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Three Pillars of Research

3. Buddhist Studies

Buddhism has been transmitted from person to person and culture to culture since its inception, and its form has altered according to times and places. Because of its diversity and long history (2,500 years), it is often difficult to understand what Buddhism is today in any kind of concise way. The differences between Zen and Esoteric Buddhism in Japan can be surprising, as are the differences between Buddhism in Japan, China, Tibet, and South-East Asian countries. Those variations sometimes cause misunderstandings among and about the many ‘Buddhisms’.


Therefore, to deepen our understanding of Buddhism, we study the processes of the transmission and transformation of ‘Buddhisms’ by studying the various source and secondary materials in cooperation with scholars both in Japan and throughout the world. We also intend to present our results in a readily understandable fashion for a general readership.


We are engaged in two projects now:


1

Investigating the origins of Mahāyāna Buddhism:
Mahāyāna Buddhism appeared approximately 500 or 600 years after Śākyamuni’s parinirvāṇa. Mahāyānists did not make strict distinctions in regard to the possibilities for enlightenment between monastic and lay practitioners as did previous Buddhist thought. In addition, they developed the concept of the ‘Bodhisattva,’ which was also a referent for Śākyamuni when he was still in the midst of his training. The aim of Mahayanists is to become a Buddha.
Mahāyāna Buddhism is found in different forms around the world. It includes Esoteric Buddhism, which appeared later. The general form of Buddhism introduced to Japan by Kamakura period is also Mahāyāna.
Although there still remain many questions in regard to the origins of Mahayana Buddhism, studies in this regard have been making remarkable progress. Nevertheless, there is still no consensus in this area. So, our research focuses on various Mahāyāna sutras and hopes in this way to contribute to an understanding of the origins of the Mahayana. Toward this end we are studying two sutras in particular: the Akṣobhyavyūha-sūtra, one of the very early Mahāyāna sutras, and the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra compiled at the height of the Mahāyāna period in India.

2

Our institute also is investigating the relationship between the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra and Esoteric Buddhism, also known as Vajrayāna. Like Mahāyāna Buddhism, the origins of Vajrayāna Buddhism have not been clarified. Yet, the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, shows indications that it includes aspects of esoteric thought and that it can be linked to an esoteric tradition.
In addition, we are currently preparing a critical edition of the Tibetan and Chinese versions.