Prof. Dr Chisho M. Namai Former President & Director of The Research Institute of Esoteric Buddhist Culture Koyasan University, Japan
Thank you for letting me have the honor to speak at such a precious occasion. I would like to report, as a participant from Japan, the contemporary Japanese situation related with education of Buddhism within the higher educational institutions, because we need a mutual understanding of each other’s situation and their traditions in preparing a platform of such an internationally cooperative project of Buddhist Universities.
In the 6th century, Buddhism was introduced to Japan officially by missionaries from the Korean peninsula. Then, in the Nara and Heian periods Japanese emperors would send monks to China to study Buddhism. Since then to the first half of the 13th Century, whenever Japanese monks experienced a new Buddhist movement in China – such as Tiantai, Huayan and Zen Buddhism – they introduced it to Japan. After that period, Buddhism in Japan continued to develop into original Japanese Buddhism until the 19th Century. In these periods, Japanese Buddhist studies were promoted and practiced by monks as part of their monastic life.
Buddhist priests and temples gratefully served the education of the Japanese people in general, in the long cultural history of Japan. Kukai (774-835) is well-known as the founder of the first private higher educational institution system not only for the students from high, noble society, or Buddhist novice, but open also to the ordinary Buddhist layman.
At the end of the 19th century, when the higher educational system was introduced from the western world, the Japanese government founded some universities. At the same time, Buddhist universities were established by traditional Buddhist schools to transmit their traditions to their inheritors. Some Buddhist schools sent young monks to Europe to learn modern methods of academic studies of Buddhism. They studied how to study Buddhism through the original Tipitaka using Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan languages beside the already accustomed Chinese. The monks who studied Buddhism in European universities came back to Japan and introduced new method of studies of Buddhism – especially in national universities, such as Tokyo Imperial University and etc. Some Buddhist universities also came to introduce these methods of Buddhist studies. However, that type of educational system has deviated from the traditional style of original Japanese Buddhist studies, which contained the instruction of practices in Buddhist monasteries. The Japanese educational institutions of Buddhism began to incline toward scientific or academic studies without paying attention to the importance of the subjective, practical instructions handed down traditionally in everyday monastic life.
As a consequence of Japan’s unique historical development of Buddhist studies, higher education of Buddhism in Japan has developed into three types of institutions: (1) purely academic and scientific research of Buddhism; (2) traditional monastic institutions of Buddhist studies; (3) general education of people to promote Buddhist spirituality.
After the Second World War the Japanese government adopted the policy of separation of religions from politics. Thus, religious education was limited only to private educational institutions. So, national universities and other public universities were prohibited to give education in any special religion. They were only allowed to provide academic studies concerning the historical, social or philosophical aspects of religions in general. Some private universities, even those founded by traditional Buddhist schools, came to lay less emphasis on their ideal to educate people as Buddhists. Now they proceed not only ideally for the education of Buddhist people, but also have their mission of higher studies in general: technology, economics, laws, social sciences and so on. So, being universities, even if based on Buddhist foundations, Buddhist traditional systems of practice or training, such as meditation, became to be excluded from their curriculums. Traditional studies are instituted not by the higher educational institutions of humanities, as for example a university, but rather by institutions called "monastic ashrams". Newly established Buddhist schools also founded their universities – especially promoting internationalization of higher Buddhist educational studies. In these circumstances, purely academic and scientific Buddhist studies are emphasized in Japanese universities in collaboration with western universities. Associations of academic Buddhist studies were promoted by the major national universities, such as Tokyo Imperial University etc. in association with traditional school-founded universities. These academic associations of Buddhist studies have a long history of successful development, hold conferences and publish journals annually. Numbers of scholars in these associations are coming not only from Buddhist universities, but also major national universities and newly formed Buddhist universities. The most authoritative association is the Japanese Association of Indian and Buddhist studies.
Some major Buddhist private universities formed cooperative organizations to pursue the project of editing the index in the succession of the publication project of the Thaisho Tipitaka. Such kind of cooperative systems came to be integrated into the Input project of Electronic Text of the Tipitaka. Based on their cooperative association of the research project of Buddhist universities, in 1994, the Japanese Association of Buddhist Universities was established. This association consists of ten core member universities with fifty-eight associate member universities. Annual meetings were held once at each of the core member universities. The proceedings of the meetings have been published every year. In 2000, the association published a book in Japanese in order to publicize their activities in Japanese higher education. The representative office of the association is now at Komazawa University, succeeding after six years committee management of the Ryukoku University. The information about the association can be referenced in a book, which is brought to the committee office at this occasion, however, unfortunately published in Japanese only. Anyway, national universities and newly established universities are not joining this association now.
The other is the Union of the Graduate Schools; most of the member universities of that association are located in Kyoto and are also the member of the above mentioned Japanese Association of Buddhist Universities. About this association called as the Kyoto Graduate Union of Religious Studies –a short booklet is also published in English; I bring it for this occasion. The office of the Union is open internationally, welcoming for researchers and associations for international cooperative academic exchanges in graduate-level studies and education of Religion.