Is It Possible for an Entire Sangha to be ‘Defeated’ in the Holy Life?

Brian Victoria


In the spring of 2019 a major peace exhibition took place at Higashi Honganji temple in Kyoto. The exhibition was entitled “No War – Peace” with the subtitle: “Tragic — Human Beings — How Brutal They Are!” While sectarian leaders admitted their own sect's war culpability, the exhibition's focus was almost exclusively on Japan as a victim of war, thereby, at least implicitly, avoiding an examination of both Japan’s role as war victimizer and their own sect's unconditional support of Japan's wartime aggression. The historical reality is, of course, that not only Higashi Honganji but all traditional sects in Japan were united as one in their support of Japan's war effort. This reality raises the question of how to deal with the longstanding Buddhist practice that clerics who intentionally broke one of the four pārājika rules, including killing, were declared to have been “defeated” and barred from the Sangha for life. In light of the massive loss of life resulting from Japanese aggression abroad, are postwar Buddhist peace exhibitions focused on Japan as a victim of war sufficient to restore the Buddhist affiliation of their sects?

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