We are always living in some kind of “now”. Our view of the world is forever locked into a “present” or illusionary presence. And in this way we habitually prefer the “synchrony of X” over its diachrony. What can only happen in any interpretation of “the history of X” is forever a reading with now in mind when now never was there in the past. Retrospection is never free from this now, forever placing itself into the past when it was not there. That is why in retrospect everything seems obvious.
To be pure historians of Buddhism we must place ourselves in the past without the baggage called “knowledge” into that time and place. The further back in time we go the less accurate the representation becomes. For example, Chinese Buddhism of the 4th century knows nothing of its advance into Japan the next centuries. It is not, “it had not reached Japan yet”, but rather, “did it know it was going anywhere to begin with”. I doubt Buddhism in the 1st century BCE knew it was entering China either. Buddhism simply had no plans. These are projections onto history after rather than before or during the fact. The interpretation of history continually changes as a time pushes forward, added to by more and more retrospection. The more we think the more the past changes.
The following is the English transcript (followed by the Japanese original) of the speech given by Emperor Akihito on August 8, 2016. It hints at his wish to abdicate, something which has never happened in the history of the Imperial Family. His Majesty’s decision to make such a request has been seen by some as his disapproval of Prime Minister Abe’s recent actions which have loosened Japan’s stance for peace. Many see Japan as heading again down the path towards militarism. The atmosphere and character of now is similar to that of the years leading up to WW2.
A major milestone year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has passed, and in two years we will be welcoming the 30th year of Heisei.
As I am now more than 80 years old and there are times when I feel various constraints such as in my physical fitness, in the last few years I have started to reflect on my years as the Emperor, and contemplate on my role and my duties as the Emperor in the days to come.
As we are in the midst of a rapidly aging society, I would like to talk to you today about what would be a desirable role of the Emperor in a time when the Emperor, too, becomes advanced in age. While, being in the position of the Emperor, I must refrain from making any specific comments on the existing Imperial system, I would like to tell you what I, as an individual, have been thinking about.
Ever since my accession to the throne, I have carried out the acts of the Emperor in matters of state, and at the same time I have spent my days searching for and contemplating on what is the desirable role of the Emperor, who is designated to be the symbol of the State by the Constitution of Japan. As one who has inherited a long tradition, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility to protect this tradition. At the same time, in a nation and in a world which are constantly changing, I have continued to think to this day about how the Japanese Imperial Family can put its traditions to good use in the present age and be an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people. Continue reading