In an effort to reestablish Buddhism as a modern religion, Japanese Buddhists of the Meiji and Taishō eras studied major Buddhist sūtras from new viewpoints. Focusing on the text “On Huayan Culture” (Kegon bunka ni tsuite 華厳文化に就て), this paper brings to light ideas relevant for us today that can be found in the innovative reading of the Huayan Sūtra by the Shin Buddhist priest Sasaki Gesshō (佐々木月樵, 1875–1926).
Sasaki called the last chapter of the Huayan Sūtra the “Practice on Earth Section” (地行篇), emphasizing the significance of the story of the pilgrimage of Sudhana told in the section as a model of bodhisattva practice. Sasaki also focused on the “Dependent Origination from Craving” (貪愛縁起) as another important topic of the Sudhana story. Sasaki argued that in reality, the major cause of human suffering is craving rather than the more theoretically important concept of ignorance, a fact often neglected throughout the history of Huayan Sūtra worship by clerical academics too often given to theorizing.
Sasaki believed that Buddhism should base its teachings on the realities of the life of the ordinary person (凡夫) constricted by desires and affections.