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Jurisprudence of the Nation Protecting Sutras: Utopia, the Dharma and

Buddhism in Japan
Andrew Lindsay

I. Introduction
According to legal theorists such as Spinoza, Locke and Hobbes, the purpose
of law is to maintain the salus populi, that is, the health and safety of the population.
This is done by simultaneously upholding the sovereignty of law (the notion that no
one is above the law) and the law of sovereignty (that the sovereign has an
obligation to ensure the general health and safety of the population). 1 An
alternative vision of law comes in the form of a contribution from theorist Walter
Benjamin. For Benjamin, the aim of positive law is merely to preserve the state, and
law as the exemplary arbiter of justice within the state. In other words, instead of
preserving human life and property, laws raison dtre is to preserve itself within
the state apparatus. For the utopian thinker this description of the law is
reasonable. For the utopian thinker, conventional law is an imperfect system, a
device that is by in large a hindrance to the creation of a more perfect community.2
Benjamin contended that there is a law perfect and true but we will never know
it. Therefore, Benjamins challenge to us is to accept this reality, the limitations of

1 See Adam Sitze, The Impossible Machine: A Genealogy of South Africas Truth and
2 See James R. Martel, The One and Only Law: Walter Benjamin, Utopianism, and the
Second Commandments. In Law and the Utopian Imagination, 23-59. Stanford
University Press, 2014.

human understanding in accessing the truth of the world.3 Although Benjamins

legal theory is divergent from the conventional understanding of law, it is markedly
similar to one non-Western legal system, notably that of the Nara (710-794) and
Heian periods (794-1185) in Japan.
James Martel a prominent Benjaminian scholar, presses us to question the
relationship between law and utopia and the possible contradictions at play when
both concepts are integrated. He primarily asks what can be gleaned if law is
thought about from the perspective of imagining societies and forms of practice that
do not yet exist through utopian thought.4 When both legal theory and utopian
thought are integrated, we are challenged to think about the ways that utopia can
assist in improving the human situation. For Martel, utopian thought is useful
specifically because it begins with a basic rejection of how things conventionally
operate, thereby opening up a whole host of new possibilities.
In this essay I will examine the relationship between law and utopia by
looking at four particular Buddhist scriptures: the Myoho renge kyo (Sutra of the
Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, better known simply as the Hokke kyo, the Lotus
Sutra), the Konkomyo kyo (Sutra of the Golden Light), the Ninno gokoku hannya kyo
(the Prajnaparamita Sutra Explaining how Benevolent Kings Protect Their
Countries, or simply, the Ninno kyo) and the Kegon kyo or the Flower Garland Sutra.
The former three scriptures are collectively known in Japan as the three sutras for
the protection of the country or Chingo kokka ky in Japanese. However, all four
sutras were significant in the scholarship of priests in the Nara and Heian periods.

3 Law and Utopian Imagination, pp. 24
4 Ibid. pp. 23

Mahayana Buddhist thought is particularly well suited for examining this

relationship and its implications. Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in Japanese
Tendai, Shingon and Zen, is devoted to the main issue that Martel notes connects
utopianism and the law that is, how to question what we take as basic and
unchangeable reality and, further, how to act in ways that are lawful and just even
as we dont have access to what reality really is.5 I argue that these sutras offer
something unique to our understanding of law and utopia. Namely, they
demonstrate that it is possible to abandon the conventional understanding of law as
a tool to augment human self-preservation. Instead of propping human life at the
center of law as the object of preservation, Japan under the guidance of these sutras
prioritized the preservation of Buddhist teachings. In doing so, as is the case with
Benjaminian legal theory, abandons the traditional interpretation of the function of
law within the state.
To unravel the relationship between law and utopia in the context of these
sutras it is crucial to understand the underlying legal theory and utopian thought
present within the scriptures. In this essay I will attempt to outline their legal theory
and determine sovereign obligations according to such a legal theory. I will also
attempt to explicate a properly Japanese Mahayana sense of utopia, mapping the
potential influence that it can have our understanding of legal theory. I maintain that
in the four scriptures, and Japanese Mahayana Buddhism as a whole, there is a legal
theory. This legal theory can be reduced to one aim, the preservation of the ideas
taught by the Dharma King, the Buddha. I argue that utopia presented within the

5 Ibid. pp. 24

Ninnyo kyo and Japanese Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in Zen and Shingon,
emphasizes that the world is not what it appears to be (similar to Benjamins
understanding of idolatry).6 Notions of permanence obstruct human understanding
of the world around it. Consequently, any truth that we see in the world is not
truth but a non-reality contingent upon concepts of desire, self and permanence. To
escape these untruths means attaining enlightenment. Similar to Martels
understanding of Benjaminian reality, in Mahayana Buddhism, it is we idolaters
who live in a phantasmic utopia; reality itself can only be dimly imagined via acts of
utopian imagination. 7 Unlike Benjamins legal theory, which did not find an
actualized place in the formation of a state legal system, the doctrines of the Chingo
kokka ky and the Kegon kyo were central in the organization of the Japanese state.
Other than just the Heian and Nara periods, works such as Brian Victorias Zen at
War and D.T. Suzukis seminal work Essays in Zen Buddhism reveal that their
influence remained central in the organization of law in Japanese society well into
World War II. However, the results were not as one would imagine. Instead of the
formation of a more perfect community with greater political representation and
greater justice, religion merely was used as a tool to justify imperial rule. I claim
that preserving the divine in the form of Buddhist doctrine became synonymous
with preserving the state, obstructing the potential of the dharma (law) to be used
in an unconventional way. The utopian law of Japanese Mahayana Buddhism

6 For more on Benjamins understanding of idolatry see James Martels Textual
Conspiracies: Walter Benjamin, Idolatry and Political Theory. Ann Arbor, Michigan:
University of Michigan Press, 2011.

7 Law and Utopian Imagination, pp. 25

reverted in practice to the central aim of conventional law according to Benjamin,

that is, human and state self-preservation.
By looking at the sutras for the protection of the country, in constellation
with Benjamins work, we are given an opportunity to reflect on law and utopia.
These works can push us to imagine the implications of law and utopian thought
disconnected from some of the truths that we believe come part and parcel with
concepts of law. They present a new vision of reality resting on one absolute, that
reality remains unknowable to mere humans. This vision attempts to usurp the
conventional interpretations of law that many view as infallible.

II. The Critique of Violence

Before contemplating the four sutras it is necessarily to have a grasp on
Benjamins understanding of conventional law. In the Critique of Violence, Benjamin
asks whether violence can be used as a moral means even to just ends.8 As the
hypothetical basis for the study, positive law is used because there is a fundamental
distinction between kinds of violence [in positive law] independently of cases of
[its] application. This distinction is between sanctioned violence (violence

8 Benjamin, Walter. Critique of Violence. In Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms,
Autobiographical Writings, 277300. New York: Schocken Books, 2007.

legitimated by the state to uphold the law) and unsanctioned violence (violence
from non-state actors that threaten the legitimacy of the state).9
Benjamins study into positive law reveals that the system of legal coercion
that manifests itself in positive law takes up a form similar to the image of the
automaton in Theses of the Philosophy of History.10 In this text a chess machine
masquerading as an automaton is revealed to be controlled by a hunchback through
a series of mirrors. This image reflects Benjamins opinion that in historical
materialism, forces that are labeled as natural are often shams controlled by human
intentionality. Historical materialism isolates a single moment in the past and holds
it exceptionally. To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it the
way it really was. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of
danger.11 This propping up of the past as the historical standard, this seiz[ing]
hold of a memory, good or bad, acts as a means of solidifying the certainty that
guides the conventional understanding of the current historical moment.
Legal ends can only be maintained by setting legal power as the exemplary
example of power within the state. This is comparable to Benjamins understanding
of the storm of progress. Within the storm a distinct moment in the past is held as
an exceptional moment, trapping humanity in the coercion of fate. Here supremacy
of legal power is the historically acknowledged moment. Benjamin notes: Indeed,
it strives to limit by legal ends even those areas in which natural ends are admitted
in principle within wide boundaries, like that of education, as soon as these natural

9 Reflections. pp. 279
10 Benjamin, Walter, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. New York, Shocken Books,
11 Benjamin, Illuminations. pp. 255

ends are pursued with an excessive measure of violence, as in the laws relating to
the limits of educational authority to punish.12
The force of legal coercion extends itself over all human life, even in matters
with wide definitions of justifiable conduct. The act of fixing frontiers for conduct
yet to be acknowledged within state power is key to understanding legal forces.13 In
reproducing the forces that limit humanity to accept predefined interpretations of
what can be transformed in reality, the absolute legal power of the state, like
progress, takes the place of the historical origin point, the exemplary moment that
can neither be escaped nor destroyed. The power of this moment is maintained
through a monopoly of violence in the hands of law. When violence exists outside
of law it threatens the supremacy of legal ends over natural ends. As such, it must be
internalized to such a significant degree that external violence is in essence
immunized from the state. 14 Through the threat of sanctioned violence, legal
supremacy is maintained. In other words, law is preserved for no other end than for
its continued propagation. This understanding of law is important if one is to be able
to appreciate the contributions of the nation protecting sutras and their

III. Aporia and the Emptiness of the Dharma

12 Ibid.
13 Reflections, pp. 296
14 For more on immunity see Roberto Espositos Immunitas: The Protection and
Negation of Life. Polity, 2011.

Any jurisprudence within these four sutras must be compatible with the
fundamentals of Mahayana. The basis of this doctrine is that interpreting reality, as
it appears, causes suffering while truly understanding its nature leads to freedom.15
Donald Lopez, a preeminent authority on Buddhist studies notes that within the
texts, to be freed from suffering (samsara) the belief in a permanent, indivisible,
atomistic self must be abandoned. He asserts that the constituents of the person
(body and mind) including the five aggregates (pleasure, pain, etc.) are the effects of
past actions, the blossoming of karmic seeds planted by past action (virtuous and
non-virtuous deeds). These aggregates comprise of only mere personhood. Each of
them is impermanent, only lasting an instant. As a result, nothing is with clinging to.
The most important conclusion to be drawn from the impermanence of the
aggregates, the mind and body is that there is no self. The person is simply a
collection of mental and physical constituents, among which is the process called
consciousness. However, this understanding of the self as empty leaves exposed a
critique of the second step in the dharmas legal theory. If the conventional self
should be abandoned, why do the Devas and offer to preserve it by increasing salus
populi? When the sutra is read in conversation with Nagarjunas understanding of
the Middle Way, an answer emerges.

To understand the emptiness of all phenomena is to see the truth in all.

Nagarjuna is considered the major contributor to the contemporary interpretation

of sunyata (emptiness). His Treatise on the Middle Way is credited with the

15 For more on the basics of Mahayana see Donald S. Lopez Juniors. Buddhism: An
Introduction and Guide. Penguin, 2001.

formulation of an enlightenment that rests on dependent origination (the middle

way between privation and gratification), a term equated to emptiness. Dependent
origination defines the self as that which does not depend on any other. Therefore
anything that exists autonomously can be said to have self. The self that
masquerades as reality according to Nagarjuna is ignorance. Therefore emptiness is
not necessarily the absence of existence but the absence of a particular existence
that claims selfhood. The dharma rejects all notions of permanence outside of itself.
Remember, its aim is not preservation of the salus populi but the rejection of any
claims to self outside of itself.
Sunyata is stressed in many Mahayana scriptures beginning with the
Prajnaparamita sutras (such as the Sutra of humane kings above). It transcends the
early position of the non-self, highlighting that not even charms have an
ontological permanent existence in their own right. 16 Emptiness therefore, has
major emphasis on the relational aspect of existence. As a result emptiness becomes
a toll used to free us from the false notions that are held as truth within our minds.
However, to assert that all dharma are empty does not mean that they do not exist,
but instead identifies them as existences that should not be understood as
perceivable objects.17 An absolute understanding of sunyata therefore, would entail
the renunciation of a duality between self and non-self, emptiness and permanence.

16 Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide
17 Ibid.

III. The Law of the Dharma King

I will begin by attempting to answer the question of whether there is a legal
theory underlying the nation protecting sutras. In assessing the sutras positive law
can be found. But also a religious legal theory is unearthed that opposes the
dominant view of early Buddhist studies claiming that Buddhism was empty of an
understanding of law. The Buddha according to more contemporary scholarship is
interpreted as a lawgiver whose jurisprudence is a source of significant knowledge.
The scriptures that I will analyze offer a vision of law that exists primarily to
preserve and propagate the dharma. This vision exists in opposition to
manifestations of law that act to supplant the individual desires of sovereigns that
preserve selfness and permanence. However, this understanding outlines that in
preserving the transcendental dharma, individual and state well-being is assured.
In this section, I will argue that in these four scriptures the intrusion of the
dharma into positive law does not separate it from human interpretation and
intervention but instead strives to reduce the interference of sovereign desire and
ultimately fails. In two steps law is reduced to the sum of those things that augment
the propagation of Buddhism, legitimating royal rule and ultimately reinforcing the
hold of conventional truths instead of opposing them.

The Sutra of Golden Light

The obligations of the sovereign were most significantly discussed in the
Sutra of the Golden Light.18 This text was indispensable in the solidification of a
Japanese Buddhist state in the Nara and Heian periods. The sutra begins with a
summation of Buddhas life and a pronouncement of the Buddha as not only a
historical figure with human form, but also a transcendental one taking the form of
absolute truth in the universe.19 In the Sutra the Buddha is omniscient, omnipresent
and declares that enlightenment is available for all humanity. The sutra is a prajna
sutra that aims to disseminate wisdom to all. It claims that all people, from kings to
servants, are compelled to act according to reason when exposed to wisdom. In
other words, wisdom is the means through which enlightenment occurs. The sutra
specifically refers to the four Deva Kings who visited the Buddha to pay homage.
The Four Deva Kings with great humility addressed the Buddha:
Most Revered One! When, in some future time, this Sutra of the
Golden Light is transmitted to every part of a kingdomto its cities,
towns, and villages, its mountains, forests, and fieldsif the king of
the land listens with his whole heart to these writings, praises them,
and makes offerings on their behalf, and if moreover he supplies this
sutra to the four classes of believers, protects them, and keeps them
from all harm, we Deva Kings, in recognition of his deeds, will protect
the king and his people, give them peace and freedom from suffering,
prolong their lives, and fill them with glory.20

18 William Theodore De Bary. Sources of East Asian Tradition: Premodern Asia.
Columbia University Press, 2008. pp. 673
19 Sources of East Asian Tradition. Pp. 674
20 William Theodore De Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times
through the Sixteenth Century. Columbia University Press, 2001. Pp. 107

Here we note that the Four Deva Kings promise the Buddha that when the Sutra is
transmitted to the kingdom, the inhabitants of the 84,000 cities, towns and
villiages of the world, through offerings and reverence to the Sutra of Golden Light
by their rulers, then the Deva Kings will preserve peace, relieve suffering and
prolong their lives. The Buddha replies:
Know ye, Deva Kings, that the 84,000 rulers of the 84,000 cities,
towns, and villages of the world shall each enjoy happiness of every
sort in his own land; that they shall all possess freedom of action and
obtain all manner of precious things in abundance; that they shall
never again invade each others territories; that they shall receive
recompense in accordance with their deeds of previous existences;
that they shall no longer yield to the evil desire of taking the lands of
others; that they shall learn that the smaller their desires the greater
the blessing; and that they shall emancipate themselves from the
suffering of warfare and bondage. The people of their lands shall be
joyous, and upper and lower classes will blend as smoothly as milk
and water. They shall appreciate each others feelings, join happily in
diversions together, and, with all compassion and modesty, increase
the sources of goodness.21

The Golden Light Sutra challenges the sovereigns of the world to substitute
conventional desires for self and state preservation for transmission of the Golden
Light. Yet, by abandoning the immediate desire to preserve the self, comforts that
come with the preservation of the self happen to be augmented as well. This
doctrines legal theory can be boiled down to one aim, preservation of the self
through the prioritization of the dharma (law). Unlike Western law, the dharmas
focus isnt to accrue the maximum health and safety of citizens of the state, neither
is it to preserve the state or positive law as the central arbiter of justice within it.
Here the primary aim of the dharma is to the end the suffering of all sentient beings
through self-sacrifice.

21 Sources of Japanese Tradition. pp. 107

The dharma also emphasizes equality through non-differentiation as a means

of not only enlightenment, but also social liberation. Kings and servants alike are
compelled to obey the golden light of reason. The absence of differentiation in this
dharma was understood as universal and as such the sovereign who disobeyed the
Law would be punished equal to that of any citizen.22 This light of the dharma
imbues wisdom providing the means through which individuals (and the state) are
able to achieve wisdoms highest expression, self-sacrifice. The text climaxes with a
parable in which the Buddha demonstrates self-sacrifice in form of offering his life
to feed a hungry tiger.23 Here, the sutra expounds renunciation of the self and
rejection of immediate self-preservation for the preservation of others as the
highest virtue.
When Tenmu seized the throne in 672, this sutra was significant in his efforts
to propagate Buddhism. Tenmu understood the scripture as promoting a form of
kingship contingent on divine right, instead of mere lineage.24 This divine right for
Tenmu was based on the sovereigns accruement of religious merit instead of
genetics. Due to this merit, the realm would enjoy peace and harmony from the
spread of the dharma and its spillover influence on public morality.25 The political
aspects of this sutra were interpreted to promote the state and religion
simultaneously, and were very appealing to rulers during the Nara period despite
the rejection of a traditional importance of lineage.26 Later, the sutra was widely

22 Ibid. pp. 103
23 Ibid. pp. 104
24 Ibid. pp. 105
25 Ibid. pp. 106
26 Ibid.

distributed in all the provinces in 741 by Emperor Shomu and became one of the
major instruments of state ideology.27

The Flower Garland Sutra
The Flower Garland Sutra or the Kegon Sutra is one of the least understood
of the political sutras. It is claimed that it was preached as a sermon when the
Buddha made no attempt to simplify the dharma for those without the ability to
immediately understand it. This difficulty is often held as the reason for it not
attaining the prominence of the Sutra of the Golden Light.28 However, this sutra was
incredibly influential for the understanding of law in the Nara and Heian periods.
Dependent origination is the term that most concretely expresses the overarching
teaching of this dharma, which is to recognize the interdependence of all things. 29
The recognition of this dependence produces an understanding of differentiation
within the elements of the universe.
In the sutra a Buddhist state is described that reinforces the universal
diversity present within human expression. As a result, the Kegon pronounces a
significantly more decentralized state as was described in the Sutra of the Golden
Light. This maxim of interdependence is the glue that ties together the myriad of
cultures present within this state sowing the seeds for hierarchies, egalitarianism
and diversity to exist.

27 Ibid. pp. 105
28 Ibid. pp. 108
29 Ibid.

The final section of the sutra describes the pilgrimage of Sudhana, a traveler
who shares the dharma of the Flower Garland with those that he encountered. That
is until invited by the Buddha Maitreya into Great Tower of Vairocana. The sutra
explains that this tower is the place where the interdependence of all things in the
cosmos could be observed. The tower is the place where all Buddhas live amicably,
as such; it is the location where a single kalpa permeates all kalpas without losing its
personality and uniqueness:
This is the place [The Tower of Vairocana] where all the buddhas live
peacefully. This is the dwelling place where a single eon permeates all
eons and all eons permeate one eon without loss of any of their own
characteristics. This is the dwelling place where one land permeates all
lands and all lands permeate one land without loss of any of their own
characteristics. This is the dwelling place where one sentient being
permeates all sentient beings and all sentient beings permeate one
sentient being without loss of any of their own characteristics. This is
the dwelling place where one buddha permeates all buddhas and all
buddhas permeate one buddha without loss of their own

Simultaneously, the tower is also described as the place where a single instance of
thought is simultaneously understood, without respect of its origin in time and
space. Consequently, this description of the tower presents a more radical
interpretation of legal understanding and the historical moment. Each moment in
time or space is citable with respect to any other. Since one moment exists in all, the
possibilities for revision are infinite.
This is the dwelling place where in a single moment of thought one
can travel to all countries. This is the dwelling place where all sentient
beings manifest all of their prior lives. This is the dwelling place of
concern for the benefit of everyone in the world. This is the dwelling
place of those who can go everywhere. This is the dwelling place of

30 Ibid. pp. 109

those who are detached from the world and yet constantly remain
there to teach other people.31

The exemplary historical and jurisprudential moment that colors Benjamins
understanding of conventional law can be escaped according to the sutras
invocation of the Tower of Vairocana. The storm of progress, the presence of law or
a moment of history as the archetype from which future progress is based can be
usurped. Time and space are understood as fully citable moments without respect to
chronology and can be used by the enlightened to spur others. This is similar to
Benjamins description of a constellation, a non-chronological time that does not
exist as beads on a rosary and but where each era can be grasped to form a
relationship with another past, present or future. These discrete moments do not
have to be immediately connected spatially or temporally. They can be even be
separated by thousands of years.32

The final sentence in the referenced excerpt of the sutra suggests that this

perfect realm of Buddhahood exists in the current world if understood absolutely.

To obtain this absolute understanding sovereigns must turn the wheel of the
dharma throughout the land. The Flower Garland Sutra in this regard, although
containing the seeds for a revisable reinterpretation of law and time, also appealed
to a religious ideal that echoed the dominant state ideology that desired unification
and stability. Emperor Shomu was very attracted to this particular text especially
during the Nara Period, a time where the clergy and landed gentry were often in

31 Ibid.
32 Benjamin, Illuminations. pp. 263

conflict.33 The construction of the Great Buddha was developed with this sutra
particular in mind. The Great Buddha was a means of accruing harmony and
prosperity for the state and its subjects. There was no mention is made of the
material or spiritual welfare of the great aristocratic families in the decree ordering
the construction of the Great Buddha. What was emphasized instead is the fruit of
cooperation on the part of all devout Buddhists, a project carried out not only
through imperial and aristocratic patronage but also through the labors of the
humblest peasant. Buddhism became interpreted as a means through which merit
could be accrued through religious work, trickling from the emperor to the
everyman equally for the purpose of enlightenment.34

The Lotus Sutra
The Sutra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma is perhaps the most
influential sutras in all of the Mahayana tradition. The text has been used as a
political tool for maintaining the dominant state ideology, however; in the 20th
century in particular, the text was interpreted as a template for subverting the
status quo. James Shields claims that the sutra has been embedded in a political
struggle as it has been used to authorize competing claims for sovereignty within
traditionally Buddhist understandings of the institutional structures. 35 For the

33 Kasahara, Kazu, Paul McCarthy, and Gaynor Sekimori. A History of Japanese
Religion. Kosei Pub. 2001, pp. 67
34 Hall, John Whitney. The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge University Press,
1993. pp. 46-7
35 James Shields, Political Interpretations of the Lotus Sutra. Accessed December 1,

Tendai and Nichiren sects of Mahayana, the Lotus Sutra is the primary test
supporting the respective doctrines. The appeal of the Lotus Sutra comes from its
twin promise of universality through the acceptance of a variety of paths to the way
and a single absolute law that exists to protect those who subscribe to it and will
punish those who don't. Shields claims that the Sutra is at once inclusive and
exclusive, a tension that presents itself in many of the conflicts over interpretation.
Before Tendai and Nichiren, the Lotus Sutra was understood as having the potential
to protect the spiritual authority of the imperial family and the realm. The debate
surrounding the Lotus sutra relates to its ability to be used to preserve the sixth
century court of the Japanese empire. From then monasteries were created with the
express purpose of reciting the sutra.
Daniel Boscaljon highlights the utopian vision present within the Lotus
Sutras image of the jojakkodo, a radiant land of eternal tranquility that houses the
Buddha and all of the buddha lands.36 In the description in the Lotus Sutra, this pure
land besides having the traditional features of most pure lands (crystal roads,
perfectly flat topology, joy in all inhabitants) the roads of the land are crisscrossed
in eight directions, marked by golden ropes. Boscaljon notes this feature as
especially important because of the symbol of the eight-spoked wheel represent the
dharma. The spokes illustrate the way that the law, radiating from the enlightened

36 Melissa Anne-Marie Curley, Fruit, Fossils, Footprints: Cathecting Utopia in the
Work of Miyazawa Kenji in Hope and the Longing for Utopia: Futures and Illusions in
Theology and Narrative. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014.

body that established itself at the center, guides the jojakkodo.37 Our current world
is devoid of such features according to the sutra and that the Buddha arranges visits
to it from other buddhas by swapping out the bad place for the good place. The
Buddha notes:
The saha world thereupon immediately changed into a place of
cleanness and purity. The ground was made of lapis lazuli, jeweled
trees adorned it, and ropes of gold marked off the eight highways.
There were no villages, towns or cities, great seas or rivers,
mountains, streams or forests. the members of this assembly alone
were gathered there, all heavenly and human beings having been
moved to another region.38

This description although appearing to reinforce the duality between this world and
ours ultimately aims to usurp such distinctions. The jojakkodo is revealed to be
already present within our world. Later in the text, the Buddha explains explicitly
that the suffering that exists in this world is a fantasy and that if it perceived
correctly, our world is a pure land.39
The one law of this immanent utopia can be reduced to: freedom from
suffering exists in an absolute interpretation of reality. The presence of the eight-
spoked wheel at the center of this jojakkodo means the presence of this dharma at
the center of the world. Boscaljon noting Tanaka explains that the transformation
from the conventional understanding of reality to the absolute can only take place
with the harmony of imperial law and Buddhist in Japan (the center of the world),
the construction of a seat of authority from which law will be disseminated at the
base of Mount Fuji (the center of Japan), and the subsequent spread of the Buddhist

37 Hope and the Longing for Utopia: Futures and Illusions in Theology and Narrative.
pp. 99
38 Ibid.
39 Ibid. pp. 100

law from this epicenter to the eight centers of the earth [resulting in] the
unification of the world.40 This law radiates outward to the world by establishing
peace from a stable state center. This utopian vision of the law according to the
Lotus Sutra is uncompromisingly totalitarian, with Japan assuming the role of the
enlightened state in the center.

The Sutra for Humane Kings
The Scripture for Humane Kings was pivotal in the construction of a
Buddhism that was overtly imperial in its discourses and aims.41 Bukong Jingangs
translation of the scripture integrated Buddhist and earlier Chinese notions of
divine sovereignty by emphasizing the notion of emptiness. Disseminated to Japan
in the ninth century, this imperial Buddhist discourse served as a foundation of
Kukai's Shingon interpretation of the role of the sovereign.42
The text is directed to the rulers during the age of the decline of the dharma.
The Buddha told King Prasenajit:
"I warn you and the others, that after my extinction in eighty years,
eight hundred years and eight thousand years, when there is no
Buddha, no Teaching, no Community, no male or female lay devotees,
this scripture's three jewels will be entrusted to all the kings of

The Buddha then goes on to lay blame for the age of decline on the kings:

40 Ibid. pp. 101
41 Orzech, Charles D. Metaphor, Translation, and the Construction of Kingship in
The Scripture for Humane Kings and the Mahmyr Vidyrj Stra. Cahiers
dExtrme-Asie 13, no. 1 (2002): 5583. doi:10.3406/asie.2002.1177.i war
42 Cahiers dExtrme-Asie. pp. 58
43 Ibid. pp. 64

After the five turbulent eras bhiksu, bhiksum, the four classes of
disciples, the heavenly dragons and all of the eight-fold spirit-kings, the
kings of states, the great officers, the heirs apparent and princes will be
haughty [and hold themselves in] great esteem and extinguish and
smash my Teaching. Openly making laws to control my disciples the
bhiksu and bhiksum they will not permit people to leave the family
to practice the Way, and further they will not permit the making of
Buddhist images.44

Here the Buddha attributes the rulers desires for selfness as the means through
which the dharma becomes extinguished in the world. By creating laws that stifle
the freedom of the sangha (the monastic community) to propagate the dharma the
age of decline hastens. The Buddha highlights some of the specific laws that states
will use to restrict the sangha. They include: the creation of superintendents to
register monks, withholding individual rights to leave the sangha and preventing the
making of images of the Buddha. The former two of these predictions came to pass
within the Nara and Heian periods, while the latter took place within the Meiji era.

In essence, the sutra preaches that sovereigns have an obligation to protect

the sangha and propagate the dharma. If rulers revere the independence of the
sangha then supernormal assistance is dispatched in the form of five greatpower
bodhisattvas.45 The sutra also introduces the notion that the humane king is on the
bodhisattva path. These kings are referenced as womb of the sages because their
acts of piety represent their place on the bodhisattva path. The kings who have the
will to leave the womb will transform the people in their lands.46 Also, this king is
forbearing, meaning that the king when hearing good or bad news is not quick to
emotion but patient and acts on reason alone.

44 Ibid.
45 Ibid. pp. 65
46 Ibid. pp. 67

In contrast to the view that Buddhism solely serves the state, the sutra posits
that the state and Buddhism obtain mutual benefit by cooperating. Since the
humane king propagates the dharma he is humane and because he has emerged
transformed out of the womb he has transformed himself and become king.47
According to the text, The humane kings ability is to protect. What is protected is
the state. This is possible because the humane king uses the Teaching to order the
state The humane king is he who is protected. Because he uses the Highest Perfect
Wisdom, the humane king is tranquil and hidden. Thus, if he uses his ability to
propagate the Teaching, the king is able to protect [the state], and it is the Highest
Perfect Wisdom which is the [method of] protection.48

V. The Four Sutras in Conclusion: The jurisprudence of the dharma
When these four sutras are read in constellation, that is, without reverence to
their respective spatial and temporal contexts, an underlying jurisprudence is
revealed. This jurisprudence can be boiled down to one law with the potential to
manifest itself in two steps. A law that at once immediately requires abandoning the
notion of self-preservation in preference for propagating the dharma. This aspect of
the law instead emphasizes self-sacrifice. By preserving the dharma instead of the
self, the well-being of the state and its citizens is inadvertently maintained.
Ultimately, this well-being has the potential to spur the enlightenment of other
states if lead by a stable center. The second step of this law involves the potential of
this decentralization to lead to totalitarianism. This totalitarianism manifests itself

47 Ibid.
48 Sources of Japanese Tradition. pp. 112

in the basic anxiety of exclusivity that exists with the interpretation of these sutras
since the Nara period.
The Golden Light Sutra, Lotus Sutra and Sutra for Humane Kings in particular
emphasize this vision of the law. The substitution of conventional desires for the
preservation of the dharma is of particular relevance. All four sutras also press an
immanent vision of absolute reality within this world.
A renunciation of duality is key in this presentation of this jurisprudence.
Selfness and impermanence, conventional and absolute reality, are a few of the
dualities that have to be overcome for an understanding of this jurisprudence. The
contradictions that exist with such a radical reinterpretation of law and its
manifestations in the forms of the perpetuation of the status quo and dominant state
ideology are only apparent. The state and sovereign enlightenment that these texts
describe must be contingent upon a pharmacological understanding of these
concepts.49 Just as too much of a cure can become a poison and vice-versa, so can
this jurisprudence can be used within the political. At once it can be used to
decentralize the power of the sovereign at the heart of state political organization,
and can it also prop up self-preservation and the state as well. This jurisprudence is
radical as it provides the theoretical (and theological) tools to usurp prolonged
stagnancy and the potential to facilitate radical democracy.

49 For more on the Pharmakon read Derridas chapter Platos Pharmacy in
Dissemination. A&C Black, 2004.