Gregory M Reichberg
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
In 1932 political assassinations were carried out in Tokyo (and collectively known as the 'Blood Oath Corp Incident') by a group of nationalists who sought to establish direct rule by the emperor Hirohito. Spiritual leader of the group Inoue Nisshō, a fervent Zen adherent, justified the engagement in violent action (20 wealthy businessmen and liberal politicians were originally targeted while two were eventually killed) by reference to the Japanese adage 'kill one [that] many may live.' At his trial, Inoue argued on Buddhist grounds that targeted killing was the most compassionate strategy that could be adopted in Japan at that time for effecting needed social change. After his release from prison, Inoue became resident advisor for Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe (during his second term, 1940–41), and after the war functioned as inspirational model for the anti-liberal nationalist movement. To all evidence, Inoue did not put Buddhist principles to cynical usage for the furtherance of his political ideals; on the contrary, he sincerely believed that targeted violence could be the most suitable way to establish a more just society in Japan. This leads the author – an ordained Zen priest and author of two previous books on Zen roots of Japanese militarism – to examine how Buddhist teachings and practice were resourced by Inoue to political ends. The result is a fascinating and highly readable account of Inoue's spiritual evolution from wayward youth, mercenary adventurer in Manchuria, to ultra-nationalist Zen adherent who did not shrink from employing terrorist tactics. The penultimate chapter 'Unraveling the Religious Matrix' critically assesses Inoue's thought by reference to the broader scope of Buddhist teachings on compassion and killing.