Burakumin - Religious Discrimination

Religious Discrimination

While nearly all Japanese Buddhist sects have discriminated against the burakumin, the case of the Jōdo Shinshū Honganji Sect is a particularly bitter and ironic one. The original philosophy of the sect, as propounded by its founder Shinran, was anti-discriminatory, rejecting the need to keep the traditional Buddhist precepts or to carry out the purification rituals of indigenous Japanese religion. As such, butchers, fishermen and so on, who had all been discriminated against by the older sects, were welcomed into the Jodo Shinshu.

The side-effect of this liberating philosophy, however, was that it led to a series of anti-feudal rebellions, known as the Ikkō-ikki revolts, which seriously threatened the religious and political status-quo. Accordingly the political powers engineered a situation whereby the Jōdo Shinshū split into two competing branches, the Shinshu Otani-ha and the Honganji-ha. This had the consequence that the sects moved increasingly away from their anti-feudal position towards a feudal one.

Later the state also forced all people to belong to a specific Buddhist school according to the formula:

the imperial family is in Tendai, the peerage is in Shingon, the nobility is in Jōdo (Honen's followers), the Samurai is in Zen, the beggar is in Nichiren, and Shin Buddhists (Shinran's followers) are at the bottom." (Kasahara 1996)

In consequence the Honganji, which under Rennyo's leadership had defiantly accepted the derogatory label of 'the dirty sect' (see Rennyo's letters known as the Ofumi / Gobunsho) now began to discriminate against its own burakumin members as it jostled for political and social status.

In 1922, when the National Levelers' Association (Zenkoku-suiheisha) was founded in Kyoto, Mankichi Saiko, a founder of the movement and Jodo Shinshu priest, said:

We shouldn't disgrace our ancestors and violate humanity by our harsh words and terrible actions. We, who know how cold the human world is, and how to take care of humanity, can seek and rejoice from the bottom of our hearts in the warmth and light of human life. —

Finally in 1969 the Honganji began to recognise its mistreatment of burakumin and appears to be beginning to address the problem..

The fact of religious discrimination against the burakumin was commonly denied until the late twentieth century. For example, in 1979 the Director-General of the Sōtō Sect of Buddhism made a speech at the "3rd World Conference on Religion and Peace" claiming that there was no longer any discrimination against burakumin in Japan..

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