2. Hirose Akira’s Vitalism
Now I am being burned by the joy of life. This moment is the moment of joy and fullness of life. This moment coming from the spring of life cannot be replaced by anything else … Previously my life just followed someone else’s teaching. I was wandering among various concepts and looking for religion apart from myself. I must not be a slave of religion and theology. I am alive! I can see now the light of life.(15 September 1941)6
Nowadays, people are talking about totalitarianism to which individual desire must be subordinated. This is dangerous if it is applied to social policy. Behind this totalitarian policy, there is another kind of selfish desire. The individual will and desire exist before any ideologies(17 September 1940).
Moreover, Hirose criticized the slogans of the army, pointing out the selfish desire for expansionism (26 April 1941). The Konoe Cabinet and the military ratified the National Mobilization Law in 1938. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was cited as the ideological justification for Japan’s aggression over China and Asia.The state asked religious leaders to cooperate with the state’s moral suasion campaign for the war. Unless you establish your true self, the moral suasion has no meaning. We must return to the original mind seeking the truth(18 September 1940).
When war between Japan and the United States broke out following the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Hirose and his classmates had to put their dreams on hold. The Japanese government decided to mobilize all students, except those in science and technology, by forcing them to graduate early and join the war effort. Hirose graduated on 26 December 1941, with a thesis titled “The Way of Shinran’s Negation” (Shinranshōnin no hiteidō). He then joined the 11th Regiment in the city of Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture, on 1 February 1942.My life’s dream would be: First of all, in a quiet countryside, I would like to do a modern translation of Buddhist classics. Nowadays, those classics are confined to the denominational ivory tower. Those classics are abandoned as lifeless antiques. A translation is not just a change from one language to another. This is my work to translate those Buddhist classics to revive their life-vitality now, according to Shinran’s attitude of finding the life-vitality of the classics with his sincere pursuit of the true ground of self.(6 October 1944)
3. Hirose Akira’s Struggle against Militarism
How ugly our leaders are! Even the generals of one army section are enjoying themselves under the lights during an air raid (during air raids, turning off all lights was the military order: my quotes). The section leaders are taking 100 pieces of candy for their children while each soldier is given only one every month. All soap is taken by the section leaders to their families and they carried cakes of soap by car, using gasoline whose value was equivalent to human blood at that time. Must such a ridiculous thing exist!? Japan is already defeated whether winning the battle or not. Japan has already collapsed by her own people’s ego and selfishness. Therefore, the old Japan is dead now. I hope this is the sign before the new dawn!(8 December 1944)
4. The Transformation of Hirose’s Faith
Back in Gifu, now a True Pure Land Buddhist priest, Hirose wondered how he, a young spiritual leader, could start practicing his beliefs and faith. After the war, the Japanese people suffered from food shortages, widespread poverty, and an overwhelming sense of disillusionment. People tended to seek the Pure Land as an escape from the harsh reality of their lives. Hirose rejected heavenly images and instead emphasized the wholeness of the Pure Land. Rather than escaping to an otherworldly Pure Land, he stressed confronting both our suffering in this world and our innermost self. Ultimately, in the midst of suffering and searching, there is a voice of yearning for liberation, and that is the voice of the Tathāgata. Hirose was straightforward in advocating the necessity to prioritize this inner voice:The final time has come! Who could predict it four years ago? We are defeated. We can find our true naked selves. Stop the big slogans. We now find that we had nothing other than selfish egotism from the beginning of the war. At this moment, we must look at ourselves honestly, then, with this self-awakening, we are able to rise up from the ashes.(22 August 1945)
This thought process is neither wholly transcendental nor wholly immanent; rather, Hirose’s unique immanent transcendentalism is significant. Furthermore, Hirose often felt there was a barrier between the priesthood and the people. In light of this belief, he wanted to be totally independent as a genuine individual of faith. This is how he articulated such yearning:Buddhism is not forms and rituals as an objectified image or belief, but the principle or the ground of life itself. It is not our life style or forms but our attitude to life itself. Abandon chanting (nembutsu)! Abandon Shinran! Listen to the voice of the ground of yourself and your existence!(13 February 1945)
Acting on his ideas,14 Hirose converted a section of his temple into a library, so that the people could have unrestrained access to the classics and other books. He planned to return to Ōtani University to fulfill his dream of translating the Buddhist classics. Hirose also organized study groups for young people. In an attempt to alleviate the extreme poverty of the postwar years, Hirose worked with the youth groups to cultivate the land and forests within the temple’s property as community cooperatives.I want to abandon the temple and priesthood to live naturally. I want to talk to the heart of people as a naked individual freely. I hate my temple background. Ghosts with beautiful Buddha images, which were actually Demons, threatened me and tempted me.(31 March 1945)
It is clear that Hirose had already gone beyond a belief-centered Buddhism.15 While actively participating in society and the lives of people, he sought to retain the wholeness of the Pure Land as a criterion for being self-critical, as well as being critical of society without escaping from this world.To listen to the pledge of the Tathāgata is to be awakened with your real inner voice. If there is some belief, there is still doubt. If there is separation between the Tathāgata and myself, as well as believing and belief, it is not true faith. The Tathāgata is myself and I myself am the Tathāgata.(30 August 1946)
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The brothers had the same father but different mothers. Akira never knew his mother, and when he was only three, he became an orphan. He was then raised by his maternal grandparents. When Akira was twenty and a student at Ōtani University, his younger brother, Takashi, lived with him for four years until Akira was drafted into the army. Later, Takashi was drafted and sent to Manchuria; a prisoner of war, he was held in Siberia by the Soviet Union. When he was released some years after the war ended, he discovered that his brother had died. Takashi married Akira’s widow, Minamiko, and adopted his son, Shizuka. When he read his brother’s diary, he was inspired to realize his brother’s dream of becoming a Buddhist scholar and professor at Ōtani University. (Hirose 1970, pp. 215–20), and email correspondence with Hirose Shizuka, 29 April 2017.
Hirose’s vitalism sounds similar to that of Akegarasu Haya 暁烏敏 (1877–1954). In fact, Hirose listened to Akegarasu when the famous preacher visited Ōtani University in July 1941. Unlike Akegarasu’s evangelistic vitalism utilized for war propaganda, Hirose’s vitalism was personal, and he seems to have been endowed with a more critical mind. I learned a lot about Akegarasu from Fukushima Eiju’s article (Fukushima 2006), “Nihonteki Kyōyō to Buddhists during the 1930s” Kikan-Nihon-Shisōshi, vol. 69, (Tokyo: Parican-sha 2006) and Nakajima Takeshi’s Shinran to Nihonshugi, (Nakajima 2017, pp. 201–20).
Ibid., p. 73. Author’s translation. Hereafter, I will indicate the date of Hirose’s diary instead of the page number.
Kokutai 国体 means “national polity” or “national essence.” After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the government promoted this term to describe Japanese identity, which was associated with rule by an unbroken imperial line and closely linked to State Shinto. The relationship between the emperor (imperial family) and his subjects was compared to that between parents and children. From the late 1930s through World War II, kokutai was a central tenet of the ultranationalism that dominated Japan.
Tathāgata is an epithet for the Buddha.
Nishida Kitarō, 西田幾多郎uses Kant’s definition of heteronomous ethics and autonomous ethics in his book of Zen no kenkyū (Nishida 1990), translated by Masao Abe and Christopher Ives: (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). I use these terminologies as well. See Kant’s definition in “Kant’s Account of Reason” by Garrath Williams in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-reason/.
“Theory and Psychology of Ultranationalism,” in (Maruyama 1963, pp. 15–20).
This statement is reminiscent of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s notion of religionless faith and action against cheap grace in (Bonhoeffer 1959, pp. 41–102). Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), a German Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, was executed in April 1945 at the Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Sueki Fumihiko mentioned that modern Japanese Buddhism was influenced by the Protestant notion of belief-centered religiosity based on a personal and private faith (presentation at the conference Tracing Japanese Buddhism, UC Berkeley, 25 September 2009).
(Bonhoeffer 1959, pp. 41–99). It reminds that Bonhoeffer’s religionless faith and action beyond the Lutheran tradition of Two Kingdoms. German Lutherans had similar difficulties in resisting the totalitarian regimes during 1930–1945.
Takenaka Shōgen 竹中彰元 was a True Pure Land Buddhist priest of Myōsen-ji, who criticized the Fifteen Year War as sinful and foolish wastes in 1937. Takenaka was arrested and his status of priesthood was made lowest by Ōtani-ha. See (Daitō 2008).
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