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  3. 1st Unit : 3rd Meeting of Study Group Series “Views of Humanity and the World in the Meiji Period”

1st Unit : 3rd Meeting of Study Group Series “Views of Humanity and the World in the Meiji Period”

"Studies on the History of the Bonreki Movement: The Development of Buddhist Science in 19th Century Japan"

 

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  On July 9, 2014, 1st Unit of the Ircp invited Professor Okada Masahiko (Ircp Visiting Researcher, Tenri University) to give a presentation titled “Studies on the History of the Bonreki Movement: The Development of Buddhist Science in 19th Century Japan” at the Toyo University Hakusan Campus (Building 5, Room 5309). This was the third installment in the Meeting of Study Group Series “Views of Humanity and the World in the Meiji Period”.

  In his talk, Okada explained how a strain of astronomy developed during late Edo Period and early Meiji Period and corresponded to the outlook on the universe as manifested in the Buddhist Scriptures. This astronomical movement, originated by the Buddhist monk Fumon Entsū (1754-1834), held that the world is flat with the legendary Mt. Sumeru (須弥山Shumisen) at its center, in contrast to Ptolemaic theory and the spherical Earth concept. The Buddhist science that this movement produced was divided into three fields: the “梵暦道bonrekidō” for creating calendars, the “宿曜道Sukuyōdō” for performing astrology, and the “梵医道bon’idō” for creating medicines.

  After the death of its originator, the movement split into two factions: the Dōyoji-ha, which worked to revise Entsū’s arguments scientifically; and the Iyoji-ha, which left his theories unchanged and viewed them in absolutist terms. To visually substantiate its own theories, the Dōyoji-haactively created celestial models that it referred to as the “model of Mt. Sumeru” (須弥山儀Shumisen-gi). These models were just precision machines similar to an orrery, which was a precursor to planetariums. These machines showed times and dates, as well as the orbits of the sun and the moon for a given time and date. Tanaka Hisashige, who founded a company that would later become Toshiba, played a major role in creating these Shumisen-gimodels.

  Supporters of the Bonreki movement made accurate astronomical observations, created calendars, and distributed them to the public at large. Even after the solar calendar was ordained by law as the national calendar in 1873, Bonreki associations were still permitted to distribute their calendars and their activities among the general public were widespread.

  The Bonreki movement began as an anti-modernist campaign that initially took shape in opposition to modern Western science, but it was also a scientific endeavor that entailed making accurate astronomical observations and produced precise machines and calendars. At the same time, it was also a broad-based movement widely accepted by the populace. Responding to the influx of modern Western science during the final decades of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the start of the Meiji Period, the movement grounded itself in a traditional view of the universe while adopting a scientific attitude in constructing a precise strain of astrology and the movement spread itself far and wide. The major achievement of this study group session was Professor Okada shedding light on this Meiji Period worldview that was consigned to the dustbin of history amid the drive toward modernization and the attendant policies that followed.2