Volume 49 Issue 1 Rethinking the Interdependence of Buddhism and the State in Late Edo and Meiji Japan

Kleine, Christoph

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This article asks how the Buddhist paradigm of the interdependence between the Buddha’s law and the ruler’s law was modified over the centuries and reinterpreted by nineteenth-century authors in the face of rapid political, social, and epistemic changes. An analysis of relevant texts reveals continuities as well as discontinuities. While the paradigm’s basic function of guaranteeing autonomy and protection to Buddhist institutions remained largely unchanged, remarkable transformations in the argumentation are evident. Despite, or because of, the precarious position of Buddhism in the early Meiji period, Buddhist authors from this era choose an apologetic strategy. With some slight differences, they emphasize almost exclusively the intramundane benefits of Buddhism and thus defend themselves against the accusation that Buddhism is solely relevant to otherworldly matters. The most radical innovation, however, is the assertion that all secular norms and rules of governance are ultimately Buddhist in origin.