The Vow of Humankind:

By HISAMATSU Shin'ichi

FAS Society Journal 1998, pp.61-69.
Translated by Chris Ives from Hisamatsu Shin'ichi Chosakushû, Vol.III (Risôsha, Tokyo, 1971; revised edition, Hôzôkan, Kyoto, 1994), pp. 291-308. This portion was originally presented as teikô lectures at weekly meetings of Gakudô Dôjô (former name of the FAS Society) in 1952 at Senbutsuji temple in Kyoto.



Having considered "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations," I would now like to focus on "discerning suffering both individual and social, and its sources."

When we "make full use of our abilities" and pursue our vocations, inevitably we must ask ourselves what sort of "vocation" we should pursue. Our vocation usually will take as its goal the saving of people from "suffering both individual and social," which in the final analysis amounts to "bringing to realization humankind's deep desire for emancipation." In other words, to save people from "suffering both individual and social" is to satisfy "humankind's deep desire for emancipation." For us to be able to save people from "suffering both individual and social" we must first discern the source from which this suffering arises. Then, by eradicating that source, liberation from that anguish naturally follows, and for this reason we must investigate the nature of our anguish and penetrate to the bottom of its source. Obviously, the phrase, "discerning suffering both individual and social, and its sources," must appear in the Vow of Humankind.

We human beings suffer "suffering both individual and social." Without a human, anguish has no subject, and subjectless anguish is impossible. Anguish is experienced by individual people, but in terms of types of suffering, we can distinguish individual and social anguish. Granted, social anguish is the anguish of individuals, but for the time being we can make a distinction between individual and social anguish.

Individual anguish is the anguish that we suffer alone, that we cannot discuss with others, that other people cannot help us relieve. Such anguish does not derive from others or from society; it comes from oneself as an individual. We can designate this as individual anguish, but in some cases further scrutiny reveals it to be social anguish. In other words, we sometimes encounter individual anguish that seems at first glance to be unrelated to social anguish but actually derives from society. Discerning the origin of anguish is crucial, though often difficult. We must give careful thought to whether specific forms of anguish are purely individual or not. Because purely individual anguish arises from within individuals, we cannot remedy the situation without focusing on the individual. For example, when a person suffers from a disease, that person is ill, not other people or society. This illness is individual anguish. But insofar as this disease can be cured by others, the suffering, while individual, becomes suffering alleviated by doctors or other people, and hence it cannot be called purely individual suffering.

We can also conceive of mental anguish as distinguished from physical anguish such as disease. Examples of this abound, but we can for the time being divide this mental suffering into sensual anguish and moral anguish. Sensual anguish is seen, for example, in failing in a business enterprise and, although not feeling moral responsibility, losing possessions, or losing one's fortune and grieving desperately; this anguish is also seen when someone suffers lost love. In moral anguish, however, the problems of individual responsibility and sin come to the fore. While sensual anguish does not link directly to sin, moral anguish is the anguish of sin, and people must endure this anguish individually.

Sin constitutes a relatively pure form of human suffering. In terms of the intensity of anguish, the anguish experienced in one's failure at business or loss of love can be stronger than the anguish experienced in a moral problem, depending on the person. Yet in terms of objective validity, because moral anguish inevitably possesses the objective validity of "a thing over which one ought to suffer," it presses upon us more strongly than anything else.

In all cases sin must be borne by oneself, so it stands as highly individual anguish. Some people think that their sin is not their own responsibility, that the reason for their moral sinning lies in society. They trace all sin back to society. This is an extremely complex issue.

I, however, cannot trace sin back entirely to society. The autonomous action that we will to perform -- action for which we must bear responsibility -- never ceases to occur. Were it to disappear, the reasons for and significance of individuality and independence would disappear as well. Moral responsibility, individual moral responsibility, inevitably exists in human beings. Consequently, when we do something bad we are conscious of having done so, and we feel responsibility. This does not disappear in us.

This moral responsibility, in other words, the anguish of sin, becomes truly human anguish, the non-sensual anguish of conscience. How one can eradicate suffering and be saved from it becomes a great moral problem, and in this problem we discover the necessary relation that leads morality to religion. The eradication of suffering constitutes a central issue in higher religions, and though the eradication of sensual suffering is important, the eradication of characteristically human suffering inevitably is an issue of the eradication of sin. In lower religions, the eradication of sensual suffering occupies a central position, but higher religions focus on the eradication of sin, because for those who are most characteristically human, sin is the most unbearable thing. Sin is a problem of the consciousness of norms, which carries great importance in human life. Accordingly, although sensual suffering is certainly lamentable and demanding of sympathy, it fails to become as objectively strong as the anguish of the consciousness of sin.

We can thus view sin as purely individual anguish. By atoning for sin through morality, becoming better, and gradually becoming moral, we are relieved of this anguish. In other words, we eradicate moral sin through morality. But, when we penetrate moral anguish, we discover something that cannot be dealt with morally, something that transcends the domain of morality. What we discover is religious anguish.

I have viewed anguish in the direction leading from moral anguish to religious anguish, but anguish is not limited to this direction alone. Be that as it may, religious anguish is individual anguish, and it possesses the universality of all people suffering from it. It is individual suffering and, at the same time, universal individual suffering.


Last time I considered the general meaning of "discerning suffering both individual and society, and its sources," focusing mainly on individual anguish. As I stated then, various forms of individual anguish exist, but anguish generated by the consciousness of norms is objective anguish. Moreover, anguish is not merely sensual, for it can give rise to the consciousness of sin in us. In other words, it becomes the anguish of sin that emerges when we act contrary to conscience in a broad sense.

Moral conscience in a narrow sense is included in norm consciousness as one of its parts. Norm consciousness also includes the desire for objective validity. Scholarship, art, and morality in a narrow sense all involve such consciousness of norms. To oppose this norm consciousness is to feel anguish that "ought to be suffered." The character of this anguish diverges considerably from that of "selfish" anguish. Moral anguish is not restricted to the sensual world. It is the most characteristically human anguish, because searching for objective validity is the most characteristically human desire. It is an essential desire, for the characteristic humanness of people lies not in obeying selfish desires but in obeying the consciousness of norms. The anguish of going against norm consciousness exists only in humans, and it is the most characteristically human form of suffering. Insofar as one works to eliminate this anguish, one is living in a characteristically human way. Eradicating this anguish amounts to obeying consciousness in a broad sense and living accordingly. Living in a way that does not oppose consciousness is the paramount goal, the ideal, of human living. And eliminating within ourselves that which does not obey consciousness is the way of eradicating anguish. For this reason we must stress respect for norms.

Respect for "norms" in this case means obeying the consciousness of norms, not an individual or particular rule. Doing so, we find autonomy. We obey an autonomous rule, not a hetereonomous one. Confucius's "I obey what the heart desires, not overstepping the norm" becomes the goal here, the ideal. This constitutes the completion of human nature, but at this point we must address the question of whether people actually reach this goal.

We can say that there is anguishmore advanced than the anguish -- thought to be the deepest or final anguish -- of the sin of going against norm consciousness. This more advanced anguish is that of the impossibility of attaining the human ideal of ceasing to be unconscientious. This anguish, seen for the time being as the final human anguish, cannot be eliminated through a moral method. For humans, this anguish is deeper and more serious than moral anguish. In other words, humans do not ultimately arrive at true humanity; in the world of morality, moral anguish is eliminated through morality, but this anguish becomes something that cannot be eradicated by morality. This is the fundamental anguish of human beings, what one might call the despair of human nature. It is in this way that true religious anguish inevitably emerges in humans.

This ought to be called religious anguish as opposed to moral anguish, and it is expressed by such terminology as "original sin" and "evil of the gravest nature." These expressions are interpreted in various ways, but I would like to view them as referring to what I am calling religious anguish. This anguish must be eradicated in some way. The method to do so, however, is a distinctive method, a religious method. Religious salvation comes to signify the eradication of this anguish. There are many ways of eliminating this anguish; Christianity and Buddhism have their own respective methods, which are not necessarily the same. These methods must not simply be moral methods, for a method diverging from morality is called for here. Generally, two methods function in religious salvation: salvation through the power of an "other" and extrication of oneself from such anguish through an awakening to a deeper self. We can for the time being think of the former as the method of Christianity and the latter as the method of Buddhism.

The "emancipation of humankind" includes both religious and social emancipation, but religious emancipation does not necessarily end in the release from individual anguish, for within social anguish there is what we can call socio-religious anguish. The world of the eradication of socio-religious anguish is, so to speak, a religious world. The "Kingdom of God," "Pure Land," and "Dharma world" all correspond to this religious world. These terms indicate that emancipation is not solely a matter of individuals being saved, for those saved members of the world establish the religious world, and in this way both individuals and society are truly established. This society, however, is not merely a society established by its saved members. A mere assemblage of saved individuals falls short of society in the true sense: society consisting of those members must become organically established. We can call this society a religious society. The anguish that yearns for this society is socio-religious anguish. Simply put, in the case of religious anguish, both individuals and society want to be emancipated.

Individual religious anguish and its eradication are inseparable from socio-religious anguish and its elimination. When we view "religious" anguish as an individual matter, we fail to consider socio-religious anguish. But in religion, individual and social affairs are closely linked. Individuals and society are intimately related -- no society comes into being without individuals and no individuals come into being without society. Religion is based in the inseparable relationship between individuals and society, and in this relationship we are able to conceive of salvation from individual religious anguish and social religious anguish.

We can conceive of various kinds of socio-religious anguish. For example, this anguish becomes manifest when we desire salvation not only for ourselves but for others as well. Buddhism brings about the salvation of humanity in which one saves not only oneself but others. One saves others without limitation and actualizes the world of all saved people. We lift up as a vow, "however innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them," and religion thereby effects not only salvation for oneself but also social salvation that includes others. In this type of religion one desires to save all members of society and pursue the work of society. In Christianity, too, the desire to save all individuals carries great weight.

Saving individuals generally involves saving members of society one by one, but the salvation of society does not end there. The saving of individuals one by one is not enough: the saving of society, socio-religious salvation, is essential. And because this comes down to creating a saved society, we need to consider history. The salvation of history, the salvation of the history of human society, becomes necessary.

Again, salvation does not terminate in individuals being saved. Of course, the salvation of individuals is important, but this does not accomplish social salvation, or what I am calling socio-religious salvation. For this reason, Christianity views the end of the world, the post-eschatological world, as a completed religious society. Buddhism never ignores the religious salvation of the historical world, either. From my perspective, the Pure Land must be the place of that salvation, not something in a time or place separate from the historical world. Indeed, the Pure Land must amount to the salvation of history. The establishment of such a world is the goal of history, and it is the religious salvation of the world.

Until now, I have argued that we can distinguish individual religious anguish and social religious anguish and that these two forms of religious anguish are closely related. Moreover, in both individual anguish and social anguish we can distinguish religious suffering and non-religious suffering. Non-religious suffering in individuals is either sensual suffering or conscientious moral suffering in a broad sense, and this holds true for social, non-religious suffering as well. Moreover, both for humans and society, moral anguish, not sensual anguish, is true anguish. Not being saved from that anguish is the most basic anguish in human society, and there is no way it can be eradicated by a moral method. This is where we encounter socio-religious suffering.


Last time I discussed individual and social anguish, including so-called religious anguish. Religious anguish exists in individuals, but not exclusively, for society experiences religious anguish, too. Though individual religious anguish and social religious anguish are interrelated, for the time being we can distinguish them. One can, on one's own, solve individual religious suffering, but social religious anguish is not solved through the resolution of individuals' religious anguish. Conversely, even when we extinguish social religious anguish, individual religious anguish has not necessarily been resolved.

There are two religious methods for eradicating anguish: one resolves religious anguish individually and the other resolves it socially. Some religions exhibit a completely individual character, others an entirely social one. Further, certain religious beliefs or practices resolve religious anguish through a sinking into the depths of the individual, while others work out religious anguish through some sort of social means. These two approaches can be labeled individual religion and social religion.

In terms of eliminating religious anguish socially, while we might conceive of a social solution at the level of society, we cannot eliminate religious anguish by a social method in which "social" refers to "social," "worldly," or "actual" in their usual senses. Since the problem of religious anguish exists in and with society and cannot be solved "socially" in the usual sense of the term, we can conceive of social religion, of that which is "socially trans-worldly" or "supra-actual." Fundamentally speaking, we cannot eradicate religious anguish through history, that is, through the workings of actual history. Religious anguish is not a problem in history -- rather, it transcends history and can, accordingly, be designated a suprahistorical problem.

We cannot readily comprehend the notion of something being "transcendent of history," but I believe there are problems that transcend history and cannot be solved through its workings. We can designate them as historical religious problems in the same way we can call something a social religious problem. The foundation of our ability to conceive of the end of history lies here. The end of history seems ungraspable, yet a theory of the end of the world exits in Christianity. History is construed as temporally ending in the future. We believe the end of history will come after millions of years, yet what I am considering here is not a problem of the temporal future but a problem of the fate of history itself, the question of whether all problems can be solved by history. The source of history itself contains, in terms of logic, contradiction, in terms of emotion, suffering, and, in terms of will, dilemma. This is the character of history.

Though these problems exist in actual history, they are relative dilemmas, never absolute ones. They are particular, and in a certain respect they both are and are not dilemmas. Both being and not being a dilemma constitutes a dilemma, too. History includes such relative dilemmas which, although appearing to be dilemmas, are not absolute ones. This holds true for contradiction and suffering, yet the ultimate problem lies in history's fate, in its grenz limitation or extreme limit.

In other words, there is absolute contradiction in history, and this absolute contradiction cannot be overcome by history. History is therefore negated, and one despairs of history. Here resides the end of history. The end of history lies not in the future -- it ultimately exists in the source of history itself. This absolute contradiction also exists in an individual's subsistence and life, and the method that overcomes this absolute dilemma is a true religious method. People might wonder whether the individual's absolute dilemma and history's absolute dilemma differ, but they don't. They converge at the place called humanity. Humanity includes both individuals and society, and the absolute dilemmas of humans and history together constitute the fate of humanity and return to that place. Absolute contradiction is absolute contradiction at the bottom of humanity. When seen in an individual, it is thought of as individual, and when seen in history, it is thought of as historical; but, at the place of returning, the individual's absolute contradiction and history's absolute contradiction are one, not two. In the end, religious anguish is rooted in the absolute suffering, dilemma, and contradiction at the bottom of humanity.

As I said before, as a problem, religious anguish cannot be solved by a so-called worldly method in actuality. To suppose that we can solve our suffering through some sort of working in actuality is to fail to recognize the problem at this depth of human nature. Humanism thought of as the "ism" that exhaustively takes up and solves all human problems has not yet recognized the source of true human nature. Those who wrestle with religious anguish cannot depend upon or abide in humanism.

The contemporary way of thinking that considers all problems solvable through the workings of history has yet to pierce human nature to any great depth. If we do not achieve absolute security or absolute peace and resolve the problems I am describing here, our peace of mind is nothing more than something relative. Even when security is present, insecurity comes threatening in its wake and the repetition of security and insecurity continues, negatively and unrestrictedly forever.

We must resolve the absolute contradiction lying at the base of humanity. For humans, the consciousness of norms is exalted. In another high place, however, religion is demanded. Religious anguish is not merely individual subjective anguish; it is the anguish at the root of human nature and the world created by humans. Whether that anguish has been realized depends on the person, history, or the particular epoch. In certain situations, this anguish is not noticed at all, but it is merely unnoticed, and we are forced to conclude that this anguish lies at the root of humans and history. Accordingly, this anguish is never something subjective. In solving religious anguish, humans secure the place in which they ought to stand, a stable base of human existence. The work to secure this base is, so to speak, religious life. This religious life, as conceived in "making full use of our abilities according to our respective vocations," heads in the direction of eradicating religious anguish and the direction of eliminating the suffering of everyday actuality.

A religious person functions religiously while simultaneously functioning in the world. That is to say, at the foundation of the place where humans function in the world we find not mere worldly functioning but religious functioning as, if you will, its metal reinforcement. Everyday life becomes religious life. Or more exactly, at this place your mundane life and religious life are one. A large division of labor appears between functioning to make the world or others religious and functioning to improve everyday life. Both are "work" in actuality, but one makes the world and others religious while the other improves actuality. Through these two types of working, religious people emancipate humankind. "Humans' deep desire for emancipation" is achieved by emancipating humans from religious anguish and eliminating worldly suffering. Merely solving problems or the anguish of actuality does not result in total emancipation of humankind.

This organization [FAS Society] recognizes both types of anguish and strives to resolve them simultaneously. In our respective vocations in life, the situations where the person of religion -- which we must all be -- functions as a religionist and situations where the person functions to resolve worldly anguish diverge in a division of labor. Working out both of these -- one alone will not suffice -- becomes the functioning and goal of this organization. In response to religious anguish and worldly suffering, we must ascertain the source from which they arise and the method by which we can eliminate them.

[Translated by Chris Ives]

***To be continued***

Last updated: 28 November, 1998