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Japanese Philosophy : A Sourcebook

Philosophy challenges our assumptions--especially when it comes to us from another culture. In exploring Japanese philosophy, a dependable guide is essential. The present volume, written by a renowned authority on the subject, offers readers a historical survey of Japanese thought that is both comprehensive and comprehensible.

Japanese philosophy : a sourcebook

Without foreign ideas being coerced on them, Japanese thinkers had theluxury of alternatives outside the binary of simple wholeheartedacceptance or utter rejection. New theories from abroad could be triedand, if need be, experimentally modified before making a finaldecision about endorsement. Sometimes a foreign philosophy might beseen as supplying raw material to be fashioned to serve ongoing nativephilosophical enterprises. In other cases a new philosophy might beimported whole cloth to either supplement or supplant a home system ofthought. Because of those circumstances, Japanese philosophersacquired skill in analyzing foreign ideas by examining the culturalassumptions behind them to determine their potential implications ifthey were to be adopted into their own culture.

Against that backdrop, this article explains Japanese philosophy infive sections. Section 1 considers how Japanese have traditionallyunderstood philosophy to be a Way (michi) of engaging realityrather than a detached method for studying it. The next section listssome patterns of analysis that are hallmarks of that Way of Japanesephilosophizing. Section 3 identifies five distinguishable traditionshaving had a major impact on Japanese philosophy, explaining a fewcentral ideas from each. Section 4 surveys how those five traditionshave evolved and interacted over four major periods of Japanesehistory from ancient times to the present. Section 5 concludes with afew themes given special emphasis in Japanese philosophy that might beprovocative to philosophy at large.

The second misunderstanding of the political theory behind theimperial system arose later in the twentieth century with Westernintellectual historians influenced by Hayden White's theory ofhistorical discourse and its analysis of tropes (White 1973). Oneclaim was that in the nineteenth century Japanese Native Studies(Kokugaku) had developed a new form of historical narrative centeringon the trope of kokutai. The emperor is the body,essence, or formation (tai) of thecountry, nation, and its people(koku). Thus the term kokutai applies to both theemperor and to Japan. The new ideological narrative, the criticsclaimed, deceptively used a metonym (the emperor as a part of thestate used to symbolize the state) to claim the emperor isthe state (Harootunian 1978). Despite its virtues on other counts(see the entry on philosophy of history, section 3.4),metahistorical criticism ill fits the Japanese situation inasmuch asit overlooks the long-standing Japanese emphasis on internal andholographic relations. That is, the internal relation between emperorand Japan establishes a holographic relation such that each personcontains the configuration of the whole Japanese nation. From thestandpoint of the traditional Japanese kokutai theory, toclaim the emperor is really only a symbol or metonym for Japan is acategory mistake comparable to saying the dnafound in the blood at the crime scene is only a symbol or metonym forthe perpetrator. The philosophical claim (leaving aside here the truthvalue of that claim) is that the relations among the emperor, theJapanese people, and the state are comparable to the relations amongthe dna, the blood, and the person from thecrime scene. It is simply a false premise (and certainly not oneassumed in the history of Japanese thought) that there is no possiblesense in which the whole can be contained in one of its parts and thatany such claim must be no more than a trope.

Hybridization is a third form of assimilation that leaves neither theoriginal theory nor its opposing rival theory intact. Instead, throughtheir cross-pollination something completely new is born. A hybridpresents us with a new species of philosophy and although we can do agenealogy of its parentage, it cannot (unlike the cases of allocationor relegation) ever return to its earlier opposing forms. If weconsider a biological hybrid like a boysenberry, which has a geneticparentage traceable to a loganberry and a raspberry, we cannot findthe loganberry or the raspberry intact in the boysenberry. Once thehybrid is created, we cannot undo the crossbreeding; there are nowthree distinct species of berries. Analogously, in the process ofphilosophical assimilation, when true philosophical hybrids emerge,historians of philosophy may be able to uncover their genealogies, butthe theories themselves can no longer be deconstructed back into theirparental origins. As will be explained below, in Japanbushidō, the Way of the warrior, is such a philosophicalhybrid born of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shintō, but whichbecame an independent philosophy of its own that in many ways servedas a rival to its antecedents.

Not having a philosophical tradition of its own, proto-Shintō didnot so much argue against or refute the Chinese idea of the mandate ofheaven; it simply ignored it, however fundamental it was to Confucianpolitical theory. It is significant that no major Confucian thinker,not even in the most ascendant period of Confucian philosophy underthe Tokugawa shogunate, vigorously argued that the mandate of heavenshould supersede the Shintō justification for imperial rule basedin the function of the emperor as holographically reflecting theontological, inherent connection among the kami, the Japanesepeople, and the physical land of Japan.

The third major fountainhead feeding into Japanese philosophy fromancient to contemporary times has been Buddhism. With origins in Indiagoing back to the fifth century bce, Buddhistphilosophy like Confucianism entered Japan via Korea and China in thesixth and seventh centuries. In contrast with Confucianism, however,by the end of the eighth century Buddhism emerged as the major focusof Japanese creative philosophical development as imported ChineseBuddhist schools of thought were modified and new Japanese schoolsdeveloped. Buddhism continued its intellectual dominance until theseventeenth century, then making way for the second wave of Confucianideas that better suited the newly risen urbanized, secular societyunder the control of the Tokugawa shoguns. With notable exceptions, inthe seventeenth through nineteenth centuries Buddhist intellectualsretreated from philosophical innovation to focus on institutionaldevelopment, textual studies, and sectarian histories. When Westernphilosophy surged into modern Japan and its newly established secularuniversities, some influential Japanese philosophers saw Buddhistideas as the best premodern resource for synthesis with Westernthought. In some cases that entailed reformulating traditionalBuddhist ideas in light of Western philosophical categories. In othercases, philosophers used allocation, relegation, or hybridization tocreate new systems that tried to assimilate Western ideas whilemaintaining aspects of traditional Japanese values. That said, in themodern era under the ideology of State Shintō, Buddhism as both areligion and a philosophy often suffered persecution and it was notuntil 1945 that it was once again completely free to develop itstheories openly without government surveillance and censorship.

A second Buddhist premise is that reality presents itself withoutillusion in its so-called as-ness or thusness (nyoze;Sanskrit: tathatā). That premise contrasts with awidespread orthodox Indian view (found in the Upaniśadsand later Vedas, for example) that reality continuously hidesits true nature through illusion (Sanskrit: māyā).Still, according to Buddhism, despite the lack of ontologicalillusions, we ordinarily almost never access reality as it is becausewe project on it psychological delusions fueled by habituatedstimulus-response systems based in ignorance, repulsion, and desire.As a result, a major theme in Buddhist philosophy is to understand thebodymind mechanisms of the inner self or consciousness, to recognizehow our emotions, ideas, mental states, and even philosophicalassumptions color our perceptions of reality. The problem is notillusions within reality, but the self-delusions we mistake forreality. Buddhism brought to Japan not only an awareness of the innerdynamics of experience, but also a collection of epistemological,psychological, ethical, hermeneutic, and metaphysical bodymindtheories and practices aimed at understanding and eradicating thosedelusions. Without those delusions our bodymind would be in accordwith the way things are and we could live without the anguish createdby trying to live in a concocted reality we desire instead of realityas it is.

Although Roman Catholic Christian thought was introduced bymissionaries in the fifteenth century, it had a short-lived influenceof about a century before it was banned as part of the closure ofJapan to almost all foreign contact. Hence, the first strong andlasting impact of Western philosophy came in the late nineteenthcentury. Although its impact has been broad and difficult tosummarize, a few key points are especially noteworthy.

The fifth fountainhead of Japanese philosophy did not originate fromabroad but bubbled up from within Japan itself in the modern period:bushidō, the Way of the warrior. Although there had beenedifying handbooks and martial codes in Japan for centuries precedingthe modern period, bushidō was formalized only in themodern period as a school of thought with a political, ethical, andethnic ideology in service of the state. Loyalty was originally ageneralized lower-order Confucian virtue but bushidōgave it a special meaning by linking it directly to the emperor andthe holographic paradigm supporting the imperial system in StateShintō. The emphasis on dying as the fullest expression ofloyalty seems to have been most foregrounded in 1701 with the famousAkō Incident of the Forty-seven Masterless Samurai, latervalorized in popular literature and dramatic performances. Acontributing factor in that cult of death may have been the emphasison the death of the ego-self in Zen Buddhism, a locution used byRinzai Zen masters in training unemployed samurai who joined themonastery during the centuries of the Tokugawa peace. In additionbushidō emphasized the value of makoto,genuineness or trustworthiness, a term with originally Shintōconnotations. Added to those native influences was the importednineteenth-century European ideologies of ethnic virtue, the purity ofa given race of people as constituting the basis for a nationstate. 041b061a72

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