AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 720

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Session 720: Canonization of Sacred Scriptures in East Asia

Organizer and Chair: Michael M Wachutka, University of Tuebingen, Japan

Discussant: Klaus Antoni, University of Tuebingen, Germany

Normative texts have always been considered major tools of bequeathing religious and cultural orthodoxy. Abundant research is available on the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for which Tanach, Bible, and Koran form the basis of their religious-ethical discourses. Yet, detailed studies concerning the canons of dogmatic scriptures of Asian cultures are sparse. This panel thus aims at expanding the existing concept of canonicity - imbued by a Christian-occidental context - by including valuable case studies from an East Asian vantage point. Two essential conditions for turning certain books into normative models of religious and cultural identity can be proclaimed: the existence of texts which a community is prepared to recognize as the norm of its religion; and the existence of an authority of sufficient power to prescribe what texts it shall receive as that norm. According to the central function of canonization to set explicit symbolic boundaries by way of a binding self-portrayal, it furthermore has to be assumed that the need for canonization and the need for determination of identity are highly correlating. This panel explores the importance of the Daoist Canon Daozang and the Confucian Classics in China, the Buddhist Canon Tipitaka as preserved in Korea, and the Shinto Scriptures in Japan from various disciplinary perspectives. As a group, the individual papers reveal mutual influences in the process of canonization of sacred scriptures across national boundaries, while suggesting new avenues of research on the subtle interplay of canonization and religiously substantiated identity throughout East Asia and beyond.

The Last Daoist Canon: The Daozang jiyao's Revelation and Canonization
Monica Esposito, Kyoto University, Japan

The Daozang jiyao is the last Chinese Daoist Canon of the Qing dynasty (Jiaqing era, 1796-1820). As its title "Essentials of the Daoist Canon" suggests, it was modeled on the previous Ming Daoist Canon of 1445. In fact, two third of its texts stem from it, while the remaining third consists of texts not included in the Ming Canon. It is exactly this "emaining third" that forms the core of this Qing Daoist anthology. How did its canonization come about? Who was responsible for it? For the first time in Daoist history, a Daoist Canon was created not as the result of a working relation between the emperor and Daoist clergy but as the product of a lay community under the divine guidance of a legendary immortal: Lu Dongbin. Also for the first time, core texts as well as directions for the choice of scriptures were revealed via spirit-writing to a lay community of high-ranking officials. The central placement of such newly revealed texts among selected texts from the imperially authorized Daoist Canon of the Ming (1445 and its supplement of 1607) highlights the basic purpose of the Daozang jiyao and its editors: to promulgate, via spirit-writing transmission, the quintessence of all authentic traditions and thus to establish the foundation for the restoration of "original Daoism" during the last imperial dynasty of the Qing (1644?1911).

Koryo Buddhist Canon: A Print Event
Lewis Lancaster, University of California, Berkeley, USA

The 1000th anniversary of the first carving of the Buddhist texts printing blocks in the Koryo dynasty will take place this year. It is important that this anniversary be observed because of its importance to the religion as well as the state institutions of the dynasty. The significance of those printing blocks, now long ago destroyed, has not diminished over time. In the prints made from them we still find a record of the Buddhist literature that no longer exists anywhere else. It is exciting to note that at the 1000th anniversary of the carving of the blocks, we see the introduction of new technology that makes it possible to have access to digital images and full text formats. The history of the Koryo Buddhist canon is at once a study of these technological revolutions of printing and digital methodologies. The canon did not come into existence in a single act but was the result of a series of "events". In one way, it can be described as a "canon" created through the arrangement of successive acquisitions within a "library". Tracing the arrivals of each of the acquisitions by the royal court of Koryo allows us to understand the nature of the corpus. Exploring ways in which we can manage and manipulate this information in the age of the computer, provides the most current chapter in the account of this collection.

Canonical Authority in the Formation of the Cult of Heaven-God in Later Imperial Times
Thomas A. Wilson, Hamilton College, USA

As early as the fifth century in China the Confucian canon, as distinct from dynastic custom, played an increasingly definitive role in determining the liturgies of sacrifice to the gods patronized by the imperial court. By the Sui and Tang eras, court ritualists invoked canonical authority to order the myriad gods into a hierarchy of cults according to principles believed to inhere in the cosmos itself. This paper focuses on court debates in the Song dynasty on the proper, canonical feasting of Heaven-God to consider the role of the Confucian canonical texts - including the Book of Filial Piety - in the formation of the Suburban Sacrifice. I stress two main points: First, imperial sacrifices constituted a hermeneutics of doing the canon - of rendering canonical passages into material acts of reverence and filiality at imperial altars - thereby amounting to an indexical reading that differed essentially from a metaphorical reading (more words about canonical passages about the sages' acts) employed in civil examinations. Second, this indexical hermeneutics of doing canonical acts played out in the precise indexical arrangement of the spirit tablets at the Southern Terrace altar: imperial feasting of the celestial gods invoked in the Suburban Sacrifice did not metaphorically reenact abstract moral principles. More than a simulacrum bearing a second-order status in relation to a purportedly more material thing, the altar literally reproduced the circulation of gods across the heavens in order to accomplish practical ritual goals.

Shinten: Canonization of Shinto's Sacred Scriptures
Michael M Wachutka, University of Tuebingen, Japan

One peculiarity of the Shinto religion frequently alluded to outside and inside Japan is its apparent lack of own sacred scriptures. There are however several classical texts seen as 'normative' and 'sacred' by Shinto adherents. Various attempts at authoritative compilations of Shinto manuscripts go back to medieval times. Yet, it is noteworthy that only the 1936 collection of more than a dozen ancient texts compiled by the Okura Institute for Research of Japan's Spiritual Culture and originating with considerable socio-cultural connotation at the height of national hubris was explicitly titled Shinten: "Sacred Scriptures". This paper will trace the religious-ideological background and complex editorial history leading to the genesis of this work, which due to its deliberate appearance with leather binding, lightweight paper, and gilt edging was conceived as 'Bible for Japan'. The notion of canonization usually implies the bindingness of a textual corpus, heightened to the ultimate. According to Jan Assmann, the resulting canon therefore distinguishes itself with an absolute "immobilization of the flow of tradition". In this paper however, canonization is not grasped as a static concept. What shall be properly acknowledged is precisely the processual and discursive character of the development of a new Japanese national identity supported by this emerging canon of the sacred scriptures of Shinto. By spotlighting the relatively small circle of protagonists such as Shinten's initiator Okura Kunihiko and its most prolific contributor Ueki Naoichiro, the veil of anonymity is lifted from a normally obscure process of canon formation.