AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 520

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Session 520: Religion Buddhism III

Shinra Myojin: Finding a Center on the Margins
Sujung Kim, DePauw University, USA

The transnational aspect of Korean Buddhist culture in the medieval period is a topic deserving of attention. The case of Shinra Myōjin, a god worshipped in the Tendai Buddhist tradition in Japan, is one example of such. Shinra Myōjin, whose name signifies a clear connection to the Korean kingdom of Silla, won a position of prominence in Tendai Buddhism during the Heian period (794-1185). The cult was originally linked to Korean immigrants, in particular the merchant groups that connected China, Korea, and Japan through their maritime network. Its cult had ancient roots in northern Kyūshū, the main point of entry through which continental civilization first arrived in Japan, but it was Tendai Buddhist monks who subsequently elaborated on the myth of the god and formulated attendant rituals. As Tendai Buddhism expanded its reach in Japan, Shinra Myōjin moved away from its continental origin and local appeal, developing the identity of a trans-local deity. In my paper, I will situate the Japanese cult of Shinra Myōjin in the East Asian context, exploring how Shinra Myōjin was imagined, constructed, and deployed over different time and space. I will focus especially on the function of cultural memory in shaping the identity of this transnational god, whose nature saw constant transformations through the tension between locality and trans-locality in the travel between medieval Korea and Japan.

From stupa to pagoda: the cultural translation of Buddhism
Margarita A. Delgado Creamer, University of Pittsburgh, USA

The question of why the Indian stupa, i.e. a short, round, mound-like building, would become a Chinese pagoda, i.e. a high, square, multi-storey tower, has been generally explored by art historians. This paper, on the other hand, examines the issue from the perspective of the study of religion with the aim of investigating what it can reveal about the process of the cultural translation of Buddhism into China. For that reason, where art historians have generally focused on the formal transformation whereas meaning seemed to remain stable, this paper undertakes a contextual interpretation based on historical and art historical, as well as literary and archaeological data. In line with the contention that the dynamics of communication should play a central-stage role in the hermeneutics of sacred architecture, methodologically, I adopt Dell Hymes’ and Roman Jakobson’s linguistic model of communication in the analysis of the interaction among the patron as agent, the public for whom the message was intended, and the socio-political context. The analysis of two cases - the first pagoda we have a record of, built at the end of Eastern Han dynasty (25 -220), and Yongninsi Pagoda of Northern Wei (386-534) – leads to the conclusion that the choice of the tower and pavilion as the native models for the pagoda reveals the patrons’ aim of legitimating their power through the purposeful conflation of native and foreign symbols and meanings, and that through this conflation the Buddhist stupa was not only redefined structurally but, most importantly, symbolically.

The Biography of the Buddha in Korea
Sem A. C. Vermeersch, Seoul National University, South Korea

Scholarship on the biography of the Buddha has traditionally focused on discovering the “real” person behind the myths, and as such studies dealing with the Buddha’s life have been based almost exclusively on Pali sources. Although the past two decades have witnessed a move away from the obsession with Buddhist origins – for example, John Strong has done interesting work on the mythical dimensions of the Buddha’s life story – the vast body of Chinese texts that describe the life of Shakyamuni has been virtually ignored following the pioneering work of Samuel Beal in the late nineteenth century. In this paper, I intend to use a fourteenth-century Korean work – the "Sokka Yorae haengjok song" by Mugi – as a starting point to reflect on the role of the Buddha’s life story in the religious life of medieval Korea. The work is derived from earlier Chinese biographies, and will allow us to see how the biography was understood, how it developed, and how it appealed to religious sensibilities in Koryo Korea. About a century after it was composed, the first biography in Korean was produced, the "Sokpo sangjol," followed by a poetic version, the "Worin ch’ongang chi kok." Although better known, these works have not been amply studied either, but offer unique insights in how the biography was further adapted and which themes appealed the most to Koreans.

Affliction and Infection in an Indian Buddhist Embryological Sutra
Robert Kritzer, Independent Scholar, Japan

The Sutra on the Entry into the Womb (Garbhavakrantisutra) is well known for its week-by-week account of gestation, by far the longest and most detailed in ancient Indian literature, religious or medical. However, in its longer versions, the sutra includes a variety of other material, which constitutes more than two-thirds of the entire text. After the description of gestation, there is a portion of the sutra that resembles a brief encylopedia of Buddhist teachings related to rebirth and of medical or pseudo-medical knowledge. The point of intersection between the religious and the medical discourse in the sutra is, of course, suffering, which according to Buddhism, is the nature of worldly existence. The sutra warns its monastic audience of the inevitable suffering that rebirth will entail in the next life, beginning from the moment of conception, through the period of gestation, and into childhood, when the child is subject to infestation by a huge variety of worms and affliction by a number of “demons.” In addition, approximately fifty different diseases are mentioned by name. Although many of these worms, demons, and illnesses may seem fanciful to us, some of them are well attested in the classical Indian medical literature. In this paper, I distinguish between those found in medical texts and those that were invented by the Buddhist authors. Furthermore, I analyze how the medical knowledge of the time was put to use for religious purposes.

Final Renunciation of Japanese Buddhist Precepts
Shigeru Osuka, Seton Hall University, USA

This paper examines the history of Japanese Buddhist ethics from 1938 to 1939. In 1872, the Meiji government issued an anti-Buddhist movement policy, Order 133, which declared, “Buddhist clergy could, with their free will, eat meat, get married, grow their hair long, and wear ordinary clothing.” Subsequently, in the public’s view, the moral behavior of monks and nuns gradually declined, and became a concern only under the civil law. Since this order, most Japanese Buddhist monks and nuns married without any serious consideration of their precepts. In 1938, the government issued an order for the National Spiritual Mobilization (Kokumin Seishin Sodoin), which advocated cooperation between politics, religion and education to ensure national prosperity. After the National Spiritual Mobilization order was issued, the “Non-Precepts Movement” spread throughout Japan when the Japanese military advanced in Manchuria and promoted Japanization in their settlements. During this period there were debates on whether monks kept single status or not. For example, in 1938, Abbot Umetai, Head of Tedai School at Mt. Hiei, emphasized the importance of Buddhist precepts for the monks (Precepts Revival Movement). When Rev. Jishin Sekiguchi was nominated to be an abbot of Nikko Rinno-ji Temple, imperial line (Monzeki) of Buddhist temple, Abbot Umetai argued against Rev. Sekiguchi’s promotion because Rev. Sekiguchi had a wife. According to Abbot Umetai, the Head of the Imperial Line of Buddhist temples should keep the precepts and must be a single “pure monk (Seiso).” However, Abbot Umetani lost his argument and Japanese monks were allowed to marry.