Secrecy's Power

Secrecy's Power: Covert Shin Buddhists in Japan and Contradictions of Concealment

Clark Chilson
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 235
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  • Book Info
    Secrecy's Power
    Book Description:

    Shin has long been one of the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. As a devotional tradition that emphasizes gratitude and trust in Amida Buddha, it is thought to have little to do with secrecy. Yet for centuries, Shin Buddhists met on secluded mountains, in homes, and in the backrooms of stores to teach their hidden doctrines and hold clandestine rites. Among their adherents was D. T. Suzuki's mother, who took her son to covert Shin meetings when he was a boy.

    Even among Shin experts, covert followers were relatively unknown; historians who studied them claimed they had disappeared more than a century ago. A serendipitous encounter, however, led to author Clark Chilson's introduction to the leader of a covert Shin Buddhist group-one of several that to this day conceal the very existence of their beliefs and practices. InSecrecy's PowerChilson explains how and why they have remained hidden.

    Drawing on historical and ethnographic sources, as well as fieldwork among covert Shin Buddhists in central Japan,Secrecy's Powerintroduces the histories, doctrines, and practices of different covert Shin Buddhists. It shows how, despite assumptions to the contrary, secrecy has been a significant part of Shin's history since the thirteenth century, when Shinran disowned his eldest son for claiming secret knowledge. The work also demonstrates how secrecy in Shin has long been both a source of conflict and a response to it. Some covert Shin Buddhists were persecuted because of their secrecy, while others used it to protect themselves from persecution under rulers hostile to Shin.

    Secrecy's Poweris a groundbreaking work that makes an important contribution to our knowledge on secrecy and Shin Buddhism. Organized around the various consequences concealment has had for covert Shin Buddhists, it provides new insights into the power of secrecy to produce multiple effects-even polar opposite ones. It also sheds light on ignored corners of Shin Buddhism to reveal a much richer, more diverse, and more contested tradition than commonly is understood.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5134-7
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface: Discovering Secrecy’s Power
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XIII-XVI)
  5. Conventions
    (pp. XVII-XVIII)
  6. Introduction: Secrecies in Religion and Shin Buddhism
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book aims to contribute to two fields of knowledge that are often studied separately but rarely together: Shin Buddhism and secrecy. Shin, as a tradition with a strong devotional focus on Amida Buddha and one of the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan, is understood as not having secrets. Shin’s most basic doctrines about Amida leading all those who trust him to a paradise-like Pure Land at death are open to all. There is nothing secretive about its most basic practice, the recitation of the nenbutsu (namu Amida butsu) to show gratitude to Amida. Neither Shin’s founder, Shinran...

  7. Part One: Secrecy in the History of Covert Shin Buddhists
    • 1. Secrecy Causes Criticism and Persecution Kakushi Nenbutsu in Shin History
      (pp. 27-61)

      Secrecy pervaded social organizations in Japan between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Secret oral transmissions (kuden), supported by secret rituals (himitsu shuhō) and secret formulas (hihō), helped define lineages. The numerous lineages on Mt. Hiei distinguished themselves more by their secret rituals than their doctrine. Secret teachings were conveyed, typically by a face-to-face oral transmission (menju kuketsu) through so-called blood lineages (kechimyaku). Scholars of Japanese religion, such as Jacqueline Stone and Mark Teeuwen, characterize this period as having a “culture of secrecy.”¹ The culture of secrecy was particularly evident in thekenmitsu(exoteric-esoteric) schools of Tendai and Shingon, but it...

    • 2. Secrecy Preserves and Transforms The Creation of a Shinto-Shin Tradition
      (pp. 62-100)

      While secrecy can lead to criticism and persecution, as the history of Kakushi nenbutsu shows, it also has the power to protect from persecution. Its power to protect and preserve a religion that is practiced in a hostile context is evident in the history of religions, especially in those cases in which an overt religion facing persecution becomes covert, such as Falun Gong in early twenty-first-century China, and Muslims in sixteenth-century Spain. For these religions, secrecy may serve as what Tefft called an “adaptive strategy.”¹ Yet, it is common for religions that go into hiding for long periods to change...

  8. Part Two: Concealment in Contemporary Urahōmon
    • 3. Secrecy Alters by Separating and Joining Dissimulation and Simulation in Urahōmon
      (pp. 103-124)

      The history of covert Shin Buddhists up to the mid-nineteenth century shows that secrecy has the power to produce antithetical consequences. It can lead to persecution, or protect the persecuted. After the Edo period covert Shin Buddhists faced less threat of persecution, particularly by the state, but most still remained in hiding. Over the more than 250 years during which they faced persecution, covert secrecy had become traditional for all and as such took on structural power that affected how covert Shin Buddhists interacted with outsiders.

      Theshinjingyōjaof Urahōmon, in addition to their tradition of secrecy, had a clear...

    • 4. Secrecy Creates Dilemmas Transmitting Secrets in and beyond Urahōmon
      (pp. 125-146)

      Theshinjingyōja’s concerns about neighbors and acquaintances perceiving them with suspicion if they came to know them as belonging to a secret organization are valid. There is cynicism about secrecy in Japan just as there is in much of the world today. The old English saying “Where ever there is a secret, there must be something wrong” conveys a sentiment not foreign to contemporary Japanese. The problem of suspicion, caused by how outsiders view them, has at least one solution: invisibility. Other problems caused by secrecy do not have clear solutions. This chapter examines such a problem, namely an internal...

    • 5. Secrecy Gives Order Ura Shin Teachings and Initiation Rites
      (pp. 147-169)

      If secrecy causes so many problems, as we have seen in previous chapters, and theshinjingyōjaare not doing anything illegal or embarrassing, why do they not come out in the open? If they abandoned secrecy and allowed the public to know more about Urahōmon, they could, from their perspective, help save more people, something thezenchishikisay they would indeed like to do. Overt Shin priests might still criticize them if they practiced openly, but they could combat criticism in the open and offer their own criticism of overt Shin priests. This course has been taken by other groups...

  9. Epilogue The Questions Revealed by Covert Shin Buddhists
    (pp. 170-180)

    From the perspective of mainstream, temple-based Shin, we might characterize covert Shin Buddhists as “marginal.” Their numbers have never been large compared to the Shin population as a whole. Their influence on major historical events has been negligible, and they have done little to change the doctrine or practices of any major branch of overt Shin. Yet their persistence for hundreds of years in many different regions of Japan indicates that they have been firmly embedded in Shin. If we dismiss them as unimportant because they have not been at the center of Shin as defined by major Shin institutions,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 181-198)
  11. Glossary of Japanese Characters
    (pp. 199-214)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-234)
  13. Index
    (pp. 235-246)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)