The Japanese Philosophy Blog

News and discussion of ancient and modern Japanese philosophy

Hōnen and James on Religious Transformation

The new issue of Philosophy East and West is out! Of relevance to readers of this blog is the lead article by Yumiko Inukai of U. Mass-Boston, “Hōnen and James on Religious Transformation: Psychological Conditions of Conversion and the Nembutsu.” Here’s the abstract:

Hōnen, the founder of the Jōdo School of Buddhism in Japan, came to a strong conviction of the efficacy of the nembutsu through his deep personal experience, in which he realized that he would be incapable of mastering the Buddhist teachings and practices. Although Hōnen refrains from urging the nembutsu practitioner to focus on the mental components of the nembutsu, a close reading of his texts reveals that he has a systematic view of a psychological process that the nembutsu practitioner must go through in order to recite the nembutsu properly. I argue that Hōnen’s account of a deep, dynamic psychological structure of the nembutsu practitioner exhibits a strong parallel to psychological factors in the preconditions of religious experience elucidated by James in his Varieties of Religious Experience. Moreover, interestingly, Hōnen’s religious conviction of the Jōdo belief being grounded in his own emotionally infused personal experience accords well with James' contention regarding religion in general. James' psychological analyses of religious experience provide an illuminating framework in which we can understand the significance of the psychological process of the nembutsu practitioner expounded by Hōnen in his teachings of the nembutsu as well as the importance of Hōnen’s own personal experience.