Interaction Between Japanese Buddhism and Confucianism

  • Tomomi Asakura
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 8)


In discussions of the “three teachings” (C. sanjiao 三教), it is the rivalry between Buddhism and Confucianism that has had a significant impact on the intellectual history of Japan. Buddhism had been predominant for centuries until its political power was greatly diminished during the reunification process under ODA Nobunaga 織田信長 (1534–1582); subsequently, Neo-Confucianism was adopted by the Tokugawa shogunate and the purified version of its ideology may be regarded as the backbone of the Meiji Restoration (J. Meiji ishin 明治維新). Yet, Buddhism has gradually reclaimed its place as the most important spiritual tradition to the extent that modern Japanese philosophers no longer even mention Confucian thought, especially since the birth of a Japanese style of philosophy represented by the Kyoto School. Against this historical background, it may seem questionable if anything like an effective interaction between Japanese Buddhist-inspired philosophy and Confucianism ever existed. This essay concentrate on the two occasions in the history of modern Japanese philosophy when the problem of morality gained crucial importance. The first concerns the issue of morality among the second generation of Kyoto School philosophers, culminating in the theme of “overcoming modernity,” and its discussion of how to go beyond modernity, thereby transforming society and the world. This discussion is clearly inspired by Confucian ideas. Since this theme is based on the evaluation of past philosophies and thoughts, it is inseparable from a modern version of doctrinal classification conceived by KŌYAMA Iwao 高山岩男 (1905–1993). The second occasion we will examine in this essay is the postwar Marxist critique of this theme. Inheriting this theme of the Kyoto School, HIROMATSU Wataru 廣松渉 (1933–1994) proceeds to criticize modern Japanese Buddhist philosophy and Buddhism itself from a practical point of view in order to surpass their shortcomings. In both cases, the question is how such notions as morality and morals are problematized in modern Japanese philosophy, or, more specifically, what the place of morality and practice in Buddhist philosophy is? This is the question that will enable us to see the modern version of interaction between Buddhism and Confucianism.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tomomi Asakura
    • 1
  1. 1.Kobe City UniversityKobeJapan

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