By Yuki Kobayashi
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Two Buddhist priests, Issho Fujita and Ryodo Yamashita, who proposed the concept, are suggesting a new version of the religion.
The concept, disseminated through books written by the two priests, has been favorably received.
One of the books, “Appudeto Suru Bukkyo” (Buddhisim updating itself), is a compilation of discussions between the two priests. The book was first published by Gentosha Inc. in 2013, and is currently in its fourth print run.
The other is “Bukkyo 3.0 o Tetsugaku Suru” (Philosophically examining Buddhisim 3.0), a book detailing talks between the two priests and Hitoshi Nagai, a philosopher. The book was first published by Shunjusha Publishing Co. in September 2016, and a third run of the book has since been printed.
The two priests and Nagai held a talk in October before an audience of about 100 people.
Neither Fujita nor Yamashita is originally from a priestly family. They share the belief that they wish to resolve the problems of what they refer to as “one’s own life,” based on Buddhism. Another point they have in common is that they both decided to become Buddhist priests without having first been a company employee after graduating.
They first practiced Buddhism in training facilities in Japan before going to other countries, such as the United States and Myanmar, where they both supervised zazen seated meditation and meditated themselves. After their overseas activities, they returned to Japan.
The two priests agree that Buddhism has several “versions.” Adopting the technical terms used in computer science, they categorize aspects of Buddhism into versions “1.0,” “2.0” and “3.0.”
In addition, they present a theory that the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of Buddhism have problematic points, but it is all right to update them while maintaining the good points. The updated version is simply “Buddhism 3.0.”
Version 1.0 refers to existing Japanese Buddhism. Yamashita’s view on the present version is very critical, saying that it is “a hospital where medical treatment is not provided.”
He thinks that there are hospitals (temples), doctors (priests) and patients (followers), but neither the doctors nor the patients believe that diseases can be cured — or relief can be obtained.
Yamashita said that there is a deep nihilism in mainstream Japanese Buddhism.
Fujita also said, “Even among priests, there is an atmosphere in which they do not talk much about Buddhism.”
For this reason, Yamashita said that version 1.0 can no longer save people who are suffering. As a result, people in recent years have been attracted to another kind of Buddhism, which the two priests regard as version 2.0.
Version 2.0 refers to Theravada Buddhism, and also refers to methods of reducing stresses through Buddhist meditation, and a psychological therapy called mindfulness. They have mostly been introduced from the United States.
However, the two priests voiced concerns about the spread of version 2.0 in Japan.
Fujita admits that mindfulness as a therapy has a certain degree of effectiveness.
But Fujita pointed out that mindfulness is used as “a tool for people to make themselves better,” and thus it is different from the original Buddhism, which shows people the way of getting over their sense of “self.”
Yamashita also said that mindfulness softens its religious aspects, which he called “covering up the nature of Buddhism.” Because of this, he fears that mindfulness will come to a dead end.
The two priests describe mindfulness as “muscle training for the mind” which is similar to merely treating symptoms.
The priests insist that people will not be able to clear their worries using the methods commonly employed by mind training programs for eliminating worry.
Deeper change needed
According to the priests, as long as the root cause of a person’s worries lies in the belief that there is only “my mind and this world,” they have to get over their sense of self, including their past experiences, by fundamentally changing their paradigms and their interpretation of the world in order to ultimately resolve their worries.
The priests said that this practice of “replacing one’s mind” is “the nature of original Buddhism” which has been forgotten.
Version 3.0 is also a movement recalling the forgotten nature of the religion and continuing its practice.
Fujita said: “The aim of Buddhism is to understand one’s worries, to go through them and to find a way to overcome them. It is not to destroy people’s suffering or make them forget about it, nor to try to comfort people.”
Yamashita said: “People wrongly believe that they are clouds. But when they realize that they are not clouds but blue skies, the clouds will lose their meaning. Then suffering and worries will disappear.”
The two priests call on people to change their interpretation of the world.
■ Issho Fujita
He was born in 1954. He left a doctoral course in a graduate school at the University of Tokyo midway. He then became a priest of the Sotoshu sect. After spending time in the United States, he is now the head of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, where he makes efforts to instruct and popularize Zen Buddhism. He has written books including “Gendai Zazen Kogi” (Lectures on modern zazen seated meditation).
■ Ryodo Yamashita
He was born in 1956. After graduating from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, he became a priest of the Sotoshu sect. After spending time in other countries, including the United States and Myanmar, he left the sect. Currently he mainly conducts instruction of zazen seated meditation at his base of Ippoan (One Dharma Hermitage) in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. He has written books including “Honto no Jibun to Tsunagaru Meiso Nyumon” (Instruction for beginners of meditation which can connect you to the true nature of yourself).Speech