A History of the FAS Society: Part II

By Masao ABE

The present FAS Society was formerly called Gakudo Dojo (A Place for Study and Practice of the Way). Gakudo Dojo was formed, as a new organization, form the dissolved Young Men's Buddhist Association of Kyoto University. During the Second World War, in 1942-43, the Young Men's Buddhist Association of Kyoto University (the university at the time was called Kyoto Imperial University) held lecture meetings quite irregularly, about two or three times a year. On those occasions, the Association invited various Buddhist scholars from different sects to attend the meetings and lecture. This constituted the entire program of the organization. Some student members were extremely dissatisfied with such a spiritless situation. Just at that time, HATANI Ryotai, then a professor of Buddhist Studies and the president of the Association, called two students (NAKAMAE Shiro and ABE Masao) to his office and said to them, "I will retire from the University under the provisions of the age limit for professors. On this occasion I would like to urge you to reform the Young Men's Buddhist Association into a more active organization." The two students felt something had to be done, and they wanted to contribute their time and energies and try to do something. However, they were busy with their studies, and the war situation was gradually becoming worse. Consequently, they hesitated in making a definite reply to Prof. Hatani, and withdrew from his presence, asking for time to consider the matter. Soon thereafter, Prof. Hatani re-expressed his strong desire for them to reform the Association. That time the students replied, "If you will allow us to do it by ourselves based on our own ideas, we will give it a try and do our best." The professor consented, saying, "That is all right. Do your best in your own way."

Other students gathered around them and thought together about how to reorganize the organization. Since there are various forms and sects of Buddhism, the students found it difficult to establish their own views concerning what standpoint the Association should be based on. They called on certain professor of Buddhist studies and Indian philosophy who had a direct connection with the Association, and invited them as well as other senior members to consider together the problem of clearly establishing the standpoint of the Young Men's Buddhist Association. Through those discussions, however, the students could find no satisfactory views regarding the basic standpoint to be taken by the new Association. Some students insisted that because Kyoto University was not a Buddhist seminary belonging to any particular sect, they should take the standpoint of Common Buddhism (tsu-bukkyo) free from any sect. However, since "Common Buddhism" is merely the most general, unifying factor of all Buddhist sects, the students were afraid of ending up with an absence of living religious life in it, an absence of something vital. Some students elaborate upon their views, saying, "We should go back to Gautama the Buddha." To go back to Gautama historically and take the standpoint of "Original Buddhism" (konpon-bukkyo), however, would men to neglect the development of Mahayana Buddhism over the past 2,500 years. If neither Common Buddhism nor Original Buddhism could provide a proper ground for the new Young Men's Buddhist Association, then what could? The students were seeking something, but they could not make it clear. They then thought of visiting HISAMATSU Shin'ichi at Shunkoin of Myoshinji Temple. At that time he was Associate Professor of Buddhist Studies at Kyoto Imperial University. Although they had sent invitations to Hisamatsu, he had not attended any of the meetings about reforming the Association. since they wanted to hear his opinion, they called on him at Hosekian, his hermitage. With the expectation of being understood by Hisamatsu, they told him what they were thinking and what they were seeking. They asked him for guidance. At first, Hisamatsu did not take much interest in the Young Men's Buddhist Association movement, but gradually, through conversations with the students, he became enthusiastic and at last said, "In the past, I have been told two or three times about the reformation of the organization, and I have tried to help, but each time the students were not totally committed. So again at this time I thought I could not expect much. That is why I did not attend the meetings. But now I understand you are really serious about the reform. I have an idea which I have been giving serious consideration for a long time. I am willing to talk at length with you and other interested students." In this way, the students reached a rapport with Hisamatsu. The rapport was grounded in forgetting all that had passed in the old Buddhist Association and in searching seriously for the truth together."

It was during an evening in December 1943, that Hisamatsu and the students had the first meeting in a room on the second floor of Rakuyu Kaikan, a hall near Kyoto University. It was during the War, so all the windows were covered with blackout curtains, and the lights were dimmed. It was a cold winter evening, but the room had neither heating nor fire. On that occasion, Hisamatsu spoke of Fundamental Buddhism (kongen-bukkyo). Buddhism, he said, involves man's fundamental awakening to "Reality." This is not limited just to Buddhism, but is actually a fundamental realization for man, no matter where or when his is. This is what Gautama the Buddha awakened to. Today, he said, insofar as we are human beings, we also have to attain such a fundamental awakening to Reality. In this way, Hisamatsu said that we should not take as our standpoint the most general form, "Common Buddhism", nor should we go back historically to Gautama the Buddha to take the standpoint of "Original Buddhism." He told us that we should stand on the standpoint of "Fundamental Buddhism," where the fundamental realization man is; and insofar as man is man, at any time and any place, man has to arrive at and awaken to this fundamentally. It is indeed Fundamental Buddhism as the root source of not only Buddhism but the human being as well. The students still could not understand fully what Hisamatsu really mean by that. They were greatly impressed by his words, however, and sensed that they could at last find out what they had long been troubled about. At that time, they agreed to form a new organization based on Fundamental Buddhism."

At that time Hisamatsu proposed to change the name of the Young Men's Buddhist Association, since the name seemed too conventional. He suggested that change in name because, although man's fundamental awakening to Reality was first realized by the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, it actually goes beyond the limit Buddhism. I remember now that I at that time defended the use of the world Buddhism, saying, " I myself am not much satisfied with the name of the organization, so I have no objection to changing it. but I think there is no need to remove the word 'Buddhism' from it." I said that partly because I had considered that problem within the idea of reforming the Association, but also I saw no need to dismiss the framework of Buddhism, especially since Hisamatsu himself said that man's fundamental awakening to Reality was discovered in Buddhism. However, due to his strong suggestion, we decided to start our new organization with a completely new name and a new standpoint without using either the word "Buddhism" or the name "Young Men's Buddhist Association." Here, the focus of the problem largely shifted from the reformation of the Young Men's Buddhist Association of Kyoto Imperial University. Instead, a whole new organization was established under the guidance of Hisamatsu."

(To be continued)

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Last updated: 5/25/1996