposium

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Seiji Kumagai at the 2019 Tathāgatagarbha Symposium - 17 of 23
Seiji Kumagai discusses the theory of “innate enlightenment” (hongaku) in Japanese Buddhism. He argues that Shinran clearly showed a negative attitude toward innate enlightenment despite the fact that he used terms which are often regarded to be associated with the theory.

Abstract from the Author

How the Concepts of “buddha-nature” (Tathāgatagarbha) and “innate enlightenment” (Hongaku) were interpreted by Shinran (1173-1263)

Japan is one of the most prominent Buddhist countries. Located in the Far East, this country’s Buddhism has developed many peculiar characteristics and concepts. One of these specific ideas is the theory of “innate enlightenment” (hongaku), which is closely related in meaning to the term “buddha-nature” (tathāgatagarbha). The theory of “buddha-nature” insists that since all sentient beings possess the essence of Buddha, they are all capable of becoming enlightened in the future. On the other hand, the theory of “innate enlightenment” admits as a fact that all sentient beings are innately enlightened, or that all phenomena are a manifestation of Buddha. The extended interpretation of the theory of “buddha-nature” was highly developed in the Japanese Tendai school. The unique theory of “innate enlightenment” was actually criticized by Japanese Buddhist monks both inside and outside the Tendai school. For example, the theory does not appear in any of the attested treatises of Genshin (942-1017), a highly influential representative of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism (although it does appear in forged works attributed to him). Honen (1133-1212), the founder of the Jōdo-Shū school, took a contrary position against the idea of “innate enlightenment” as admitted by modern Buddhologists. However, Yoshiro Tamura insists that Honen’s disciples, including Shinran (1173-1263), the founder of Jōdo-Shin-Shū school, embraced the theory of “innate enlightenment” against their master’s position. Japanese Buddhologists after Tamura have also defended that Shinran was influenced by such a theory to a greater or lesser extent.

However, the current speaker has been able to prove that Shinran, as well as his master Honen, clearly showed a negative attitude against the theory of “innate enlightenment,” although he used terms which are often regarded to be associated with the theory. This presentation will overview Shinran’s position concerning the theories of “buddha-nature” and “innate enlightenment.”

Sources Mentioned

People Mentioned

942 ~ 1017
1133 ~ 1212
Yoshiro Tamura
1921 ~ 1989
1173 ~ 1262
Mitsuya Dake
476 ~ 542
Featuring Seiji Kumagai
Creator University of Vienna, Tsadra Foundation
Event Tathāgatagarbha Across Asia (18 July 2019, University of Vienna, Austria)
Related Website Buddha-Nature Project
Video Web Location Tathāgatagarbha Across Asia
Creation Date 18 July 2019
Citation Kumagai, Seiji. "How the Concepts of 'Buddha-Nature' (Tathāgatagarbha) and 'Innate Enlightenment' (Hongaku) Were Interpreted by Shinran (1173–1263), Founder of the Jōdo-Shin-Shū School of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism." Paper presented at the University of Vienna Symposium, Tathāgatagarbha Across Asia, Vienna, Austria, July 2019. Video, 47:28.