ASCJ 2009
Session 24: Room 11-505

Performing Texts: interaction and interpretation in Medieval ritual practices

Organizer: Benedetta Lomi, SOAS, Fumi Ouchi, Miyagigakuin University

Chair: Iyanaga Nobumi , Tokyo Centre of EFEO

Recent scholarship on medieval Japanese Buddhism has discussed its distinctive attitude towards canonical sources by justifying unorthodox exegeses and the production of apocrypha with the pervasive notion of mappō and to the consequent pursue of a new relationship between the individual and the society.

Very little research, however, has addressed the need of focusing on the ritual practices that emerged during this period, their method of transmission and the impact they had in the process of producing and perpetuating new interpretations.

This panel proposes to explore the dynamic relationship between particular styles of performance and interpretation of religious practices and the canonical sources on which they are based, focusing on Buddhist rituals in Japan from the mid Heian to the medieval period. In order to discuss how specific ritual practices and ideas expressed in the canonical sources have expanded, developed and eventually changed in this period, both within and outside the canonical context, the panel adopts a multiple approach: doctrinal, philological, performative and iconographical.

By addressing the performative dimension of rituals, we want to suggest an understanding of the canonical sources as a flexible framework through which the continuous re-interpretative and recreative movement of religious practices is produced. Taking up four main religious traditions of the time, the nenbutsu movement of Tendai, the esoteric rituals of Shingon, the prayer-related rituals (祈祷)of the Nichiren school, and the chan practice of the Soto school, the panel will position the issue in the wider scope of medieval thought.

1) Kigensan Licha, SOAS

How to do things with kōan

This paper seeks to elucidate the increasingly ritualized usage of kōan in medieval Soto Zen by placing them in their proper social, political and ideological context. In order to do so, it will draw on three genre rather unused, or but used in isolation from each other, in which kōan feature prominently: the kirigami, secret transmission centered on ritual performance, the monsan, secret kōan curricula, and finally episodes taken from hagiographic literature.

Firstly, the role of the medieval koan will be explored as it emerges from the kirigami and the monsan. Note will be taken of the interconnection of the two genre specifically with reference to classificatory schemes, such as san-i and go-i.

Secondly, the case of Hakusan Gongen, a popular protector deity connected to the removal of funerary impurity, will be raised to demonstrate how Soto monks, in the kirigami, used kōan to read and manipulate the combinatory episteme informing the medieval religious landscape.

Thirdly, the story of “Geno and the killing stone” will serve to demonstrate the practical use monks made of and deep intrinsic connection pertaining to ritual action, in this case precept ordination, and the use or abuse of kōan language.

From this it will emerge that both served as tools to exercise power over other religious phenomena by integrating them, through subjection to kōan language and ritual, into the symbolic order of Soto Zen, an encounter from which only the priest emerged as sovereign subject.

2) Benedetta Lomi, SOAS

The Horse-head in the Lotus: Developments of Batō Kannon in Medieval Japan

Batō Kannon 馬頭観音, is commonly worshipped as the protector of horses and cattle, a function that is not reflected in any of the rituals described in the canonical texts, but that finds its roots in the introduction of Batō within a Six Kannon set, as the protector of the animal realm.

The veneration of the Six Kannon in relation to the six realms of rebirth flourished among Heian aristocrats, and was connected to two different, but related, practices: on the one hand the recitation of a six-syllable dharani of Kannon during memorial rituals, on the other to the Rokujikyō 六字経 ritual, carried out to grant fertility, safe childbirth, and to cure diseases.

This paper proposes to analyze the development of the esoteric deity Batō Kannon in the Heian and Kamakura period, by contextualizing it within the above mentioned practices and in relation to the writings of the Tendai monk Enchin. Not only was Enchin the first scholar-ritualist to insert Batō in the Six Kannon group (as we see in his work Hokke ryaku-gi); he also expanded the meaning of Batō found in a fundamental esoteric source, the Dainichi-kyō, by connecting the deity to Kantaka, the horse of Prince Siddhartha. This move represents a key passage for the development of the Batō outside the canonical context.

Through the comparative analysis of these materials, I wish to demonstrate how practices and ideas expressed in the canonical sources related to Batō Kannon have expanded, developed and eventually changed in the medieval period.

3) Fumi Ouchi, Miyagigakuin University

Vocalising the Pure Land: Somatic Nature of Genshin’s Soteriology

Genshin’s (942–1017) work centred on the practice of nenbutsu 念仏 profoundly influenced thanatological and soteriological ideas in pre-modern Japan. His nembutsu has been generally interpreted as reconstruction of the practice of chanting Amitābha’s name, which had been performed mainly for its magico-exorcistic effects into a specific type of contemplation focused on Amitābha and based on the orthodox Tendai teachings established by Zhiyi in China.

In this paper, through a doctrinal or performative analysis of his theoretical writings, such as Ōjōyōshū, Amidabutsu byakugōkan and Amidakyōryakki, biographies and the various group activities he organised, I will attempt a re-interpretation of Genshin’s nenbutsu movement and point out that it was more deeply connected with the effect of physical activities, above all vocalisation, than is generally assumed. A close reading of Genshin‘s theoretical works in fact reveals that the longer Genshin pursued his career in teaching Buddhism, the more positive became his attitude towards the practice of chanting the Buddha’s name for attaining the Pure Land or realising the Buddhist truth. This transition seems to have been caused by his experience of instructing different types of group activities, such as nenbutsu-kō and shaka-kō, where participants were deeply involved in the ritual performance and gained a feeling of solidarity with other fellows and even with the Buddhas by, especially, vocalising together. Genshin thus reached a new understanding of the somatic and cooperative nature of attaining Buddhahood beyond the orthodox Tendai teaching, which suggests a dynamics between the theoretical sources of his practice and the soteriological movement which originated with him.

4) Carmen Tamas, Osaka University

The Magic beyond the Words: Origins and Development of Prayer-Related Rituals within the Nichiren Sect

In the 13th century, Nichiren compiled what he considered to be the most prayer-efficient parts of the Lotus Sutra into a collection called 『撰法華経』Senhōkekyō or 『祈祷経』Kitōkyō. More than seven hundred years later, those texts are still the sacred (and secret) basis of ascetic rituals whose purpose is to enforce the power and effectiveness of prayers. According to the existing records, the present day Aragyō (the one hundred days of asceticism practiced within the Nichiren sect) began in the 14th century, when one of Nichiren’s disciples, Nichizō, prayed for one hundred days on Kamakura Yuigaoka. During his ascetic term, he had followed Nichiren’s teaching related to the texts which should be used for prayers and how those prayers must be performed. Unfortunately, one of the basic principles of the ritual practices of the Nichiren sect is 無漏相承, murōsōjō, never to reveal a master’s teachings to an outsider, and thus the recorded information regarding the actual performing of prayers in the medieval period is scarce.

Nevertheless, a ritual which has been performed for centuries and which still holds a major significance within the Nichiren religious movement is definitely worthy of our attention. Without presuming to analyze such a vast span of time, my paper focuses on the origin and early development of the ritual prayers based on the texts selected by Nichiren. Also, besides their obvious relationship with the texts, I would like to emphasize the magical side of the prayer rituals, which in many cases were performed as exorcisms, and which bear the marked influence of Shinto and Shingon practices.

Discussant: Fabio Rambelli, Sapporo University