I would like to introduce this paper by recalling two experiences in Taiwan. The first concerns a previous Chung-hua Institute conference on vinaya; one of the topics discussed was how the rules of the vinaya might be adapted for life in modern society. I have long been fascinated by the ways in which various societies have interpreted the precepts in a variety of ways. Often these changes occurred over time more as a matter of custom than through intentional decisions by religious practitioners. Today I focus on an attempt to make careful decisions about the interpretation of monastic discipline.
The second experience occurred approximately ten years ago while I was traveling around Taiwan. I visited a number of libraries at monasteries and universities. As a scholar who has spent his academic life studying Japanese Buddhism, I noticed that while Japanese scholarship on Indian and Chinese Buddhism was present on the shelves of many libraries, very little on Japanese Buddhism existed. Many reasons exist for this, one of which is the lax attitude toward monastic discipline displayed by many Japanese Buddhists. Time prevents me from discussing the historical and doctrinal reasons for this state of affairs. Instead, I would like to introduce this paper by suggesting a reason why the Japanese example may be relevant for Buddhists in other countries.
In many countries, at least some Buddhists have searched for a way to interpret the precepts that is both true to the Buddhist tradition and yet responsive to the demands of modern life. The Japanese example provides us with historical examples of both the dangers and the advantages of such reinterpretations. The dangers are probably well known to many in the audience. I would like to take this opportunity to suggest that Japanese Buddhist history also presents some instructive examples of reinterpretation by monks who strove to revive monastic discipline by using the example of Jitsudô Ninkû 実導仁空 (1309-1388), a major figure in both the Tendai 天台 and Pure Land traditions.