Hayashi Razan’s “Honchō Jinja Kō” — Shinto Texts Course 7

The summer holiday is over, and yesterday the Shinto Texts course at Kokugakuin University started again, with a lecture on Hayashi Razan’s Honchō Jinja Kō. I am confident that very few of my readers will have heard of either the author or the text, but both were of great significance in the history of Shinto, which is why they were covered in the course.

Hayashi Razan was born in Kyoto in 1583. His academic ability was noticed early on, and at the age of 13 (Japanese style) in 1595 he went to study at a Zen temple, Kenninji. However, he did not take vows as a Buddhist monk. Instead, he encountered some medieval texts on Shinto, and became interested in Japan’s native traditions. He was also, however, a very notable Confucian scholar, and when he was 21 he started giving public lectures on the Analects. This led to him being sued by a representative of a family that had made its living by monopolising Confucian instruction. However, the case was quickly dismissed by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the new shogun. The lecturer, Professor Nishioka, suggested that part of the reason for this was that Ieyasu had risen to be shogun from a fairly undistinguished background, so he was not inclined to support family privilege against ability.

In fact, Razan went on to work directly for Ieyasu, primarily as a Confucian scholar. Because these advisory posts had traditionally been held by monks, Ieyasu directed Razan to shave his head and take a new name, Dōshun, as monks did, although Razan still did not become a monk. Razan was strongly criticised for this by other Confucians. They argued that your hair was something you inherited from your parents, so that shaving your hair off was a serious failure of filial piety. As Razan was employed by the shogun and several important daimyos, and his critics were not, I suspect that he was able to take the criticism fairly easily.

Honchō Jinja Kō, or “Investigation of the Shrines of our Country”, was published some time between 1638 and 1645, although the precise year is unknown. It was divided into three parts, each consisting of two volumes. The first part discussed the shrines in the 22 Shrine System, a late Heian period (eleventh to twelfth century) group of shrines that received direct Imperial patronage and worship. The Grand Shrines of Ise were, of course, the most important of these shrines, and most of the others were around the capital, Kyoto. The second part discussed other shrines throughout Japan, while the third part also looked at legends from various areas.

We can get an idea of the importance that Razan placed on various shrines by looking at the number of pages his discussion takes up in a modern edition. The Grand Shrines of Ise unsurprisingly get the most, at 17 pages, but Hiyoshi Taisha, near Kyoto, gets eight and a half, and Kitano Tenmangu, in Kyoto, gets ten and a half. In the second part, the section on Shōtoku Taishi, an early seventh century figure, is six and a half pages long.

Kitano Tenmangu is a shrine to Tenjin, Sugawara no Michizane, a kami of scholarship, so it is, perhaps, not surprising that a scholar like Razan gave quite a bit of space to this shrine. However, in the case of Hiyoshi Taisha, the article is long because Razan uses it as an opportunity to criticise aspects of contemporary Shinto.

Razan was, in fact, highly critical of the current state of Shinto. As is fairly well know, at this period Shinto had a lot of Buddhist elements, and vice versa. Buddhist monks read sutras to the kami, who were often regarded as manifestations of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or the Buddhas were regarded as manifestations of the kami, and Buddhist images were sometimes used as the sacred object housing the kami in a shrine. This was regarded as perfectly natural, which is unsurprising because it had at least four or five hundred years of history behind it by Razan’s time. However, Razan pointed out that Shinto kami were originally completely separate from Buddhas, and that some people who venerated the kami had opposed the introduction of Buddhism. Thus, this could not be the original state of things, and therefore, he argued, was not natural. Rather, people had been brainwashed into thinking it was normal because no-one had spoken out against it.

Thus, in the section on Hiyoshi Taisha, Razan was very critical of Ryōbu Shinto, which is either a heavily Buddhist version of Shinto, or a heavily Shinto version of Buddhism, depending on how you look at it. He went beyond that, however, to describe Buddhism as a “religion of foreign barbarians”. That didn’t go down well with Buddhists, and they were apparently still publishing refutations of his claim two centuries later. When, in the section on Yoshida Jinja, he considered Yoshida Shinto, the dominant version at the time, he was no less scathing. While Yoshida Kanetomo, the founder of the tradition, had asserting the primacy of kami over Buddhas, Razan pointed out that he had taken passages from Buddhist texts and claimed them as his own ideas, and that many of the ideas in Yoshida Shinto were Buddhist in origin. He was also highly critical of Shōtoku Taishi, who is famous for, among other things, his vigorous promotion of Buddhism in Japan.

Razan, then, argued strongly for the removal of Buddhist elements from Shinto, on the grounds that they were foreign additions that did not belong in the tradition. One of his students put that into practice a little later, getting the Buddhist elements removed from Izumo Taisha, and the idea was to become very influential, culminating in the 1868 law separating kami and Buddhas, which essentially created Shinto in its modern form. Of course, there was an internal conflict in Razan’s thought. He was pushing for the removal of foreign elements from Shinto, but was himself a Confucian. Confucianism is, of course, not a Japanese school of thought, and no-one in Japan has ever thought that it was. It was, therefore, natural that some people would develop Razan’s thought in the direction of removing Confucian influences as well. That was Kokugaku, or National Learning, the tradition within which Kokugakuin University was founded, and which directly influenced the law separating kami and Buddhas.

The roots of a strong separation between Shinto and Buddhism thus go back at least as far as the seventeenth century, and were already influential, if not mainstream, at that time. I’m not sure whether it can be traced back before Razan; obviously, there are records of people holding this position in the sixth century, but there is probably not a continuous tradition from them to Razan, despite the persistence of a separation between Shinto and Buddhism at the Grand Shrines of Ise. If Razan was responsible for starting the modern form of the idea, then he is arguably the individual who has had the largest influence on the form of modern Shinto.

Posted in Kokugakuin.

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