SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Emanuele Davide Giglio “My Nichiren:Background of my study of Nichiren “

When I started my study of Nichiren, I was a student of Japanese language at University of Turin (Italy).   (Nichiren:Japanese Buddhist priest(1222-1283))

When I asked myself where linguistic difference between Italian and Japanese language come from, I was conscious about “something deeper”: the “background of languages”.  “Language” is not only “words”.  Behind “language”, there is a factor of thought which has been formed by human psychology and its peculiarity.  No matter how much I cram up vocabularies, I cannot be a good Japanese speaker without understanding Japanese thoughts. 


At that time, at the latter part of the 20th century, there was a scenario of crisis of Western culture.  There is Christian ethics which do not allow at will to manipulate the world on earth which God has created.  And, on the other hand, there was a philosophical thought which became staying inside only university life after a sterile crash with science which have manipulated the world.  Christian ethics and Philosophical Thought became unable to cope with our daily ethical issues toward what Technology has revealed as possible one, and the debate reached to a deadlock.


My philosophy master, Doctor Umberto Garinberti, ex-Professor of the University of Venice, told us that Western culture has experienced three systems of ethics.


  • System of ethics by Christianity:Western legislation has been accomplished by Christianity ethics. We call it the “Ethic of the Intention”. Decision or judgement is made inside our “individual interiority”. People are judged by “intentions” which have resulted in some behaviors. Crime is judged and decided by an intension which is intentionally or un-intentionally. However, if we will search for only “intention”, it would become meaningless in “the time of technology”. Dr. Enrico Fermi invented atomic bomb, but it is not so important what kind of intention he had when he invented. What is important is how his invention resulted in history.


  • Kant ethic (secular ethic)”:(Immanuel Kant:German philosopher(1724-1804)

It is summarized to a proposition that human beings should be handled as a purpose, nor as means”.  Kant ethics might function when the earth looks bigger, they have ample natural resources and population is small. However, how is the situation now?  Population became bigger, the earth became smaller and natural resources became poorer. Is it correct to handle human beings as a purpose and handle everything, others than human beings, as means?  Are air and water now just means?  Are air and water purposes to be preserved?  


  • Ethic by Max Wever (German political scientist and economist(1864-1920))

It is an ethic about responsibility and results. He said “Human behavior should be judged only by results, not by intention behind their behavior.” And he continued that it is limited to results which are possible to forecast. Science and technology are not proceeded on the assumption that they like to “find out”. What scientific technology discover is a coincidental result in various working process. Such results cannot be forecasted from the beginning.  For example, “clone” is not a result which was forecasted from the beginning.  It was discovered accidentally in various working process. Basically, result of research is not possible to be forecasted.


As mentioned above, at “the period of technology”, ethics which were known in the Western world are quite incompetent now. It will be necessary to revise new ethics. However, if we try to revise old ethics basing on old “unchanging” principle, I think it meaningless to try to find new ethics. “Unchanging principle” might function in the period when nature is thought to be unable to manipulate. I think it was the time when human being could not do anything toward nature.


Nature is now manipulated by scientific technology, not unchanging nature which Greek or Christian have thought. In short, nature is not “background” anymore. Not a “measure” (as we say “man as the measure of all things”) and not a “standard”. As German philosopher, Martin Heidigger (1898-1976) said, our eyes toward nature changed into an utilitarianistic eye. When we see rivers, we think of electrical power. When we see a forest, we think of wood. And when we see ground, we think of mining resources. Nature, at present, has already changed to be usable and can be manipulated.  We can say that it became impossible to revive new ethics on the “background” or “measure”.      


Doctor Umberto Garinberti pointed out our (men of today or Westerners) standard is no more necessary and useful as far as we correspond to new the background: “the period of technology”.  It was the time when I started to change my interests toward other thoughts than the Western.  If we do not have different nor new eyes adopting new thoughts, present Western culture, which have contributed to the world, would reach  in a deadlock.


I thought Japanese and oriental cultures might have made our Western world fresh and given different eyes fundamentally.  Existence of Buddhism, which is a religion and, at the same time, a system which has gigantic system of ideology, seems to me the most prominent. First of all, however, if I cannot make my research through the original text, I would be confined in the Western linguistic family and present ideology.  And I attended a seminar “Religions of East Asia and their Ideology” of University of Turin.

I began to wish my study in Japan thinking of access to many historical materials.


When we study “holy books”, we have to read materials in the original text. By doing so, we have to overcome “our time”(now) and “ourselves”, both of which are linguistic and cultural identities. In other words, we have to enter into the world being retrospective to the original background of the people and their world view. At the seminar, I chose “Buddhism in Japan” naturally as a student of Japanese language. It was not so easy to read original materials (the Buddhist scriptures and its annotated editions) of Nara period (710-794) and Heian period (794-1185). It is said that original materials of Kamakura period (1185-1333) are easy to read and the Buddhism in Kamakura is said to be most authentically “Japanese”.


Among many Buddhist priests, three priests, Shinran, Dogen and Nichiren were prominent. I had a feeling that Jodo Buddhism by Shinran (1173-1263) was acceptable to me because it was close to Christianity in its spiritual foundation. But, because of this, on the contrary, I could not have any interest.

About Dogen (1200-1253), I had a feeling of argumentativeness. It was similar to the Western philosophy.  And I know studies about “Zen Buddhism” by Dogen were already popular in overseas.

The last priest “Nichiren” was not so popular in overseas. His versatile or multilateral thoughts in his writings were difficult to be brought into a coherent composition.

And his ideas were very unique for European. So, I thought I can overcome my European identity which I have succeeded from my cultural environment.


Since then, I had an impression that Nichiren have guided me, as an European, to a different world view basically.  I choose to study him freely beyond religious bodies, established by Nichiren as a progenitor and their conventional interpretations. I thought he could offer a lot of new point of view and could affect to the Western world which, I think, has been in a deadlock.  This is my individual approach to “Study of Nichiren”.


I hope my approach would become useful for further researches in the same field.


SGRA Kawaraban 561 in Japanese (Original)


(Researcher in Oriental Culture Research Center, Minobusan University



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Mr. E. D. Giglio