AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 119

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Session 119: The Development of a Tradition: Nara Period Eminent Monks in Context

Organizer: Kevin E. Wilson, University of Southern California, Canada

Discussant: Lori R. Meeks, University of Southern California, USA

The Japanese Buddhist monk Gyoki (668-749) and the Tang Chinese Buddhist monk Ganjin (688-763) played a great role in the spread of Buddhism in Japan. Both can be called “Eminent Monks” and both can be found in various Buddhist sources. This panel will examine how the Buddhist communities associated with them depicted both Gyoki and Ganjin. By examining how the portrayals of Gyoki and Ganjin varied through time (from the early Heian through the Kamakura Period), and by genre, we can get a better idea of the methods these Buddhist communities used to shape the images of their chosen "eminent monk." This also gives us an idea of the Buddhist values that they wished to stress. Kuranaka Shinobu’s paper on Ganjin will look at how the literary conventions associated with the construction of an “Eminent Monk Biography” molded the image of this important monk. Maria Migliore’s paper focuses on the construction of the “popular” image of Gyoki as seen in Japan’s most famous collection of miracle tales, the Nihon Ryoiki. Kevin Wilson’s paper examines how Gyoki was portrayed in the engi, or “foundation legends,” of temples and how his image was manipulated in order to lend credibility to temples of multiple denominations, which were spread across the entire expanse of the archipelago. Finally, Yoneyama Takako’s paper delves into the image of Gyoki as seen in sources outside the mainstream tale collections in order to show that Gyoki was not only portaryed as an eminent monk but also as a saint or, more simply, as a source of popular veneration.

The Transformation of the Biography of Ganjin
Shinobu Kuranaka, Daito Bunka University, Japan

Ganjin was a famous monk from Tang China who was said to have brought the vinaya to Japan in the Nara Period. According to his biography his student, Shitaku, compiled the three following works: Biography of the Great Master Ganjin in a Collection of Names for Vinaya Masters from the Great Tang, The Account of the Great Master from Tang’s Eastward Conquest, and Record of Monks until the Enryaku Era. These texts were all written by Shitaku using his own experiences and texts he had in his possession. However, in these three works distinct differences can be found. Why would biographical materials compiled by the same person contain such discrepancies? In this paper I wish to show that it was the logic behind the “Eminent Monk Biography” literary conventions that led to such differences.

Gyōki in the Nihon ryōiki
Maria Chiara Migliore, University of Salento, Italy

The Nihon Ryoiki (written by Kyokai, 810-823 ca.) gives us a valuable and interesting view of 8th century Japanese Buddhism that is quite different from what we see in sources concerning the oft-mentioned official Six Schools and great state-sponsored temples of Nara. I believe that the significance of the alternative view of Buddhism found in the Nihon Ryoiki has been somewhat underestimated. In my paper I will try to demonstrate that Kyokai's praise of Gyoki, the most venerated person in the Nihon Ryoiki, is directly related to the praise of proselytizing monks rather than 'courtly' monks who preferred heavy liturgies and doctrinal treatises. In my opinion, it is precisely this praising of proselytizing monks that reveals the polemical aims of the author of the Nihon Ryoiki.

Gyōki as seen in Temple Foundation Legends
Kevin E. Wilson, University of Southern California, Canada

Gyoki (668-749) performed many charitable works, including building irrigation ditches and ponds, roadside shelters, and bridges. And while Gyoki also constructed many temples, or their primary images of worship, it is interesting to note that his name can be found in as many as one thousand engi, or "foundation legends," spanning from the Nara Period (710-794) to the Early Modern Period (1600-1868). This paper will examine the ways in which Gyoki was portrayed in a selection of these engi (up to the Kamakura Period). In general, the engi seek to link Gyoki to one of several bodhisattvas, primarily Kannon and Yakushi, while also providing a strong water motif as a backdrop to Gyoki’s construction activities. I will attempt to show that the association of Gyoki with the images of Kannon, Yakushi, and water by various sects (whether they be Shingon, Jōdo, Tendai, or even Rinzai and Soto) was an attempt to make each sects' form of Buddhism more acceptable to a popular audience.

Regarding Changes in the Gyōki Tradition
Takako Yoneyama, Taisho University, Japan

The tradition of the eminent Nara period monk Gyoki, which was created between the beginning of the Heian Period and the Early Modern Period, can be found in any standard collection of premodern tales. However, there is also a separate, stand-alone, tradition concerning Gyoki. It was created by his followers and can be found in various biographies, liturgies, pictorial biographies, admonitions for posterity, and wasan (Japanese poems sung in praise of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or eminent monks). The image of Gyoki that is constructed in this alternate tradition varies between Gyoki the saint, Gyoki the eminent monk, and the popular Gyoki, depending on which side of Gyoki his followers felt needed to be stressed. In this paper, I will present various sources that illuminate these changes in the Gyoki tradition.