Date of Award
Master of Arts
Craig A. Challender, Ph.D.
Carolyn M. Craft, Ph.D.
Ellery Sedgwick, Ph.D.
Ralph Waldo Emerson's philosophical writings possess deep correlations to the writings of Nichiren, a 13th century Japanese Buddhist philosopher. Both Emerson and Nichiren conceive the inherent and unlimited potential of human beings, and stress the inseparability of life from its psychological, spiritual, and physical environment. Both Emerson and Nichiren address the cyclical and universal nature of all phenomena, an understanding that derives from the oneness of all facets of existence. The greatest variation between these two writers occurs in the implementation and practice of their philosophies.
The Preface provides a synopsis of Buddhism and introduces Nichiren. It also discusses the use of textual translations and interpretations of Nichiren by the Soka Gakkai, an organization founded on his teachings. Chapter 1 correlates the universality of Emerson's idea of genius with Buddha nature. Chapter 2 delves into the concept of ichinen sanzen, or the existence of "three thousand realms in a single moment of life." Chapter 3 delves into Emerson's Over-Soul and the doctrine of shikishin/uni, to emphasize the non-duality of the spiritual and the material. Chapter 4 discusses the perception of spiritual Law and the cyclical nature of life. Chapter 5 highlights the similar concepts of Emerson's "self-reliance" and Nichiren's "human revolution." Chapter 6 establishes the variation between Emerson's use of nature to experience the Over-Soul and Nichiren's use of the Gohonzon, the object of devotion for his followers, to attain enlightenment. Chapter 7 addresses Emerson's desire for a "Teacher," his incognizance of Nichiren's teachings, and the correlation of Nichiren's teachings with Emerson's ideal mentor.
American Emersonian thought and Japanese Buddhist philosophy mirror one another but vary in practice. The implementation of each philosopher's beliefs differs in Emerson's advocacy of nature as a means of discovering the ultimate reality of life, as opposed to Nichiren's promotion of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to discover the true aspect of all phenomena. Emerson announces in "The Divinity School Address" his desire for a "Teacher" who can transcend known philosophical works- who understands the truth of life. Emerson's call for a "Teacher" expresses a desire for a philosopher who can reveal a philosophy that rounds full circle to encompass the ultimate reality of all phenomena.
Blythe, Sharon Mitsue, "From the Illuminating Moon to the Radiating Sun: The Philosophical Writings of Emerson and Nichiren" (2006). Theses, Dissertations & Honors Papers. 147.