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The Concept of Life in Contemporary Japan

Masahiro Morioka

-- Japan Review vol.2 (1991):83-115 under the title “The Concept of Inochi: A Philosophical Perspective on the Study of Life.”
-- The Review of Life Studies Vol.2 (April 2012):23-62

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*Page numbers in the original are marked by [(preceding page) / (following page)].


— from published materials —

    In libraries, bookstores, newspapers, and magazines, we can easily find a number of books and articles which deal with inochi and/or matters concerning inochi. I have called these ‘inochi publications’. They include books or articles concerning, for example, death, euthanasia, abortion, handicapped people, education, sex, religion, ecology, the global environmental crisis, and the anti-nuclear power movement. They also include pamphlets and word-processor leaflets handed out at meetings. It must be stressed that much literature, and many poms, songs, and advertisements are also to be counted as inochi publications.
    I have classified these publications into two categories: primary inochi publications and secondary inochi publications. The former are publications which contain the word inochi as a key concept in the title, the table of contents or the text. The latter are publications that deal with subjects and events which could be described by using the word inochi as a key word, but actually use another word for it. In this section we examine some of the primary inochi publications, and leave the secondary materials to future investigations. [98/99]

    To begin with, let us examine some leaflets from citizens'4 movements. First, there is a typical understanding of inochi in the leaflet entitled "A view of qi, No. 2" (1990), issued by a qi-gong (41) group, the Green and Healing Circle. In this leaflet, the anonymous secretariat write as follows:

We have realized that all inochis are connected and formed into one while each individual inochi is voluntary and independent; that all inochis are equal in value; that every inochi exists in its adequate position giving life to every other; that the human attitude toward nature is the same as the human attitude toward humans themselves; and that our inochis get sick and die when greenery gets sick and dies.    Here we see expressed the dialectic of the independence and connectedness of inochi, the dynamics of giving life to each other, the inner relationships between our attitude toward nature and ourselves, and the relationship between inochi and greenery. The sentences in the leaflet provide simple and clear ideas concerning these subjects which tend to be very popular in inochi publications.
    The following is part of a written opinion (1989) by a Buddhist monk, Wasei Futamata, for a trial concerning the construction of a nuclear power plant in Ishikawa Prefecture.
The Jodo-shinshu sect of Buddhism preaches living and walking with all inochis. The words "all inochi" mean not only humans’ inochis, but also all the inochis living on this earth. And they also mean not only the present inochis, but also those of the future, in thirty, fifty, a hundred, and a thousand years. These inochis are our friends whom we have met, are meeting, and are sure to meet in the future, at the bottom of the identical inochi. We love and treasure our own inochi before anything else. Therefore we must love and treasure all the inochis, and must live, praying to be able to walk together.    These sentences show a clear logic for the need to love inochi. Inochi spreads from humans to all creatures, from the past to the future, and all these inochis are our friends. Hence, just as we love our own inochi, we must love all the inochis.
    Let us turn to the books and articles which deal with inochi as their main subject. There are a great many such books written in Japanese. The authors include teachers, physicians, priests, novelists, nonfiction writers, journalists, and housewives. For example, Okuchi (1982), Okuchi (1984), Toriyama (1985), Morisaki (1989), Kansha (1987), Kakehashi (1989), Yamamoto (1988), Mizukami (1988), Ueda (1989), and Nakamura (1987) have all published excellent inochi books. All these are well worth [99/100] examining. However, I shall leave such an examination for another time. Instead, I shall examine here the most noteworthy inochi books I have yet encountered: the Ministry of Education’s Guidelines for Developiing a Spirit of Respect for Inochi: for Primary School Students (1988) and Guidelines for Dveloping a Spirit of Respect for Inochi: for Junior High School Students (1988).

    These are guidebooks for school teachers in moral education classes, written by school teachers, professors, and officials of the Ministry of Education. These are excellent inochi publications in that the authors have prepared well studied discourses on inochi, and have made such discussions simple and practical enough for children to understand.

    Before examining these texts in detail, we should pay attention to the following points that appear in these texts. First, in a sense, these books succeeded in producing an excellent summary of today’s inochi discourses; at the same time, however, some subjects and discourses are intentionally omitted for the purpose of strongly supervising the students (kanri kyoiku). For example, we cannot find any inochi discourses concerning sex education, environmental pollution from factories, and the safety of nuclear power plants. I suppose the last two subjcets were omitted because of the government policy to push forward with industrialization and nuclear power generation, but why sex education was omitted is a mystery. Okuchi (1984) and Toriyama (1985) deal with sex education as one of the most important subjects related to inochi. The Ministry of Education’s textbooks seem to completely ignore this important topic and should be openly criticized for this omission.

    Second, these books have been widely used since 1988 in almost all Japanese primary schools and junior high schools. This means that the replies to our questionnaires from primary and junior high school students may have been deeply influenced by these books. In fact, there are a number of replies that mimic expressions that are to be found in these books. It is difficult to clarify the relation of cause and effect between them, but, nevertheless, we must necessarily take this point into account.

    These books do discuss inochi, but unfortunately not in a well ordered manner. Hence, I have put in order and classified these discussions into two major categories: (a) properties of inochi, and (b) norms of inochi.

Properties of inochi
    The first property is irreplaceability (42). Only one inochi is given to each living thing, and it cannot be replaced by any other inochi. Once we lose our inochi, we never get it again. It is stressed that every inochi, including those of humans and other creatures, is equally irreplaceable, a belief that is expressed by the stock phrase in contemporary Japanese, ‘irreplaceable inochi’.

    The second property is the process of being born, growing, aging, and dying, which applies equally to humans, animals, and plants. This understanding is the most basic way of grasping inochi. [100/101]

    The third property defines inochi as being beyond the power of humans. Inochi being neither come into existence of their own will nor do they keep on living of their own will. The writers stress that the existence of inochi beings is founded in something which is beyond the power of humans. They seem to be implying a relationship between inochi and some religious transcendent being.

    Living together in mutual support constitutes the fourth property. Inochi beings cannot live without the mutual support networks of inochi which spread all over the earth. These networks mean, on the one hand, synchronic mutual support such as human relationships in the family and food chains in the ecosystem. On the other hand, they mean diachronic mutual support found in the passing of generations from parents to their children. From a synchronic point of view, the concepts of ‘living together’ and ‘symbiosis’ are stressed. From a diachronic point of view, the concepts of ‘succession’ and ‘taking over’ of inochi are stressed.

    The fifth property is personality. Every inochi being has its own personality because there is no creature with completely the same figure and appearance as another. Therefore, the writers conclude, every inochi is irreplaceable.

    The sixth property is warmth and breath. The authors of these texts insist that the Japanese have a strong sympathy for warm breathing beings, and refer to the relationship of the concept of breath to the ancient meaning of inochi.

Norms of inochi
    There are three norms of inochi.

    The first norm is to treasure inochi (43). We should treasure all inochi on the earth as well as our own inochi because each of them is irreplaceable and valuable. Our attitude of treasuring inochi will then change into a spirit of respect for inochi, and in the end will lead us toward reverence for the great existence that supports inochi and nature. This norm is similar to references such as ‘respect for life’ or ‘dignity of life’ we encounter in materials on bioethics.

    The second norm is to support each other (44). As inochi beings, we should support and help each other in the community and in the ecosystem because we can live only in the midst of the web of all living things. The authors of the two school texts say that one’s inochi not only belongs to him/herself but also belongs to the family and society, and therefore that it is important to live for others (45). They also insist that we should recognize the significance of living together with animals and plants in the wilderness.

    The third norm is to do the utmost in one’s power (46). Our inochi is finite. Inochi beings must die sooner or later, and hence we should do our best at every moment of our life. The following sentences show a sophisticated example of this norm. [101/102]

As a cicada lives its short life and gives birth to a new inochi with all its power, so should I live with all my power in order to hand over my inochi to the next generation. I think of treasuring my irreplaceable inochi. I think of living, always concentrating on this moment in time. Then will I be able to be content with my inochi, and hand it over to the next inochi. I want to live at this moment with all my power, and give my inochi radiant light (47).    The assertion here is that we should concentrate on this moment and do the utmost in our power in order to participate in the continuity of inochi. In these sentences we find a logical tension between the continuity of inochi on a large scale and a bright inochi condensed into this moment in time (see also Kakehashi (1989) and Yamamoto (1988)).
    These three norms accurately represent the moral aspect of the inochi paradigm. Most Japanese have experienced being repeatedly taught these norms by their parents and school teachers when they were young, and consequently these three norms still provoke strong moral standards in today’s society. These norms are so strong that few people deny them officially, and those who deny them are considered by society to be either egoists or nihilists, and are subsequently scorned.

    I believe these three norms constitute the basis of the moral paradigm on inochi in contemporary Japan, and it forms the ‘ground of certainty’(48) of Japanese culture. We researchers must question the ‘ground of certainty’ itself at least once by examining accepted but unquestioned sets of moral rules that are functioning in a society. For where a paradigm works it can effectively suppress facts which would be detrimental to the paradigm itself.

    In this case, the detrimental facts are as follows: (1) We usually waste the inochi of animals, fish, and vegetables, and the functioning of our highly industrialized society depends on these wastes of inochi and energy. We treasure our own inochi and take care of that of our community, but we don’t care basically about human inochi in other nations. It is obvious that few people in the advanced nations care about human inochi in the so-called Third World. (2) Our modern civilization has dominated nature and destroyed innumerable inochis, instead of supporting them. We have been using a great deal of fossil energy for our own sake and live an affluent life without regard for future generations. In Japan, we have shut away senile aged people and handicapped people into shisetsu (nursing homes). (3) In Japan, many workers are forced to work with all their power, only to die of hard work. Large numbers of teenagers study so hard night and day to pass entrance examinations that they can only hope for a few hours of good sleep. On the other hand, college students sleep in class, spend money extravagantly and go out seven days a week, not devoting themselves to anything in particular.

    These are the facts that the moral paradigm of our society would want to conceal behind a curtain of poetic inochi discourses, in case it fails to put them right. Surely these three inochi norms are worthy, almost sacred, norms which warn today’s society of its wrongful and destructive ways. However, preaching and teaching those norms no longer influences society, because the inclinations of modern civilization described above have become rooted too deeply to be changed by sermons. It is we who have created modern civilization and today’s North-South problems. Under the level of morality there lies a bottomless collective unconscious which has created the good and evil of modern civilization. Our investigation must penetrate this level.



    We have discovered various concepts of inochi in contemporary Japan, some of which contradict each other. I think it impossible and dangerous to attempt to summarize this vast set of images and classify them in patterns at this stage, because it may lead us to discard a number of subtle features which may also prove valuable.
    Instead, I present in this section some philosophical interpretations of the concept of inochi. These interpretations are based on the conceptual understanding I have acquired through my research on the images of inochi.

    However, it may be helpful here to briefly summarize some of the main characteristics noted so far. First, there are many people who think that inochi equally given to humans, animals, plants —to all creatures— and that inochi beings live by both supporting and killing each other. Inochi is energy which keeps creatures alive, and at the same time it means the state of being alive itself. Images of inochi have close relationships to birth, growth, aging, and death. One’s inochi is irreplaceable, important, and beyond our power. It is finite, but at the same time it is connected to others in space and time forever.

    Let us turn to some philosophical examinations. Two requirements must be fulfilled for something to be called inochi. First, inochi must be a ‘phase’, not an object nor an entity. Inochi is not an object such as a book, a flower, or a rabbit, but a phase which a flower and a rabbit enjoy. In the responses to my questionnaire, most respondents use the word ‘inochi being’, rather than ‘inochi’, when they explicitly indicate an object that has inochi. This suggests that inochi is considered to be a kind of phase or aspect which inochi beings must possess. Then, we have to go on to ask, in turn, what are ‘inochi beings’?

    ‘Inochi being’ is a concept which includes humans and other creatures as its core, and also includes the sea, air, the ecosystem, the earth and the universe at its fringe. What features stand out prominently when we put humans and other creatures at the core, and others at the fringe? The most moderate answer would be: a phase in which they are born, grow, give birth, age, and die. Of course, even the earth and stars are born, age, and die, but we can grasp this phase more vividly in humans and other creatures than we can in the stars. Hence, the first requirement is: inochi must be a phase in which things are born, grow, give birth, age, and die. Inochi beings are those [103/104] things in the universe that are viewed in this phase (49). For example, if we regard a rabbit jumping in front of us as an animal in a growing stage, we have grasped it as an inochi being. Similarly, if we regard a star as a being which was born a long time ago, grows, gives birth to planets, ages to become a neutron star, and dies, we have grasped it as an inochi being. If you believe that all creatures were born through intercourse between the North Pole liquid and the South Pole liquid of the earth, as Fourier did (50), then you regard the earth as an inochi being.

    This means that an inochi being is not necessarily equal to a creature as perceived by most people. A creature can be a non-inochi being when we do not regard it as being part of this phase. For example, even a living rabbit can be a non-inochi being to a biochemist in a laboratory, who regards it only as an aggregate of biochemical substances. We should pay attention to the phrase ‘to a biochemist’, because the concept of ‘inochi being’ is an observer-relative concept. A thing becomes an inochi being for the observer only if it is viewed within the phase of inochi. Hence, a thing can be an inochi being for one person, but not for another. If inochi being is an observer-relative concept, the extent of inochi beings cannot be defined objectively and unanimously, independently of the observer. Therefore we have the case where some think of all living things as inochi beings, while others restrict the extent to humans. Both are correct. No contradiction exists in this usage.

    The second requirement is that inochi must possess the characteristics of both finiteness and infiniteness. Finiteness means the discontinuity and limitation of the individual inochi being. Infiniteness means the succession of and inter-relationships between the many networks of inochi beings. Throughout the responses to the questionnaires and the publications cited, the co-existence of these two characteristics is repeatedly emphasized.

    Let us consider the finiteness of inochi first. Inochi is finite in time in that all inochi beings must die sooner or later. In the linguistic examination of inochi, we came acrosss one connotation of the state of being alive, during the period between birth and death. This was reinforced by many responses which stated the same. Inochi is finite in space as well. In this sense, a rabbit’s inochi is not the same as mine or yours. You may die while I still live. Our inochis are divided in space, and in this regard we are alone (51).

    On the other hand, inochi is also infinite. First, it is infinite in time. In the responses and publications it is evident that inochi is seen as being handed down from one generation to another, with the succession of inochi going on forever. This succession consists of physical inheritance, the succession of power and energy, spiritual influence, a way of life, reminders, culture, and so on. Inochi is infinite in space too. A web of inochi spreads to include all individual inochi beings in the form of food [104/105] chains and exchanges of chemical substances. The extension of this web can be considered to spread over the whole universe.

    For something to be recognized as inochi, it should have both these characteristics at once. Recall the assertion of the qi-gong group, that "all inochis are connected and formed into one while each individual inochi is voluntary and independent", and the words of one of the respondents: "Inochi is, on the one hand, each individual being, unique and irreplaceable. On the other hand, however, it is one large inochi of the whole human race". These sentences clearly illustrate the second requirement for the concept of inochi, the dialectic of finiteness and infiniteness.

    Hence, we can propose the two requirements for the concept of inochi as follows.

    (1) Inochi must be a phase in which things are born, grow, give birth, age, and die.
    (2) Inochi must possess the characteristics of both finiteness and infiniteness.

    All things in the universe which satisfy both these requirements should then be identified as inochi beings. This formula can thus be understood as a proposed definition of inochi. However, it should be noted that this concept or definition of inochi does not cover all usages of the word ‘inochi’ to be found in the questionnaire responses and publications. It is impossible to discover a simple set of formulae which covers all usages of inochi. Rather I suggest that this proposed definition be regarded as a basic guideline for the use of the term in research and discussions on the topic (52). Since this definition is open to free criticism, it may be altered in the future.
    We should keep in mind that this formula, determined by the above requirements, stands for only the necessary conditions of the concept of inochi. Hence I will now turn to the topic of the essence of the concept of inochi.



    In this section I interpret the dialectic of finiteness and infiniteness of the concept of inochi metaphysically, and elucidate its inner structure.
    Inochi must possess the characteristics of both finiteness and infiniteness. This seems to suggest that A is B and not B. Hence the necessity of making clear the logical relationship between ‘finiteness’ and ‘infiniteness’ in relation to the concept of inochi. [105/106]

    Let us take the example of a flower. There is a flower before me. The word ‘a flower’ suggests that I should understand it as an individual inochi being. This flower will shrivel and die someday. When it dies, nothing else will be able to die for it. The flower must die its own death, only once, and never live again the same existence in this world. This means that the whole life and death of this flower is irreplaceable. This suggests further that every moment of its life is irreplaceable because no other flower will be able to live again the same course of life as this flower. Inevitable death makes every moment of life irreplaceable for an inochi being. Therefore, irreplaceability, derived from the finiteness of time and space, must be considered to be one of the most basic features of inochi. This was, in fact, supported by many of the questionnaire responses and found often in the publications.

    Now let us regard this flower from another angle. This flower is living now because a part of its life was passed down from its ancestors in the form of a seed. Without its ancestors and their seeds, this flower would not exist at all. This flower will also distribute its own seeds before dying, and some of them will grow to be flowers somewhere on this earth. Even if it doesn’t distribute seeds, the influences of its photosynthesis and metabolic functions will have irreversible effects on the environment, and these effects will cause other small effects in succession, forever, throughout the universe. Moreover, in order to live, this flower has to exchange air, minerals, and other chemical matters with the environment and other creatures. Without the web of inochi beings surrounding it this flower cannot live. We consider interrelatedness of this kind, derived from the infiniteness of time and space, to be another most basic feature of inochi.

    All inochi beings are on the one hand irreplaceable, and on the other hand interrelated. Expressions such as ‘the period between birth and death’ and ‘the most essential part of an object’ are corollaries of, or ideas related to, ‘irreplaceability’. Expressions such as ’mysterious power or energy’ and ‘eternal life’ are corollaries of, or ideas related to, ‘interrelatedness’. Also recall the properties of inochi found in the books issued by the Ministry of Education. They expressly state the ‘irreplaceability’ of inochi. The properties of ‘beyond the power of humans’ and ‘personality’ are also directly related to this idea, and ‘living together in mutual support expresses interrelatedness (53).

    To regard an inochi being from the viewpoints of irreplaceability and interrelatedness is to consider it always against the background of the universe. This leads us to a metaphysical or religious view of inochi, because it makes us realize the position inochi possesses in the universe.

    The inochi of the flower is irreplaceable in that it lives and dies only once in this universe. Its inochi is interrelated in that it cannot exist without its ancestors, and it cannot live without an environment full of water, air, light, and other inochi beings such as microbes; and in that even after its death its inochi allows other inochi beings, [106/107] such as animals or microbes, to live. A flower appears and disappears only at a particular place in the universe. And it can only exist by being interwoven in the infinite web of inochi that spreads throughout the universe.

    Take another case, that of a terminally ill patient in a hospital. He is conscious but his days are short. His inochi is irreplaceable because he has lived a life full of ups and downs, is dying here at the hospital alone, and after his death he will never live again the same life in this world. He is sometimes seized with a strong fear of death, and attempts to give some meaning to his whole life in order to reconcile himself to it. His inochi is interrelated in that he remains alive with the help of medical equipment and the medical staff, and in the sense that his spirit is healed by the smile of a nurse, or that his condition makes his family happy or sad. He will die an irreplaceable and interrelated death.

    To live and die is to lead one’s own life only once in space and time. To live and die is to lead one’s own life in the midst of infinite networks of inochi in the universe.

    Here arise the following metaphysical questions. What is it that makes inochi irreplaceable? What is it that makes inochi interrelated?

    Inochi becomes irreplaceable when an inochi being is interrelated to others; that is to say, it is interwoven in the infinite networks of inochi in space and time, supporting and killing each other. Inochi becomes interrelated when an inochi being is irreplaceable; that is to say, it lives and dies its own life only once in the universe, not as parts which can be replaced with another being. In other words, the irreplaceability of inochi comes into existence because all inochi beings are interrelated in the universe. The interrelatedness of inochi comes into existence because each individual inochi being is irreplaceable. What these sentences suggest is that the two basic properties of inochi are metaphysically grounded in each other, and that there is no other factor upon which these properties are transcendentally grounded. Inochi is irreplaceable because it is interrelated. Inochi is interrelated because it is irreplaceable. This is a circular argument. However the ultimate metaphysical grounds of a conceptual framework should be either transcendent a priori or circulative. The metaphysical interpretation I select is the latter. I shall consider these propositions to be the metaphysical structure of inochi. The definition of this structure is as follows.

Inochi is irreplaceable because it is interrelated. Inochi is interrelated because it is irreplaceable.    I hope that this proposed structure will become a source for a way of thinking which lets a dying person, who does not have any particular religion, die peacefully. However, this will be a future challenge in the study of life (54).
    Almost all things in the universe can be seen as growing, aging, dying, irreplaceable, and interrelated in a certain sense. If a person regards everything in the universe [107/108] as being irreplaceable and interrelated, then he/she regards everything in the universe (and the universe itself) as an inochi being. It should also be noted that something can be irreplaceable from one angle and replaceable from another angle. For example, a pig in a farm is irreplaceable as an individual inochi being, but replaceable as food for today’s lunch.

    In the rest of this section I would like to suggest other possibilities of interpreting metaphysically the second requirement of the concept of inochi. To regard something as irreplaceable means to grasp it as an individual thing. We can grasp an individual thing by separating it from its various relationships with the environment, and by fixing the subject with a modifier ‘this’ or ‘that’. For example, we used the words ‘this flower’ when referring to the individual inochi being of a particular flower. Using these words we distinguish it from its environment and other flowers. In this way we can clarify the individuality of things, and thus, the subject of dying. I call this feature of inochi ‘individuality’.

    On the other hand, to regard something as interrelated means to grasp it as a web or network which spreads infinitely throughout the universe. Each individual inochi being melts into the web, becoming nothing but a tentative knot in this complicated network. I call this feature of inochi ‘sphere’. Sphere has no boundaries because the network of inochi spreads infinitely throughout the universe.

    This analysis suggests that inochi is structured in the universe through ‘individuality’ and ‘sphere’. The axes of individuality and sphere are independent, not reducible to each other. In stressing the characteristic of individuality, we are led to an atomistic or an individualistic approach to inochi. When we stress the characteristic of sphere, on the other hand, we are led to a holistic approach to inochi. The same is true in environmental ethics. When we stress the importance of the individuality of creatures, including humans, we are faced with so-called anthropocentric environmental ethics. (55) When we stress the importance of the sphere of ecological communities and ecosystems, we are led to so-called biocentric environmental ethics (56). I have previously insisted that we should stress both these sides of inochi, individuality and sphere, equally; and that it is necessary to solve the conflict between these two principles (57). The elucidation of conflict and harmony between individuality and sphere in the context of inochi, however, will have to be left to future discussions.

    Rather, I would like here to interpret individuality and sphere in a visual or sensory way. One image of individuality is that of a particle which has a clear boundary. Recall the respondent who pictured inochi as a red ball just hovering in white space. This is an image of a particle which stands for a static subject that is destined to die (58). On the other hand, there was also an image of a stream flowing from [108/109] one inochi being to another. The web of inochi constitutes a dynamic and complicated stream, a stream which does not stop moving. It flows forever, slowly or rapidly, penetrating inochi beings, spreading over the universe (59).

    Hence, in this interpretation, inochi is a particle at one time, a flowing stream at another. But inochi in the form of a particle and inochi in the form of a stream are the same thing, not different objects. A flowing stream becomes a particle. A flowing stream penetrates particles. A particle draws in and sends out streams incessantly. A particle changes into a stream. These are four types of relations that can be found in this inochi world in the particle-stream context. Figure 7, which we examined above, is a good example of visual images of inochi realized in the forms of particles and streams.

    Inochi as a particle and stream maintains a close relationship with inochi as the energy of breath, which we examined in the section on linguistic meanings. "On the one hand, breath makes an individual creature alive inside its body, but on the other hand, breath flows out of an individual and then slips into another individual’s body." The former stands for inochi as a particle, and the latter stands for inochi as a stream. The moving energy of breath changes into inochi as a stream, and the settling energy of breath changes into inochi as a particle (60, 61). When settling, inochi becomes a subject and acquires irreplaceability. When moving, inochi becomes the hidden environment and acquires interrelatedness. On accepting the above proposition, research into the subject-environment relationship from the viewpoint of inochi will be made possible. It will not doubt have a great influence on environmental ethics and the philosophy of science.

    This metaphysical grasp of inochi further implies that our recognition of inochi beings would be different from the standard subject-object congnition model. For example, when I perceive something, traditional philosophical theories teach us that this perception is achieved by sense-data or qualia traveling from the object to my sensory organs and finally arriving at my brain. This means that cognition is achieved in a one-way direction from the object to the subject, and that the subject and the object are completely different in essence. This is the basic idea of congnition models. [109/110] However, in the case of inochi, we should take account of another factor, that is to say, the fact that both the object and the subject are inochi beings. In other words, this perception model must be such that an inochi being perceives another inochi being. This means that the perceiver and the perceived are equal in existence from the viewpoint of inochi. Therefore, in the perception model of inochi the cognition must be attained by some kind of combination of two inochi beings, the perceiver and the perceived.

    The particle and stream model of inochi thus would be implemental in the construction of another model of perception. Let us once again consider the case of the flower. I am an inochi being in the form of a particle, and the flower takes the form of another. When two particles face each other, a stream forms a bridge between them, and the two particles are combined by a flowing stream penetrating them both. When two particles of inochi touch each other in the form of a stream, I call this the ‘touch model of perception’ (62). Toriyama used the word ‘touch’ in the title of her book Touching Inochi (1985) to indicate that inochi is not an object which can be looked at, but should be touched and felt. However, here it should be noted that in our model particles do not touch each other directly, but that they touch each other in the form of streams passing between them. Hopefully, in the future, this model will constitute a theory of cognition: one that confronts the philosophy and psychology of cognition which has thus far proved insufficiently comprehensive (63,64).



    Before closing, I would like to describe here a brief outline of ‘the study of life’ which I have advocated since 1988, and which provides the framework for this paper.
    The study of life does not deal with restricted academic subjects that belong to any one traditional discipline. Instead, it deals with all subjects concerning ‘life’ comprehensively, from various points of view, with the help of knowledge from each academic discipline. Hence the study of life is open to various methods of research, such as philosophical analysis, religious contemplation, social fieldwork and clarification through scientific investigation. The study of life will deal with difficult [110/111] problems concerning bioethics, environmental issues, terminal care, health policy, the sociology of science, genetic engineering, the psychology of the environment (65), medical anthropology, the history of life, war and peace, violence, and many other subjects.

    Today’s problems concerning life share a number of closely connected factors. Therefore we can neither solve nor even grasp these problems if we persist in just one academic specialty and restrict our attention to the subjects that are supposed to belong to it. Only a comprehensive approach will yield rewarding results (66).

    In order to research such problems comprehensively, I have proposed that a number of researchers who are interested in this approach (this should include such people as academicians, journalists, specialists, and lay persons) form research networks and then exchange arguments and information. I have also proposed that these networks should work as non-governmental organizations, and not constitute a fixed academy or discipline.

    I have defined the study of life as a study which researches the present relationship between humans and life, and also the types of relationship we should form in the future, in the context of modern civilization with science and technology (1988a). In order to do this, we need to study the history of the relationships between humans and life (inochi beings) and clarify the historical meanings of these relationships. For example, we should study the history of agriculture, medicine, religion, and war from the viewpoint of the study of life. We also need to study present issues concerning life, by investigating gene technology, bioethics, global environmental problems, our attitudes toward nuclear weapons and nuclear energy plants, and so on. Then we should go on to propose what relationship we should form with life, scientific technology and civilization in the future. At the same time, there is also a need to study images and concepts of life from the past to the present. We can study the present images and ideas of life through sociological and ethical investigations from around the world. We should also examine the world history of ideas involving the concepts or understandings of life. Moreover, we are always faces with the subject of how to live and die on this limited earth in finite space and time. To address this we must reexamine our lifestyles in modern society as well as our ways of dying.

    This paper falls under the study of images and ideas of life. In it I have attempted to analyze this subject cultural-anthropologically, philosophically, and religiously. This is the kind of investigation that should be representative in the study of life.

    The problems of life in a global age concern almost all subjects, and have considerable diversity. They contain micro-level problems such as the existence [111/112] of certain molecules in a DNA sequence, and macro-level problems such as the maintenance of the biosphere of the earth. They also contain such bioethical problems as the withdrawing of life support systems from a severely handicapped newborn; and such environmental problems as toxic and radioactive substances which will condense and settle in the biosphere at a slow pace.

    These problems have two features. We can, on the one hand, grasp them by paying attention to facts and situations in our daily life, because all these problems have some relationship to everyday life. For example by paying attention to the situation of everyday water and food, we can discover environmental pollution in the local areas. Japan is also beginning to encounter more and more the problem of senile or terminally ill patients who must be cared for in the home.

    On the other hand, it is only possible for us to grasp most of these problems in our imagination. For example we cannot look a the defects of genes of an embryo directly. Most of us have not directly seen a brain-dead person in an Intensive Care Unit, nor have we seen the actual destruction of a rain forest. We know of these things only through books, articles, and TVprograms. Through discussions we are continuously constructing these images in our imaginations. In a sense, global environmental issues and the problems of advanced medicine exist only in our imaginations, as we have no real experience of them.

    This suggests that we should pay attention to our everyday life, with all the power of our imagination, in order to grasp the shape of problems in their entirety. This means further that we will then come to an era in which we discover and solve a problem with the help of a combination of a variety of imaginative perceptions. In this sense the study of life should prove to be an intellectual activity in the era of imagination.

    I have stated that the study of life must be a study by which all inochi beings can live a better life and die a better death (1988b). I believe this sentiment expresses the ultimate aim of the study of life. This paper is only a first step toward achieving such an aim.

    An earlier version of this paper was read at a meeting of the Nichibunken’s joint research unit on the "Stratification of Intellectual Ideas in Japan" (March 29, 1990). I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Yamaori Tetsuo, the organizer, and to the other members for their helpful comments and criticisms.

    I would also like to express my gratitude to Dr. Darryl Macer for his valuable advice on biotechnology and bioethics; and to Pauline Kent for her helpful academic comments and advice.


1   ‘The study of life’ is a translation from the Japanese seimeigaku. These words were first introduced when I published Seimei Gaku eno Shotai (An Invitation to the Study of Life), in 1988.
2     B. Commoner expresses this as "everything must go somewhere." (Commoner, 1971)

3     There are no objective statistics that show the Japanese view of the universe. Through interviews and quesitonnaires, I formed the impression that most Japanese have an organic or holistic view of the universe and the life-world.

4     Some bioethicists who maintain the ‘person argument’ answer in the negative to this question.

5     This question shares some important points with that of abortion. Some bioethicists support abortion as a woman’s right. See Thomson (1971).

6     We can easily find the same conflict in recent controversies on brain death and organ transplants in Japan. Throughout the 1980’s there were nation-wide debates on whether we should resume heart transplantation from a brain-dead person, which was performed at Sapporo Medical University in 1968 and has long been a taboo in our society because of a dubious determination of brain death and the failure of the transplantation in the Sapporo case (Nakajima, 1985). One of the main points in the brain death debates in Japan in the 1980’s was whether the dignity of a brain-dead person and his/her family’s rights are protected during the process in the intensive care unit and operating room. We should regard this as collision between respect for life and advanced medical technology, because a national survey shows nearly half of the Japanese people hesitate to think of a brain-dead person as being dead. See also Morioka (1989).

7     Among traditional religions, Christianity has played the most important role in modern medical ethics, in particular, in the problems of abortion and euthanasia. During the last few decades the Catholic position has played an initial stimulating role in medical ethics.

8     Here I do not intend to suggest that religious approaches are meaningless nor that religion itself is meaningless. I believe life is a religious matter. What I want to condemn is the attitude of some religious groups which persist in one traditional interpretation of holy principles and exclude the possibility of another religion, or who close their eyes to contemporary ethical and social issues.

9     In Japanese, there are three ways of writing the word inochi: first, using the hiragana syllabic alphabet, second, with the katakana syllabic alphabet, and third, using Chinese characters. The fist and third are popular. The second is rare today.

10  We write the word seimei by using only the Chinese characters. These Chinese characters are the same as those for inochi. This means that these characters can be read either as seimei or as inochi. The writer can designate the way of reading by furigana (hiragana printed at the side of the Chinese characters to indicate the reading). When there is no furigana, the reader should select the reading of the Chinese characters for himself/herself.

11  [Chinese character is shown in the original bilingual text.]

12  This phrase is to be found in the Analects of Confucius, ch. Zi-han.

13  [Chinese characters are shown in the original bilingual text.]

14  (In Japanese) inochi no sentaku.

15  (In Japanese) inochi no sakari.

16  (In Japanese) inochi ga moe tsukiru.

17  (In Japanese) inochi ga owaru, inochi wo ushinau, inochi wo otosu.

18  (In Japanese) inochi ga chijimu.

19  (In Japanese) inochi ga mijikai.

20  (In Japanese) inochi wo azukeru.

21  (In Japanese) inochi biroi.

22  (In Japanese) inochi tori.

23  (In Japanese) ningyo no inochi; ningyo wa kao ga inochi.

24  It is strange that there is no example of the last meaning even in the most influential Japanese dictionaries, Iwanami’s Kojien and Shogakukan’s Japanese dictionary. In this usage, the concept of eternity also exists in the word inochi itself.

25  This research is ongoing. I intend to continue until the turn of the century. The questionnarie, a white paper 36.3 cm high and 25.5 wide, has only one question at the top and a check list of attributes at the bottom. Hence a respondent can freely express his/her images of inochi in words, in sentences, and even in the form of cartoons and pictures. Names and complete addresses are not required. I have already collected several hundreds replies, and the age/sex/occupation/religion of the respondents are diverse. Because this is a preliminary report of this research, I have, as yet, no conclusions. I plan to publish all the important replies with the objective statistics after the research is completed. I also plan to carry out the same research overseas in the future. I conducted an inochi image survey similar to this one when I was a researcher of the Kihara Memorial Foundation in 1986. A part of the results was published in Morioka (1987a).

26  (In Japanese) ‘Inochito iu kotoba wo kiite kokoro ni ukabu imeiji ya, ‘inochi’ ni tsuite fudan kangaete iru koto nadowo, bunsho ya e de, jiyu ni kaite kudasai.

27  The sign ‘—‘ indicates no answer.

28  For example, the title of an anti-nuclear power plant newsletter issued by women in Ishikawa prefecture is: No Nuclear Power Plants for Future Inochi!

29  Blaise Pascal, Pensées. Lafuma (1963), ch. 174-177.

30  (In Japanese) hakanai.

31  For example, the holistic thoughts of Leibniz and the Upanishad.

32  This expression can be found, for example, in the text of Okuchi (1984: 40) and in Ueda (1989: 93, 144): and in the title of Yanase (1988).

33  The word ‘-san’ is a polite suffix used when addressing someone in Japanese.

34  With the drawing of a large ‘?’ at the center.

35  The respondent herself uses these parentheses here.

36  Nakamura (1987: 212-266)

37  Some Japanese stress this concept in the context of bioethics. See Morioka (1988a: ch.6).

38  I, myself, try to think of these as matters of inochi in the study of life.

39  In ancient Japanese there is the word tama which means on the one hand ‘a ball’, and on the other hand ‘soul’. Inochi has a close relationship to tama in Japanese.

40  Lovelock (1979).

41  Qi-gong (Japanese pronunciation: ki-ko) is a kind of group therapy whose roots go back to ancient traditional Chinese medicine. Participants in qi-gong, usually in a group, move their bodies slowly in a mountain setting or a garden, and feel nature’s energy and stream (=qi). The concept of qi has a close relationship to that of inochi.

42  (In Japanese) kakegae no nasa.

43  (In Japanese) inochi wo taisetu ni suru.

44  (In Japanese) sasae au.

45  This insistence seems to imply a collectivism that might lead to the repression of the basic freedoms of the individual.

46  (In Japanese) seiippai ni naru.

47  The Ministry of Education (1988b: 25)

48  Wittgenstein (1969), ch.275.

49  In the previous sections I have not strictly differentiated ‘inochi’ and ‘inochi being’, because the respondents and the writers themselves have not strictly differentiated these concepts.

50  Fourier (1846).

51  This point is closely connected to the I-thou problem in philosophy. See Morioka (1988a) ch. 9; Morioka (1987b).

52  There may be some people who regard inochi only as the state of being alive, and do not accept in it any kind of infiniteness at all. On the contrary, there may be those who regard inochi only as a large stream, and completely deny its finiteness. These usages should be considered wrong because they do not follow our guidelines on the usage of the word inochi. Of course there are a number of responses that refer only to either finiteness or infiniteness, but I believe this does not necessarily mean that the respondent denies the opposite. I suppose they simply stress one side of its character.

53  The other properties , ‘birth, growth, aging, and death’ and ‘warmth and breath’, belong to the first requirement.

54  This structure reminds me of the well-known passage "Matter is empty. Empty is matter," from the Prajna Pramita Hrdaya Sutra. However, these two ideas have different contexts, and therefore cannot be identified easily.

55  For example, Singer (1974).

56  For example, Leopold (1949) and Callicott (1989). As for ‘anthropocentric’ and ‘biocentric’, see Taylor (1986). Naess (1973) and Goodpaster (1979) use the terms ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’.

57  Morioka (1988b). In this book I used the term ‘the principle of others’ and ‘the principle of biosphere’, corresponding to individuality and sphere respectively. We can find a good example of the solution to this conflict in Taylor (1986).

58  This does not mean that this particle is an entity, because inochi is a phase, an observer-relative concept. This means that this particle is made up of a phase, not of an entity.

59  The image of the stream of inochi appeared clearly in the texts of Zhu Zi (12c.) in China, and some texts of Confucianists (17-18c.) in the Edo period in Japan, as the stream of qi. I plan to make clear the relationship between the concept of inochi and qi in the context of Confucianism. Callicott and Ames (1989) present important material for investigating this subject.

60  These explanations are very similar to the metaphysics of Zhu Zi, who reinterpreted traditional Chinese thought. He says that when formless qi settles it forms a human being. According to Ohama (1983: 73), Zhu Zi’s qi is a formless movement flowing through all time, filling all space. Traditional understandings of qi in China have obviously influenced our images of inochi.

61  This dialectic of particle and stream reminds me of the so-called Copenhagen School’s interpretation of the quantum theory that the ultimate existence of matter is a particle from one angle, and a wave from the other angle.

62  We should note that phenomenology had to reappraise the importance of ‘tangible’ feelings when examining the concept of body. See Merleau-Ponty (1945).

63  These contentions appear extremely strange from the viewpoint of orthodox philosophy. However, it is also true that in some of my interviews some nurses reported experiences with patients such as described here in the text. This topic has a close relation to the theory of nursing and the philosophy of caring. I am in the process of preparing a paper which deals with this topic.

64  It is interesting that J. Locke, one of the founders of the modern cognitive theory, stresses the ‘power’ in an object which produces ideas in the observer’s mind. This concept of Locke’s can be understood in a vitalistic way as has been made apparent in this paper. See Nidditch (1975), ch. 8, sec. 8.

65  For example, J. E. Mack’s draft, ‘Inventing a Psychology of the Environment’, read at the Center for Psychological Studies in the Nuclear Age (May 3, 1990, at Harvard University), refers to this subject.

66  In this connection, I was very impressed at the first Council of the Europe Symposium on Bioethics, in 1989, when a participant insisted from the floor that we should also deal with ecological issues, and the chairman rejected it outright.


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