Volume 3, 2015
Casting off the Bonds of Karma
Watsuji, Shinran, and Dōgen on the Problem of Free Will
The article approaches the interpretation of the principle of karma as suggested in a sideline in Watsuji Tetsurō’s early reading of the philosophy of Dōgen: Karma is the historic, conditioned origin of how our being is enacted at every single instant, of which each individual is the constantly renewed product. In a sense, any sentient existence in the world is thus karmic because it has a history. The consequences of the problem thus posed are explored in the context of the question of subjectivity, causality, and free will, reformulated here as the problem of “genuine choice,” the position where different inputs, such as desires, moral codes, and duties, prompt a person to choose between contradictory courses of action. The results of this analysis are then used to develop a rationalistic reading of one of Dōgen’s key terms, shinjin datsuraku (“casting off the bodymind”), building on Tsujiguchi Yūichirō’s recent work, as the refusal of a person to succumb to her primary karmic determination or to follow the most readily available course of action that her biological, social, and mental structures propose to her.