Envisioning the Pure Land from the Mountaintop, the Margins, and on the Move

Envisioning the Pure Land from the Mountaintop, the Margins, and on the Move

  • Saturday, June 1, 2013 | 3:15 – 5:15pm | Gage Residence, Media Room

Aaron P. Proffitt (University of Michigan) “This World and/or/as the Pure Land: An Investigation into Tantric Nenbutsu Practice in Medieval Japanese Buddhism”

There exists a fascinating, yet largely untold, relationship between Pure Land Buddhism (jōdokyō 浄土教), a tradition typically understood to promote posthumous awakening in the Pure Land, and Esoteric Buddhism (shingonjō 真言乗; mikkyō 密教), a tradition typically understood to promote a variety of “tantric” rites leading to awakening in this life and body. Though these “two” traditions are often conceived of as offering diametrically opposed paths to awakening, during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), neither Pure Land nor Esoteric Buddhism represented necessarily exclusive spheres of Buddhist activity.
This paper will present the Pure Land writings the Kamakura Period Mt. Kōya 高野山 scholar-monk Dōhan 道範 (1178-1252). Dōhan’s Compendium on the Esoteric Nenbutsu (Himitsu nenbutsu shō 秘密念仏抄), presents a comprehensive overview of the so-called “esoteric nenbutsu” (himitsu nenbutsu 秘密念仏, or “esoteric Buddha contemplation”). The diverse sources employed in Dōhan’s Compendium, as well as the rituals described therein, reveal that the “esoteric nenbutsu” is not simply an example of “syncretism” between Pure Land Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism. Nor is it an essentially Esoteric Buddhist stance on Pure Land Buddhism. Rather this paper will demonstrate that, as conceived by Dōhan and others, the “esoteric nenbutsu” was constructed as a site for the engagement and consolidation of the diverse kaleidoscopic range of vocal ritual technologies said to make Pure Land rebirth available to monks in the Kamakura period.

Ethan Lindsay (Princeton University) “Pure Land Buddhism at Mount Kōya in Medieval Japan: The Devotion of Fujiwara no Sukenaga”

Mount Kōya, one of Japan’s most famous sacred mountains, has long been one of the major centers of Shingon esoteric Buddhism in the Japanese islands. In the medieval era, however, this complex and multivalent sacred site housed Buddhist practitioners aiming to attain numerous different religious goals, including birth in a variety of pure lands. We see this pure land devotion portrayed in a very vivid fashion in the Kōyasan ōjōden (Accounts of Those From Mount Kōya Who Achieved Birth in a Pure Land, late twelfth century), one of the most revealing documents about religious life at Mount Kōya in the medieval era. This paper analyzes the Pure Land devotion of the text’s author, Fujiwara no Sukenaga (1118-1195), who compiled thirty-eight stories about men who had purportedly achieved birth in a pure land when they died on the mountain. I seek to answer the following questions: What was the nature of Sukenaga’s religious devotion at Mount Kōya? How did he understand the religious practices and various religious goals of those who purportedly attained birth in a pure land while in residence on Mount Kōya? How did he view the relationship between Pure Land Buddhism and Shingon esoteric Buddhsim?

Mark Blum (University of California, Berkeley) “Centering the Marginal: The Role of Bessho and Sanjo in the Spread of Nenbutsu”

This paper will look at the important but often overlooked contribution of secondary sites called bessho and sanjo in twelfth century Japan to the diffusion and acceptance of Pure Land Buddhism and its practices, specifically recitation nenbutsu. Bessho and sanjo were “other locales,” owned by or associated with major temples or shōen estates that attracted a wide mix of people precisely because they were nonstandard locales where there was considerable freedom of thought and activity. The mix of hijiri, serious monastics, artists, street performers, aristocrats, and so forth played an important role in the exchange of ideas at the end of Heian period, laying the groundwork for Hōnen’s impact. I will look at two examples, the Tōdaiji bessho Kōmyōsenji, and the Hiei-zan sanjo Ōhara.

Keiko Soda Isomura (Showa Women’s University in Tokyo) “Ippen: The last Buddhist monk of the Pure Land Buddhist leader in Kamakura Era in Japan”

Ippen(1239~1289) was the last Buddhist monk of the Pure Land Buddhist leader in Kamakura Era in Japan. He spread the Pure Land Buddhism among the people of all levels of that society through traveling nembutsu, dancing nembutsu and distribution of block-printed inscriptions of Amida’s Name. He took over the Pure Land Buddhism from Honen and Shoku.Although a large number of studies have made on Honen, little is known about Ippen. Ippen’s thought and his life need to be made. I want to emphasize that how deeply the Ippen’s thought is combined with Japanese gods.