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Research Unit3

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Research Unit 3: Re-evaluation of Life, Death and Salvation in East Asian Thought

  In this unit, we re-evaluate the traditional Buddhist views of life and death and the path to transcending suffering, which entered Japanese culture from India through Buddhism, and has also been formed by Confucian and Taoist thoughts. Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, while mainitaing their own distinctiveness, also recognize the value in one another, and these intellectual traditions point to the universality and tolerance of ethics not just within Asia but all over the world. We conduct research about the significance of the traditional views of life and death in these various religious systems, and revive Buddhism's view of life and death as one of the guiding principles for Japanese society.
  Specifically Confucianism and Taoism often use the terms "life and death" in their scriptures, teaching love towards family, loyalty to kings, maintenance of local society, and harmony with nature. In Buddhism, The idea of "birth-and-death" (instead of life and death) is expressed by the phrase "reincarnation through birth-and-death," meaning we sentient beings continually repeat lives of delusion because of our own ignorance. In Pure Land Buddhism, it is understood also as the "karmic evil of birth-and-death." The repetition of birth-and-death means suffering itself, and only after one escapes from the circle of delusion is there Nirvana. There also emerged the idea that, in the course of countless lives and many states of existence, all sentient beings have been our parents and brothers and sisters. It is noteworthy that such Buddhist views of birth-and-death result in the cultivation of love and compassion towards all beings by eliminating distinctions between friends or foes and attaining an equanimous mind beyond love and hatred. In Pure Land Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, the view of birth-and-death is explained thus: "Nirvana is not a transcendent state apart from birth-and-death, but the very foundation of all existence, so that to attain enlightenment is to return to the world of birth-and-death." (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 2, 1997) This passage has attracted interest in the West because birth?-and-death and Nirvana are connected to one another. Here we re-evaluate Mahayana Buddhism, which holds that "birth-and-death is Nirvana itself," salvation though birth into the Pure Land by Amida Buddha, and the significance of Pure Land Buddhism which reveals "the aspect of going and returning."
  The project investigates the structure of suffering in birth-and-death and liberation from suffering, and views of birth-and-death and salvation in Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Pure Land Buddhism.