Future Perfect: Tolstoy and the Structures of Agrarian-Buddhist Utopianism in Taishō Japan
2. The Narodniki: Farmer’s Institutes and New Villages
- As children born with the great earth as our mother and the vast sky as our father, we believe that we must find the foundation for our daily lives in the spirit of the pure farmer, and that moreover this is the very root of human existence.
- We repudiate the urban-based civilization, which continues to oppress and trample down the people both spiritually and economically, and pledge instead to establish an agriculturally based civilization that conforms to the land.
- This creed is not meant to give birth to yet another fixed doctrine; rather, we simply look to reconnect with our innate disposition to till the great earth and lead the natural life of the farmer.11
These reminiscences are interesting in several respects. First, though Mushakōji is reflecting from the age of forty back upon a period thirty years previous (around the time of the Russo-Japanese War), these dreams and doubts would stay with him throughout his life. Second, while he clearly rejects the traditional, stereotypical life of the Buddhist “bonze,” his aspirations for an “independent” and comprehensive “revival” of the self coincides perfectly with several streams of Buddhist modernism emerging in late Meiji, including New Buddhism and, perhaps even more so, the seishinshugi of Kiyozawa Manshi. Moreover, there are Zen inflections to Mushakōji’s conviction that: “One endeavors to work not simply to gain a livelihood, but as a way of enriching one’s life” (Shigoto ni hagemu no wa, seikatsu no tame dake de naku, jibun no jinsei jūjitsu suru koto desu) (cited in Matsubara 1994, p. 58). Indeed, more than one scholar has noted the “Daoist Zen” aspects of his poetry.20Why not become a bonze?—he even went so far to think; but then, to picture himself busy at chanting sutras was just too ridiculous. A beggar, then? But he did not believe that a beggar’s job would help to revive his selfhood. Whatever he chose to do, he would never settle for half-way solutions. He had to become a fully mature independent man of nothing at all. But again, even if he succeeded in bringing to life one side of the self, he thought he would not be able to revive the whole.(cited in and translated in Mortimer 2000, p. 20)
In this respect, it is useful to briefly examine Mushakōji’s Life of Shakyamuni Buddha, a 1934 publication that, due to positive critical reception and brisk sales, helped him to recover from the serious financial straits to which he had fallen by the late 1920s. In an afterword in which he explains his reasons for writing this work, Mushakoji notes that, while not intending to bring forth a “new Shakyamuni,” he wants to emphasize the “human” Sakyamuni, an ideal figure lauded for his combination of insight and compassion, yet one who possessed a natural innocence: “the heart of a child” (akago no kokoro).If I happened to be carried away by my social instinct, I might even be ready to die for my society. But if I am not and am pushed by society to expose myself against my will, I will hate to do so right away. Before I know whether it is good or bad to follow my social instinct, I must first listen to my individual, human, animal, terrestrial, Ding an Sich and all other instincts within me (I also perceive in myself something like a religious vocation; Tolstoy calls it “reason,” but I think it corresponds to something deeper than that).21
3. Ideology and Utopia in the Taishō Period
Our present generation can no longer be satisfied with what is called “objectivism” in naturalist ideology. We are too individualistic for that… I have, therefore, taught myself to place entire trust in the Self. To me, nothing has more authority than the Self. If a thing appears white to me, white it is. If one day I see it as black, black is what it will be. If someone tries to convince me that what I see as white is black, I will just think that person is wrong. Accordingly, if the “self” is white to me, nobody will make me say it is black.30
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Several sections of this article have been adapted, with modifications and elisions, from (Shields 2017); see esp. pp. 170–72; 183–88.
For a comprehensive study of Tolstoy’s impact in both Japan and China, see (Shifman 1966).
Indeed, as Marks notes, Japanese readers of Tolstoy tended to see him as familiar rather than exotic or mystical—the way he was usually seen in the West—and for various reasons treated him as “one of their own” (ibid., p. 124).
See Shizen to jinsei (Nature and human life, 1900) for Roka’s reflections on nature, and Mimizu no tawagoto (Gibberish of an earthworm, 1913) for his adoption of the Tolstoyan peasant lifestyle. See (Shifman 1996, pp. 68–76), for the correspondence between Roka and Tolstoy.
Ibid.; see also Moiwa 1981. The Russian word narodniki refers to a person associated with a loosely defined progressive social movement that first arose in Russia in the 1860s and 1870s, in response to the poverty and social problems unleashed by of Tsar Alexander II’s “emancipation” of the serfs. The ideology developed and promoted by the narodniki was a form of populism, focused especially on addressing the grievances of rural peasants—still the vast majority of ordinary Russians—rather than urban workers. For more on the Russian narodniki, see (Kołakowski 2008, pp. 609–12).
Musashino would become the center of the Japanese narodniki movement, with Tokutomi Roka, Ikeda Taneo (1897–1974), and Ōnishi Goichi (1898–1992) all spending some time in the Kamitakaido area during the Taishō period. See (Nishimura 1992, p. 151).
Tekirei writes about this in his correspondence with Akegarasu Haya in the Buddhist journal Chugai Nippō (March–April 1916); see (Wada 2012, pp. 293–94).
Cited in (Nishimura 1992, p. 150); my translation.
Cited in (Wada 2012, p. 20); Lotus Sutra, chap. 12 “Devadatta.”
Ibid., pp. 285–86.
Attending Gakushūin through virtually the entire fourth decade of Meiji (1898–1906), Mushakōji and his Shirakaba peers were exposed to an impressive array of lecturers, including Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916), Uchimura Kanzō, Miyake Setsurei (1860–1945), Shimazaki Tōson (1872–1943), and Tokutomi Roka.
From Mushakōji’s autobiographical novel Aru otoko (1921–1923); translated in (Mortimer 2000, p. 19).
This relentless optimism can be seen in the titles of a number of Mushakōji’s works from this period: the novels Kōfukumono (A happy man, 1919) and Yūjō (Friendship, 1920), and the play Ningen banzai (Three cheers for mankind, 1922); also see his autobiographical novel Aru otoko (A certain man, 1923).
(Mortimer 2000, pp. x–xi). Admittedly, it is unclear whether these points represent Mortimer’s own scholarly opinion or are meant to reflect the “standard reading” of the Shirakaba writers by postwar (Marxist-inclined) critics such as Honda Shūgo. While at Gakushūin, Mushakōji notes that he and his peers were exposed to the early writings of Kotoku Shūsui and Sakai Toshihiko (1871–1933), and that he himself felt a particular affinity to Shūsui’s ideas, “never miss[ing] a single issue of the Heimin Shimbun” (MSZ (1987–1991) 15: 545).
In Aru otoko, Mushakōji notes his distrust of charismatic revolutionary leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky, who had become “cult-figures” and “idols” (MSZ (1987–1991) 5: 281).
Mushakōji, “Gendai no bunmei”; cited and translated in (Mortimer 2000, p. 29).
See, e.g., (Epp 1996, pp. 18–22). According to Epp, “Taoist equanimity lies at the heart of Mushakōji’s poetic” (18).
MSZ (1987–1991) 9: 334–35. In his Kofuku mono (1919), published soon after the birth of Atarashikimura, Mushakōji would employ the term magokoro—literally, pure, open mind/heart—to refer to this characteristic shared by all true “masters.” Mortimer 2000, p. 180, 184, connects magokoro to a concept of “divine nakedness,” as well as to an “immanentist and pantheistic” energy that exists within nature.
For the Shirakaba writers, these included Christ, Śākyamuni Buddha, Confucius, St. Francis, Rousseau, Carlyle, Whitman, and William James; see (Mortimer 2000, p. 119).
See ibid., p. 120. Mortimer argues that because the Shirakaba “master” ultimately rejects all “isms,” the method of the master involves a (Zen?) “way of unlearning.”
Here again we see a parallel with Andō Shōeki’s radically “horizontal” perspective on liberation; i.e., one that rejects “authority” in any vertical form, relying rather on the “movement” of the individual within nature and community.
Ibid., p. 221.
Ibid., my emphasis.
Ibid., p. 222.
For an extended treatment of Critical Buddhism, see (Shields 2011).
Shirakaba, July 1911 (MSZ (1987–1991) 1: 428).
This is not to say that Karatani’s definition is equivalent to that of Schiller or Hegel, but rather that, like theirs, it looks to the original meaning of the Greek root aisthesis (aisthēsis), i.e., “perception.” See (Calichman 2005, p. 27).
According to Hardt and Negri, “altermodernity” marks conflict with modernity’s hierarchies as much as does antimodernity but orients the force of resistance more clearly towards an autonomous terrain” (Hardt and Negri 2009, p. 102). In an earlier work, Hardt and Negri developed a similar idea in the context of a discussion of the role of materialism in western thought: “[M]aterialism persisted through the development of modernity as an alternative … The vis viva of the materialist alternative to the domination of capitalist idealism and spiritualism was never completely extinguished” (Hardt and Negri 1994, p. 21). See also (Konishi 2013, pp. 3–4).
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Shields, J.M. Future Perfect: Tolstoy and the Structures of Agrarian-Buddhist Utopianism in Taishō Japan. Religions 2018, 9, 161. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9050161
Shields JM. Future Perfect: Tolstoy and the Structures of Agrarian-Buddhist Utopianism in Taishō Japan. Religions. 2018; 9(5):161. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9050161Chicago/Turabian Style
Shields, James Mark. 2018. "Future Perfect: Tolstoy and the Structures of Agrarian-Buddhist Utopianism in Taishō Japan" Religions 9, no. 5: 161. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9050161