Confucian Values and Popular Zen: Sekimon Shingaku in Eighteenth Century Japan

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University of Hawaii Press, 1993 - Religion - 256 pages
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Although East Asian religion is commonly characterized as "syncretic," the historical interaction of Buddhist, Confucian, and other traditions is often neglected by scholars of mainstream religious thought. In this thought-provoking study, Janine Sawada moves beyond conventional approaches to the history of Japanese religion by analyzing the ways in which Neo-Confucianism and Zen formed a popular synthesis in early modern Japan. She shows how Shingaku, a teaching founded by merchant Ishida Baigan, blossomed after his death into a widespread religious movement that selectively combined ideas and practices from these traditions. Drawing on new research into original Shingaku sources, Sawada challenges the view that the teaching was a facile "merchant ethic" by illuminating the importance of Shingaku mystical experience and its intimate relation to moral cultivation in the program developed by Baigan's successor, Teshima Toan.
This book also suggests the need for an approach to the history of Japanese education that accounts for the informal transmission of ideas as well as institutional schooling. Shingaku contributed to the development of Japanese education by effectively disseminating moral and religious knowledge on a large scale to the less-educated sectors of Tokugawa society. Sawada interprets the popularity of the movement as part of a general trend in early modern Japan in which ordinary people sought forms of learning that could be pursued in the context of daily life.

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Popular Learning in Tokugawa Japan
Teshima Toan and the Shingaku Community
Teshima Toans Teaching
Knowing the Original Mind
Methods of Cultivation
Shingaku for Children
Popularization and Regulation

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Page 5 - Japanese religion never tires of stressing the importance of diligence and frugality and of attributing religious significance to them, both in terms of carrying out one's obligations to the sacred and in terms of purifying the self of evil impulses and desires. That such an ethic is profoundly favorable to economic rationalization was the major point of Weber's study of Protestantism and we must say that it seems similarly favorable in Japan.

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About the author (1993)

Janine Anderson Sawada is currently assistant professor of religion at Grinnell College.

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