Buraku Liberation News July 1999 No.109

The Burakumin : The Complicity of Japanese Buddhism in Oppression and an Opportunity for Liberation (last part)

Leslie D. Alldritt,Associate Professor Northland College, U.S.A.

Some Thoughts Toward a Religious Basis for Greater Liberation of the Burakumin

It is evident that the liberation of the burakumin has made great strides, yet what seems to still need more work is a religio-philosophy of liberation that can inform and sustain the burakumin liberation movement. While a strong case can be made for Christian liberation theology to provide considerable material for Asian emancipatory movements to study24, the operant model of liberation for the burakumin may be the model of civil rights activism as employed by African-Americans in the United States.25 

This movement for human rights was begun and nourished in the Black Churches of the United States and benefitted greatly from the spiritual basis for its liberatory actions, though the liberatory actions as such were largely secular. 

This is a model that certainly resonants with portions of the Dalit community in South India, and -- with adaptations appropriate for a Japanese societal context -- perhaps it is one the burakumin of Japan should explore more thoroughly. 

A further source for potential guidance, particularly in the area of integration education in Japan (Jp. Dowa kyoiku), may be critical pedagogy.26 Its emphases on the ontological treatment of the limited nature of all personal, dialogical relationships has direct relevance to the problem of oppression. 

A continuing development of improved emancipatory educational models for use in dowa kyoiku -- instituted and operated in the entire country of Japan, not just certain areas, that include a discussion of the Japanese religious perspective on the burakumin and how that perspective is undergoing revision would also be an important step. It may make a place and case for Japanese religions being part of the long-term solution to the buraku mondai. 

It seems evident that any political or economic solutions to the problem of oppression -- be in the Indian context of the Dalits or the Japanese context of the burakumin -- that neglect the spiritual nexus of the problem of oppression will not be sufficient. Through an increase in the development of close, spiritualized communities among the burakumin -- communities which would allow the creation and flourishing of personal spirituality that would support the claim for genuine individuality as the believer sought his/her personal salvation while, concomitantly, sanctioning the continuing demand for social justice, the burakumin may be aided in their search for increased freedom from discrimination. 

In a very real sense, from a Buddhist perspective, until we can uproot this discriminating consciousness then genuine relating, genuine dialogue is impossible. Thus, in terms of the debate of Critical Buddhism as to whether Original Awakening (hongaku) or the idea of issendai is the operative nexus of certain interpreters of Japanese Buddhism, it seems evident that, in practice, the classism of Japanese society has extolled the latter notion. Yet, at the core of Buddhist philosophy stands a non-obstructionist, non-objectifiable, thus non-discriminatory resolution that cannot - ontically nor axiologically - support such classism any more than it can support sexism, racism, or ageism. As is stated in the Nehangyo itself, "Non-oppressing is true emanicipation."27 

We certainly need to be cautiously optimistic about the opportunities for greater successes in the individual and communal lives of the burakumin. It is critical that their plight be better known and supported throughout the world, as too the plight of the other oppressed peoples in Asia. It is time to, as the Buraku Liberation effort puts it, "wake the sleeping child" and do not presume that the burakumin oppression or any liberative movement will solve itself as humankind socially evolves. 
My hope in conducting this research and presenting it is that more scholars will become interested in studying and teaching others about the burakumin so as to aid the Japanese people in "waking the sleeping child." 

24. A good example of the Christian liberation theological perspective on this is the work of Kuribayashi Teruo, such as his Keikan no Shingaku ("A Theology of the Crown of Thorns"), Shinkyo Shuppansha, 1991. 
25. There does seem to be interest among the burakumin to explore the connection between the respective plights of African-Americans and themselves. The Buraku Liberation League has sponsored fora that included representatives from the N.A.A.C.P. and Reverend Jesse Jackson. The League was also strongly anti-apartheid. 
26. Works by critical pedagogues such as Paulo Freire, Ira Shor, bell hooks, etc. should be referenced and utilized in shaping dowa kyoiku. The Japanese educators likewise working in this area should be used as consultants. 
27. Yamamoto (trans.), The Mahaparinirvana-sutra, p.119. 

Correction : 
In the second part of this article carried in No. 108, for a term 'Doshuren' appeared in relation to Mr. Uemoto read 'Daishuren', or the Osaka Federation of Religious Denominations Concerned with the Buraku Discrimination Issue. On the other hand, Doshuren, or the Solidarity Conference of Religious Group for the Solution of Dowa Issue, nationwide organization covering all the prefectural federations of religious organizations committed to Buraku liberation.

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