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[ISHES Newsletter #7]Philosophers Who Created Japan: Shosan Suzuki

2019/02/25 17:01:25


ISHES Newsletter #7
February 25, 2019

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Copyright (c) 2019

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

We are happy to release our seventh issue of the ISHES Newsletter!
We hope you enjoy reading our articles from Japan related to happiness, economy and society.

In this February 2019 issue, you will find the following articles:

- Philosophers Who Created Japan: Shosan Suzuki
Is there an "invisible principle" at work in Japanese society, entirely unrelated to economics and business theory? Meet Shosan Suzuki from the seventeenth century, one of the key thinkers who created Japan.

- New articles from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom
This time we provide an article from the column by Yoshifumi Taguchi, entitled "Taoist Thought and Japan's Heart: Japan's Traditional View of Work", which has been uploaded on the web.

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan
We introduce an article that looks at a "Support Program for Community Activities Chosen by Citizens" (the "1% Support Program") that directly reflects residents' wishes on how to spend a portion of the municipal budget.


Philosophers Who Created Japan: Shosan Suzuki


At ISHES every month we hold a seminar to think about the nature of a "sustainable and happy society," while we read what has been written about happiness, economy and society. This time we'd like to introduce the thinking of Shosan Suzuki (1579-1655) an influential thinker in the creation of Japan as we know it. Our seminar read from "Nihon Shihon Shugi no Seishin" ("The Spirit of Japanese Capitalism") published in 1979 by Shichihei Yamamoto (1921-1991), a bookseller and critic known for his sharp insights into the Japanese mind.

Shichihei Yamamoto writes that "Every society has its own traditional social structure, and it behaves in a way that responds to people's belief systems," and he looked at Japanese society as acting with its own "invisible principles" that have no connection to economics or business theory. He recorded his path of inquiry as "Miezaru Gensoku--Kezaihen" ("Invisible Principles -- The Economy Edition") and published it in the book we read in the seminar.

One of his key points was the dimension that for the Japanese, "Work is not an economic act, but the act of seeking some sort of spiritual satisfaction." Yamamoto had discovered the roots of this idea in Japan's Edo Period (1603 - 1867).

He writes that The Edo Period, which lasted 265 years, was "the most interesting period in Japanese history," saying it was the period that established an "inherently Japanese order," and that this had been due to the fact that it had lasted nearly 300 years (during which the country was isolated from the rest of the world). About that period he writes: "It was unlike the Meiji Period of imitating the West, unlike the postwar period of imitating America, and unlike an earlier period in Japan when China was the only authority." It was a most creative period. If there was something that had to be conformed to then, it was the Japanese people's own belief systems, and the social structure corresponding to that."

Yamamoto divides the Edo Period into two eras, early and late, separated around the start of the eighteenth century (between the Genroku and Kyoho periods), with the former being a time of recovering a sense of order after the chaos of the Warring States period, and Japan was entering a period of economic growth after establishing a system of political economy. The latter may at first glance appear to have been a period of stagnation, but education was spreading, culture was developing among the common people, and the living standards of the people were improving. Yamamoto identifies Shosan Suzuki from the early Edo Period and Baigan Ishida from the late Edo period as two of the thinkers who created Japan.

Yamamoto writes that "The precondition for modern capitalism is an awareness of 'mine and not mine' -- in other words, a clear awareness of individual rights of ownership." He then asks, "How did this turning point come about? In the West, it was Protestantism, but in the case of Japan, it was not Protestantism, and it was not the ethics of western civil society upon which [Protestantism] was based. So what was it?" He poses that question, and goes to Shosan Suzuki searching for answers.

Shosan Suzuki was born in 1579, just four years before what has been called the most famous incident in Japanese history, the "Honno-ji Incident." The powerful feudal lord Nobunaga Oda, who had been in the process of consolidating centralized power in Japan, was resting at Honno-ji Temple in Kyoto. He awoke to realize that his samurai general Mitsuhide Akechi was mounting a rebellion and had surrounded the temple with his armies, so to avoid capture Oda committed suicide by having the temple set on fire. Shosan Suzuki was a samurai who had experienced real battle as a direct retainer of the Tokugawa Clan. He later experienced life as a bureaucrat, and then in 1620 left his family and took to writing and teaching as a Zen Buddhist monk until he died at the age of 77.

Let's have a look at Shosan Suzuki's thought. First, seeing the fundamental nature of the universe as "one Buddha," he expounded on the Zen trinitarian doctrine. This refers to the Moon Buddha (the order of nature in the universe), the Heart Buddha (order of nature where each person's heart resides), and the Healing King Buddha (heals the illnesses of the heart). If people can be healed and live as the Heart Buddha, war will not occur, the various problems of society will be solved, the human collection of sentient beings would also become Buddhas, and this he thought would be the formation of an ideal society.

Then, with the desire to "govern the world with Buddhism" and establish order in society, he set forth some concrete guidelines for how people should live. In order to create a good society, he thought that first it was necessary that the "Heart Buddha" not be affected by the three poisons of greed, anger, and discontent. And for that, we need spiritual practice, that is, Buddhist practice.

Becoming a monk is one thing, but ordinary people have their day-to-day work and they have demanding labor, so it is difficult for them to do particularly strenuous spiritual practice and Buddhist practice. And so, what Suzuki set forth was the idea that "Depending on your intentions, labor itself can be your spiritual practice." We might even call that the "social ethics of Zen."

One of Shosan Suzuki's writings is "Shimin Nichiyo" (Daily Tasks for the Four Classes). This number four refers to the four social classes of the time, a system referred to as "Shi No Ko Sho" (warriors, farmers, craftsmen, merchants). Each class asks what it can do to become a Buddha (attain enlightenment), and then to this question Shosan provides answers. In "Nonin Nichiyo" (Daily Tasks for Farmers) he writes "When urged to do Buddhist practice, the farmer says, I have absolutely no spare time for that, so what can I do?" To that question, Shosan very clearly replies "Farming itself is Buddhist practice." And by doing that, not only does the person attain Buddhahood, it also spreads to society and purifies society as a result.

In "Shonin Nichiyo" (Daily Tasks for Merchants) he does not vilify the merchants, which was common in society at the time, and he says "For people engaged as merchants, the issue is whether or not they are doing so as Buddhist practice." He does not say "reject profit," but rather "Buddhist practice in the heart must come before an increase in profit," and that the path to get there is to "be devoted to learning the path of honesty." Yamamoto says that this "honesty" itself is a fundamental principle of Shosan, and that this is where a concept was born that transformed Japan, the idea that "profit as a byproduct is good."

In short, the great principle that Shosan Suzuki gave to all of the four classes was that "Secular work is the same as spiritual practice, and you can achieve Buddhahood if you do it with intention." As a background to the era, Yamamoto writes: "A period of war had ended and peace had certainly arrived, but at the same time, the ambitions of the Warring States period had disappeared, leaving behind a sort of spiritual stagnation. The four-class social system was gradually becoming ossified and people started to ask what they should aim for in life. It was in that context that we could say Shosan tried to propose the solution of seeking something religious or spiritual in daily work." Yamamoto shows us that the basis of that idea was that, "after all, this is something that came from Zen," and a samurai's purpose in intensively learning swordsmanship is not to become a "professional killer," and that there was the concept of "ken Zen ichinyo" (the sword and Zen are one) expressing the idea that swordmanship was the equivalent to Zen practice.

Yamamoto believes that this is where a new view of one's occupation arose, that one's "occupation is equivalent to spiritual practice," and that this is what created the ethical foundations of Japanese capitalism. And he thinks that Shosan Suzuki's earnest hope was that the "World Dharma be the same as the Buddha Dharma," to extend the concept to each of the four classes, and to establish this as the foundation of some kind of national morality, and at the same time he tried to seek a religious form of spiritual satisfaction.

Now, along with the idea of "occupation as spiritual practice," the problem of "profit" comes up. If a farmer or craftsman or merchant works to their fullest ability, profits will arise. But is it acceptable to pursue those profits that arise from the occupation one performs as spiritual practice? Shosan Suzuki answers this: "Of course, the answer is no. If you do it, you will be affected by greed, one of the three poisons." Well then, how do you deal with a profit that arises even though you did not pursue it? Shosan certainly does not reject this "profit as a byproduct." But he also says, "Seek not joy in riches," and "What you do must be like a pilgrimage."

Shosan's idea that "pursuit of profit is unacceptable, but profit as a byproduct is acceptable" still remains well-rooted in Japan. Based on Shosan Suzuki's way of thinking, Yamamoto writes that if each person acts as a Buddha and in one's own inner Buddha acts with full intention and happens to offer products that are beneficial to the world, and as a result it turns out that a profit arises ... if you take that thinking to the limit, it would be no surprise to discover that the company becomes the best company in the world.

Then, he says that "Zen and the economic animal come from the same idea," a fundamental idea of the Japanese people that has survived from the 16th century to the present day. In other words, for the Japanese, working is not an economic act. It is nothing other than a Zen style of spiritual practice. Because it is the Buddhist practice of farming, the Buddhist practice of being a salaried worker, all work is Buddhist practice, and a manufacturer making products is working in Buddha's name to benefit the world, and salesmen are on pilgrimages. That's what he writes.

Yamamoto writes, "In Japanese society the words 'bura-bura shite-iru' (not working, being idle) are words of condemnation. But this is because when you are not working you are not performing Buddhist practice." He also explains that this is the same reason why the Japanese lament the retirement age, and "It was often said in the past that the Japanese are industrious because they are poor, but that is not the reason. It was an original idea of the Japanese when we built our own system, the Tokugawa Era, with our own hands."

In closing, we hear that many people in U.S. and elsewhere want to retire early, and there's the FIRE slogan: Financial Independence Retire Early. But in Japan, 12% of employed workers were aged 65 and over in 2017, and when the government polled employees aged 60 and over, 80% said they wanted to work even after 70. One out of every three entrepreneurs is at least 65. Of course, there are factors such as a major shortage of labor with the population declining and aging, and the government raising the pension age. But the fact that many seniors don't want to be idle after retirement may be due in no small part to the more spiritual reason of wanting to continue Buddhist practice.

We know that there is a very close connection between "working" and "being happy," and this is something we would certainly like to continue studying in the future.


New articles from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom


In this section we introduce the latest articles posted on the website of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom.

This time we introduce an article from a column by Yoshifumi Taguchi, entitled "Taoist Thought and Japan's Heart: Japan's Traditional View of Work." Where is the root of human happiness to be found? In Taoist thought, it is inside of us. We hope you enjoy reading.

Taoist Thought and Japan's Heart: Japan's Traditional View of Work


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan


In this regular section in each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we recommend past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward being more sustainable and happy.

This month, we introduce an article about a "Support Program for Community Activities Chosen by Citizens," dubbed the "1% Support Program." Also known in some places as "participatory budgeting," the program directly reflects residents' wishes for how a portion of the municipal budget is spent. In the context of many organizations' activities being done BY citizens FOR citizens, the recipient of a subsidy is selected by voting. The example we introduce is from Ichinomiya City in Aichi Prefecture. What kind of program is it and why do they call it the 1% support program? Read on!

1% Support Program in Ichinomiya City: Citizens Decide How to Use Their Tax Money

We hope you enjoyed reading out newsletter.
Thank you for your kind support.

"Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society.
To this end, we need to think about happiness, economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world regarding what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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