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  3. 1st Unit : 8th Study Group Session

1st Unit : 8th Study Group Session

“Buddhism and Religious Studies in the Age of Émile Étienne Guimet”


 On January 30, 2014, the 1st Unit of the Ircp hosted a talk "Buddhism and Religious Studies in the Age of Émile Étienne Guimet", by École française d'Extrême-Orient Head of Research Frédéric Girard (Ircp Visiting Researcher) at the Toyo University Hakusan Campus (Building9, Meeting Room4). The presentation covered the following topics.

  Girard began his presentation with a discussion of religious studies in Europe during the period that Guimet (1836–1918) was active. At the time, theories of religious evolution held sway, arguing that the world's primitive religions had evolved to reach their apex in the form of Catholicism in Christianity. Under this theory, Buddhism was held to be the same as nihilism or as a universal religion similar to Chiristianity. However, Guimet did not regard Buddhism as nihilism; rather, he thought that it had a universal value and a positive significance for being a religious philosophy that had not a ruling sovereign God. One might surmise from this that Guimet came to Japan to dialogue with religious Japanese individuals because he wanted to find answers to philosophical and metaphysical debates. However, there were problems of interpretation when it came to his conversations with such individuals, and he was not able to achieve much in terms of results. This may be why Guimet forewent publishing those dialogues and instead performed translations of such basic works on Buddhism as Gyonen's Hasshū Koyo(The Essentials of the Eight Traditions).

  Another characteristic that may be inferred about Guimet's understanding of religion is that he still believed the Egyptian religion to be the progenitor of all the religions, belonging to Athenasius Kircher’s ideas modern religion, seeing even the Indian and Oriental religions as being under its influence, though he abandon gradually this conception in his old age. The Isis Copper Plate was regarded as having been influenced by the Platonic philosophy of its time, and Guimet appears to have believed the plate was the prototype for the mandalas of esoteric Buddhism. This seems to be why he had a replica made of the three-dimensional mandala from the To-ji temple in Kyoto, which he then exhibited at a conference on East Asian studies in Lyon. Support for these conjectures can be seen in the explanations that Guimet appended to the To-ji mandala; for instance, his explanations of its bodhisattva sections were made in a Neoplatonic vein. One can infer that Guimet took such an approach because he was influenced by his thoughts regarding the Isis copper plate. Even though he later distanced himself from such ideas, the fact that Guimet mainly visited temples in Japan that enshrined Benzaiten and Daitokuten provides the basis for speculating that he may initially have been searching for the influences of Egyptian religion and gods similar to those of the Isis cult.

  The presentation was followed by a discussion among the people at the talk. Despite the meeting taking place on a weekday, 20 people took part in what proved to be an extremely successful gathering. じら2