The Rehabilitation of a Buddhist Heretic

Unlike the Theravāda tradition, the Mahāyāna tradition of Buddhism allows Buddhist clerics, male or female, to regain their clerical status if they previously lost it due to having broken one or more of the four major rules of the clerical life, i.e. the four pārājikas (defeats). This possibility is included in the Māhāyana Brahmajāla Sūtra (J. Bonmō-kyō). While clerics who intentionally break one or more of the pārājikas are still subject to the loss of their clerical status, as Bernard Faure notes, “the culprit can now rehabilitate himself through his own repentance and through the merits of others.”

This presentation deals with one such cleric, a Sōtō Zen cleric by the name of Uchiyama Gudō (1874–1911), who lost his clerical status in 1909 and was subsequently hung to death by the Japanese government on January 24, 1911. It was not until April 1993, 84 years later, that Gudō’s clerical status was restored. The restoration occurred because the Sōtō Zen sect admitted Gudō “had been a victim of the national policy of that day.” In essence, the Sōtō Zen sect admitted it had erred in depriving Gudō of his clerical status in 1909 since he had violated government policy, not one of the pārājikas as charged. This presentation will focus on the process of Gudō’s rehabilitation in postwar Japan.

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Posted by IAFOR