Azuchi Shuron (安土宗論)

Azuchi Shuron was a religious debate waged between the Jodoshu sect and the Hokkeshu sect (Nichirenshu sect) at Jogon-in Temple in the town of Azuchi-jo Castle. It is also referred to as Azuchi Mondo. Under the command of Nobunaga, the debate took place between the Jodoshu sect monks Teian (also known as Joan), Reiyo, and others, and the Nichirenshu sect monks Nichiko, Nittai, and Nichiyu (later renamed Nichien).

It is said that Nobunaga ODA engineered the debate to suppress the Nichirenshu sect, which started repeated conflicts with other sects, extending its influence centering around Kyoto in those days, and that Nobunaga supported the Jodoshu sect. The details will be described later. The Nichirenshu sect was defeated and some monks were executed, and the sect was forced to take the oath never to challenge other sects to a religious debate.

Cause of the debate

According to the chronicle of Nobunaga, Nobunaga Koki, an elder Jodoshu sect monk Reiyo Gyokunen came from the Kanto region, eastern Japan, up to the Kamigata region, the Kyoto-Osaka area, during the middle of May and preached Jodoshu sect Buddhism in the town of Azuchi. There came Shochi TAKEBE and Densuke OWAKI, who challenged Reiyo to an argument.
The elder monk Reiyo answered as follows:
If I answer you now, you, being young fellows, cannot understand the deep idea of dhamma.'
When you take along a Hokkeshu sect monk you can trust, I will answer the question.'

Reiyo originally set seven days for his preaching, but he then extended the period to eleven days and sent a messenger to the Hokkeshu sect. The Hokkeshu sect accepted the plan of debate and sent distinguished monks of Nichiko from Chomyo-ji Temple, Nittai from Joko-in Temple, Nichien from Kuon-in Temple, and Daizobo from Myoken-ji Temple in Kyoto, and a monk Fuden, who was the younger brother of the then shopowner of a wholesale dealer in oil, from Myokoku-ji Temple in Sakai.

This rumor spread widely and monks and seculars gathered from inside and outside of Kyoto and Azuchi and made an uproar, which eventually became known to Nobunaga.
Nobunaga sent Nagayori SUGAYA, Iesada YABE, Hidemasa HORI, and Hidekazu HASEGAWA as messengers to both sects to give a message that 'As a large number of retainers of the Oda family are Hokke followers and I'm ready to use my influence, do not be belligerent.'
The Jodoshu sect answered that they would follow Nobunaga's command, but on the other hand, the Hokkeshu sect was arrogant enough to think that they would win the debate and did not accept Nobunaga's arbitration; therefore, the two sects were to engage in the debate.

Then, Nobunaga commanded 'Therefore, I will send a judge. Make a document on the development of the debate and report it to me,' and asked an elder monk, Keishu Tetsuso in Nanzen-ji Temple, who lived in Hino and was renowned for his prominent knowledge among the five great Zen temples of Kyoto known as 'Kyoto Gozan.'
As a monk Ingakoji was staying in Azuchi at the time, Nobunaga added him as the judge and let them debate in the main hall of Jogon-in Temple, which was a Jodoshu sect temple located outside the town of Azuchi.

Nobunaga sent his five retainers Nobuzumi ODA, Nagayori SUGAYA, Iesada YABE, Hidemasa HORI, and Hidekazu HASEGAWA to guard inside the temple. From the Hokkeshu sect, five gorgeously attired monks Nichiko from Chomyo-ji Temple, Nittai from Joko-in Temple, Nichien from Kuon-in Temple, Fuden from Myokoku-ji Temple, and Daizobo from Myoken-ji Temple attended as clerks with eight volumes of the sutra Hokkekyo and writing tools.

From the Jodoshu sect, four monks in simple black robes, Reiyo from the Kanto region, Seiyo Teian from Saiko-ji Temple in Azuchitanaka, Shinyo Doko, and Chionin Jonen appeared with writing tools. The present company of the debate is shown below.

Jodoshu sect: Reiyo Gyokunen, Seiyo Teian from Saiko-ji Temple, Shinyo Doko from Shofuku-ji Temple, and Chionin Jonen (a recorder)
Hokkeshu sect: Nittai from Joko-in Temple, Nichiko from Chomyo-ji Temple, Nichien from Kuon-in Temple, Fuden from Myokoku-ji Temple, and Daizobo from Kuon-in Temple (a recorder)
Judges: Tesso Keishu, Kakei Seishoku (正稷) and Ingakoji from Shomyo-ji Temple, and Senkakubo from Horyu-ji Temple
Nobuzumi TSUDA (ODA) representing Nobunaga ODA
Magistrates: Nagayori HASE, Hidemasa HORI, and Hidekazu HASEGAWA
Superintending officers: Iesada YABE, Naritoshi MORI

The contents of the debate

According to the Nobunaga Koki, the debate is summarized as below.

Reiyo: As I proposed this debate, I will start the debate. But Teian interrupted Reiyo and rapidly asked a question.

Teian (Jodo sect) asks: Do the eight volumes of the sutra Hokkekyo contain a Buddhist invocation 'Nenbutsu'?

The Hokkeshu sect answers: Yes.

The Jodoshu sect asks: Although the Hokkeshu sect teaches 'Nenbutsu,' why does it preach against 'Nenbutsu' by saying that reciting of 'Nenbutsu' makes people fall into the Hell of No Respite 'Nenbutsu Muken?'--'Nenbutsu Muken' is one of the four dictums the founder Nichiren stated to denounce other sects.

The Hokkeshu sect asks: Are Amitabha that the Hokkeshu sect worships and Amitabha the the Jodoshu sect worships the same or different?

The Jodoshu sect says: Wherever Amitabha is, Amitabha is the same.

The Hokkeshu sect asks: If it is true, why does the Jodoshu sect deny Amitabha that the Hokkeshu sect worships by the word 'abandon it'--'Shaheikakuho.'

The Jodoshu sect says: That does not mean to abandon 'Nenbutsu.'
That means people should abandon all the wrong trainings before reciting 'Nenbutsu.'

The Hokkeshu sect asks: Is there any sentence in sutras saying 'abandon Hokke before you recite 'Nenbutsu?'

The Jodoshu sect says: There is a sentence in a sutra saying 'abandon Hokke.'
In the sutra Jodokyo, it is said 'Zenritsu Hoben Kenji Sanjo.'
It is also said 'Ikko Sennen Muryojubutsu.'

The sutra Hokkekyo says 'Iho Benryoku Shijuyonen Miken Shinjitsu.'

The Jodoshu sect says: If Shakyamuni trained forty-odd years and abandoned the sutra he learned before, do you abandon a letter 'Myo' of the fourth Hoza?

The Hokkeshu sect asks: Which Myo of the Shakyamuni's forty-odd years teachings do you mean?
(The Hokkeshu sect pretended not to know which 'Myo' is it in the Shakyamuni's forty-odd years teachings.)

The Jodoshu sect says: It is 'Myo' in Hokke. Don't play dumb.

The Hokkeshu sect did not answer. They were silenced.

The Jodoshu sect says: Do you abandon it or not?
The Jodoshu sect asked again.

The Hokkeshu sect kept silence. All the attendants, including the judges, burst into laughter, and stripped the robes off the Hokkeshu sect monks.

8:00 am, July 1, 1579

After the debate

As Nichiko from Chomyo-ji Temple could not answer the question about the letter 'Myo,' he was beaten by the crowd immediately after the debate, and the eight volumes of the sutra Hokkekyo they had carried were broken and thrown away. Nobuzumi ODA and others caught monks and followers of the Hokkeshu sect who were trying to run away, and brought the record of the debate to Nobunaga. Nobunaga immediately left Azuchi and came to Jogon-in Temple where he summoned the participants from both sects to his presence, admired and gave Reiyo and Seiyo a folding fan and a round fan. To the judge Keishu Tetsuso, he presented a cane.

Then, Nobunaga called Densuke OWAKI and immediately beheaded him after rebuking him as follows:
Even a ruler of a province or a region should not do such a shameful thing; you are merely a secular salt seller.'
At first, you provided lodging for the elder monk Reiyo, but did not support him; instead, you were tempted by someone to challenge Reiyo to a debate and made an uproar inside and outside of Kyoto and Azuchi.'
You are inexcusable.'

Next, Nobunaga called Fuden to his presence and asked of his achievement. Fuden was so well-read in Buddhism that he had learned the sutra Issaikyo by heart. But he did not belong to any particular Buddhist sect. He would sometimes wear stylish kimono with an apricot pattern or sometimes wear a gorgeous costume patterned with an impressed gold or silver leaf, and when the garments were worn out, he gave them to other people under the pretext of bringing them in contact with the Buddha's providence by the garments. He was puffed up with self-importance, but his stylish kimono turned out to be a cheap imitation. As the Hokkeshu sect earnestly appealed to Fuden to enter the sect, because if the well-read Fuden was convinced to be a follower of the sect the sect would further prosper, he entered the sect in exchange for money in kind. He told a lie about his age.
Nobunaga said 'You came here under agreement with the sect that if you make the Hokkeshu sect win the debate, the sect would make you live in comfort, and in exchange for money in kind, you entered the town of Azuchi without notifying the public office; you did such an illegal thing in contrast with your daily claims.'

Nobunaga still continued 'You kept silent during the debate to make the other members of your sect make a statement, being ready to join the debate if the Hokkeshu sect would gain an advantage over the Jodoshu sect. You played such a dirty trick, which was unpardonable,' and he also beheaded Fuden.
Nobunaga said to the other monks of the Hokkeshu sect as follows:
In contrast to samurai warriors who have hard times in serving in the army, you, monks, build and live in good temples and indulge in luxury.'
What is worse, you neglected your studies and could not answer the question about a letter 'Myo'; you are also unpardonable.'
You Hokkeshu sect monks are sophists.'
You will never admit that the Hokkeshu sect lost the debate,' and Nobunaga commanded them 'Change your sect and become disciples of the Jodoshu sect, or, submit a written pledge that you will never slander the other sects, as you lost the debate.'
The Hokke sect submitted the deed of apology as below.

The Hokkeshu sect submitted the deed of apology as below.

As we debated the Jodoshu sect at Jogon-in Temple in Omi and lost the debate, Fuden, a monk in Kyoto, and a salt-seller Densuke were sentenced to death.

We will never slander the other sects henceforth.

We thank Nobunaga for his lenient sentence on the Hokkeshu sect. We, the Hokkeshu sect monks, will leave the sect, and will return to our former positions by permission of Nobunaga.

July, 1, 1579 Hokkeshu sect

the Lord, the Jodoshu sect

As the Hokkeshu sect handed in the deed of apology that stated 'we lost the debate,' everyone, including women and children, knew the fact for generations.
The public made a mockery of the Hokkeshu sect when they heard that the high-ranked monks of the sect regretted that they should have used another expression instead of 'lost the debate.'

Shochi TAKEBE fled to the port in Sakai (Senshu in Osaka, near Sakai) and was arrested. As Densuke OWAKI and Shochi TAKEBE had created the disturbance, Shochi TAKEBE was also beheaded.

The incident has been summarized above according to the Nobunaga Koki.

Point
The biggest point of the debate was the word 'the fourth "Myo"in Hoza.'
It is generally considered that Nobunaga trapped the Hokkeshu sect into losing the debate by using the unclear wording of the Jodoshu sect.
In the Hokkeshu sect, it is said that 'Teian confused his opponent with his dirty tricks.'

In the other branches in the Hokkeshu sect, the word is described as follows.

Kegon no Myo
Agon no Myo
Hoto no Myo
Hannya no Myo

It was described that these four 'Myo' were collectively called 'the Myo before the Hokkeshu sect,' as opposed to 'the Myo of the Hokkeshu sect,' and as the three sutras in the Jodoshu sect are categorized in Hotobu according to the categorization called Gojihakkyosetsu, the Jodoshu sect should have said 'the third' Myo of Hoza in the debate but they intentionally used the wrong expression 'the fourth' Myo of Hoza in asking the Hokkeshu sect whether or not they would abandon the Myo. When the confused Hokkeshu sect monks asked which of the first to the fourth Myo the Jodoshu sect monks were talking about, the Jodoshu sect monks further lied in their answer that they talked about the Myo of the Hokke, which brought the thoughts of the Hokkeshu sect monks to a standstill.

A religious figure in the later period, Chigaku TANAKA, rebuked the Jodoshu sect as follows:
It was quite out of the question, even Shakyamuni might have been unaware of the trick.'
The founder of Daiun-in Temple, Kyorensha Tairo Daiosho Seiyo Teian Shonin, was the only person in the world throughout the history who knew the secret.'
He tried to confuse the opponent by using such a strange "sham term" that had not been registered in any of "Sutras," "Thesis," and "Commentary," which was a problem of his personality before talking about the problem of dhamma.' (according to a magazine "Dokku, Junkyogo" p.67, published by Shishiobunko)

Chigaku TANAKA also stated in the magazine as below:
Seiyo Teian probably said "the fourth Myo in Hoza" to indicate "Hotoeza Shikyo Heisetsu chu Daishi Enkyo shodan no Myo" in a strict sense' (p. 68 in the same magazine).

A learned priest of the Jodoshu sect, Genmyo HAYASHI, indicated the same point in 'Senshugakuho No. 1, Azuchi Shuron no Sinso ni tsuite.'
A novelist, Motohiko IZAWA, indicated in his book "Gyakusetsu no Nihonshi" (The Paradox of Japanese History) Vol. 10, 'The Lord of the Sengoku Period - the mystery of the unification of Japan and Nobunaga' that this statement determined the loss of the Hokkeshu sect.

IZAWA states 'That is to say, if 'the Jodoshu sect misled the Hokkeshu sect by the word "the fourth Myo in Hoza"' as the Hokkeshu sect claimed, the Hokkeshu sect should have insisted that the word made no sense so that they could not understand the question during the debate, but in reality, they did not do that, which meant they did not deny the word as "sham term."
In other words, as Chigaku TANAKA said, the word meant '"Myo" mentioned in "Enkyo" in Shikyo Heisetsu of Hotoeza, i.e., Hotoza.'

According to the theory of Gojihakkyosetsu, Shakyamuni preached by dividing his teachings into five periods of time: Kegon, Agon, Hoto, Hannya, and Hokke Nehan, and in the category of Hoto, Shakyamuni preached four items of 'Zo, Tsu, Betsu, En.'
Among the four items, 'Zo, Tsu, Betsu' are teachings of Hinayana Buddhism, and the fourth item 'En' is the highest teaching of Mahayana Buddhism.
In the theory of Gojihakkyosetsu, it is considered that, as a matter of course, Shakyamuni preached a perfect teaching as symbolized by Myo, which means Myohorengekyo; i.e., the sutra Hokkekyo, in 'Enkyo.'
This theory was formulated by Chigi and adopted by the Tendaishu sect as education, which has been handed down by the Hokkeshu sect and later by the Nichirenshu sect.

Consequently, the Teian's question 'Do you abandon a letter 'Myo' of the fourth Hoza?' really meant that 'If you deny the Shakyamuni's teachings before he established Hokke as merely "a means to lead people to the truth" according to the education of the Tendaishu sect, do you abandon Enkyo; i.e., Myo, that Shakyamuni preached in his Hoto?'

Therefore, it is now stated that it was apparently a simple misunderstanding about the matter that the Jodoshu sect intentionally used the wrong word 'Myo' of the fourth Hoza when they should have used 'Myo' of the third Hoza that was to be understood by the other schools of the Nichirenshu sect, because 'the fourth' indicated 'Enkyo, i.e., Myo' among 'Zo, Tsu, Betsu, En' and far from 'sham term' as Chigaku TANAKA said.

Nikko and Nittai in the Hokkeshu sect obediently wrote - or it is considered they were forced to write - the deed of apology, only because they admitted that they could not even understand the meaning of ''Myo' of the fourth Myo in Hoza.'
Motohiko IZAWA pointed out that if Nobunaga tricked the Nichiren Hokkeshu sect, the sect should not have obediently written the deed, and in those days, as religious sects were consistently resistant to the secular power, a big uprising should have broken out.

Therefore, a doubt has been cast on the historical opinion that Nobunaga wrongfully oppressed the Nichiren Hokkeshu sect, but on the other hand, there are other opinions, including one that Nobunaga had thought he should have somehow remonstrate the the Hokkeshu sect and he found a timely opportunity in the debate and he decided to merely take advantage of that instead of laying a plot; and that as the Nichiren Hokkeshu sect and its followers were rich, Nobunaga plotted to raise his war funds from the sect and followers, which was why he did not seriously oppress the sect unlike his actions on the Ikko-ikki uprisings of the Jodo Shinshu sect (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) that occurred later.