Did the Kami Really Want Buddhist Salvation?

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Ross Bender

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May 17, 2022, 12:38:07 AMMay 17
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An intriguing article by Lisa Kochinski from 2016 in the Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University (see attached) posits negotiations between the Shinto kami and the Buddha realms in the creation of shrine temples, the jingŭji. Kochinski proposes to give agency to the kami, saying that "There has been a tendency in scholarship about  jingŭji to refer to kami and their shrines as having been subsumed or subjugated by Buddhism. This Buddhist-centric approach tends to construct a totalizing narrative of Buddhist domination and colonization of the cultic landscape, implying passivity on the part of the kami."

Thus far I am in total agreement. Unfortunately, in my opinion, she then uses the dominant motif of the engi literature, which is that the kami were believed to be "suffering and in need of Buddhist salvation." I would argue that this is in fact a totalizing Buddhist-centric approach. The stories are suspiciously similar, that a wandering Buddhist priest comes into contact with a kami who reveals karmic baggage and wishes to embark on the noble path or whatever.

The four jingŭji she discusses all have Buddhist myths locating them in the 8th century. However, with the exception of the bizarre tale of Fujiwara Muchimaro and the Kehi god from the Kaden, the sources are all from the ninth century. Kochinski also cites Tsuji Hidenori's list of 16 jingŭji supposedly founded in the 8th and 9th centuries. A look at Tsjuji's sources again shows, that with the exception of the Kaden, all these myths come from later periods, some from the mid-ninth century Jōwa years but many from the 11th century Ruijŭ  Sandai Kyaku

Of course shrine temples at Usa Hachiman and at Ise are attested in Shoku Nihongi, but without the miraculous stories of Buddhist salvation. The Kehi jingŭji  doesn't appear in the Rikkokushi until 855, and the Tado jingŭji until 850.

There is a charming story in the Shoku Nihon Koki from 837 (Jowa 4.12.11) about the Kaharamine shrines in Buzen Province, noted by Tsuji. In this account the three shrines were on a barren rocky mountain. But sometime in the Enryaku years a Chinese Buddhist priest came, and thanked the kami for his safe passage over the ocean. He then built a temple at the foot of the mountain, whereupon grass and trees grew and the surroundings flourished. Thereafter in times of drought or calamity the parishioners prayed to the kami who saved them from disaster.

This is quite a different narrative from the usual engi motifs about how the kami suffered from bad karma and what not and desired Buddhist salvation. Here the Buddhist priest thanks the kami for bringing him safely to Japan, and in return prays for the prosperity of the shrines.

Let me propose another, just as plausible story about the kami and the Buddhas. The kami were hanging out at their shrines in beautiful or awesome natural settings, minding their own business for the most part, but usually answering the villagers' prayers for ample rain and abundant harvests. Then the creepy Buddhist missionaries came around and discovered that lo and behold  what these awesome deities REALLY wanted was Buddhist salvation. Then the Buddhist priests could build temples, and supported by the government, lead their useless lives examining their navels or pondering nothingness.

Perhaps my just-so story is somewhat fanciful, but it strikes me as just as valid as the Buddhist-centric narrative of domination and colonization.

Ross Bender


Jowa 4.12.11.jpg


Kochinski-Negotiations_between_the_Kami_and_Buddha.pdf

Ethan Bushelle

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May 20, 2022, 12:40:32 AMMay 20
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Dear Ross,

In a 2020 JJRS article, "The Mountain as Mandala," I situate the construction of jingūji in the broader history of Buddhist temples in Japan, arguing that this development laid the groundwork for the establishment of mountain temples such as Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei and Kongōbuji on Mt. Kōya that operated with a greater degree of autonomy vis-a-vis the state than earlier state-funded temples in the capital and provinces. 

While I touch on some of the examples Kochinski examines in her article, I focus on an 814 epitaph composed by Kūkai about the Buddhist mountain ascetic, Shōdō, in which we are given an extensive description of the latter's founding of a jingūji on Mt. Fudaraku (present-day Mt. Nikkō). As I show in my analysis, Kūkai's epitaph employs many of the tropes that we observe both in the eighth-century tale of Muchimaro and the Kehi deity and in the later ninth-century accounts of the founding of jingūji discussed by Kochinski and Tsuji. And, pertinent for our discussion, we do, indeed, observe the trope that the kami are suffering and in need of Buddhist salvation.   

You express skepticism that the ninth-century accounts represent eighth-century practices. My assessment of Kūkai's epitaph, however, is that, some significant embellishments notwithstanding, it is a reliable account of Shōdō's activities on Mt. Fudaraku in the second half of the eighth century. Kūkai composed it before Shōdō's death in 817 and based his account on notes he received from people close to him. For this reason, I think it is safe to say that the account lends compelling support for the view that the eighth century marks the beginning of a process of Buddhist colonization of Shinto shrines. You note Tsuji's support for this view, but it has also received significant support in English-language scholarship: see, for example, Rambelli and Teeuwen's discussion in their introduction to their 2003 volume Buddhas and Kami in Japan (pp. 9–13) and Alan Grapard's chapter "Religious Practices" (pp. 523–25) in the 1993 Cambridge History of Japan.  

Regarding Kochinski's critique of Buddhist-centrism in the study of jingūji, I don't understand why observing a pattern of Buddhist "colonization and domination" per se is Buddhist-centric. It would perhaps be if it were incorrect, but, in my view, what we find in accounts of the founding of jingūji, is Buddhist monastics -- particularly mountain ascetics -- taking an active, even dominant, role.  

Ethan
-------------------------------------------------------------
Ethan Bushelle, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
East Asian Religions and Culture
Department of Global Humanities and Religion
Western Washington University 

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Ross Bender

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May 21, 2022, 7:32:50 PMMay 21
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Dear Ethan,

Thanks very much for taking the time to respond.

To be clear, I am not claiming that the phenomenon of jingŭji did not have roots in the 8th century. I am arguing that the speed and extent of that phenomenon over the 8th and 9th centuries is exaggerated in Buddhist literature. If one reads only the Buddhist miracle stories and engi, one gets a very different picture from that in the extensive official chronicles, the Rikkokushi, for the 8th and 9th centuries.

One example: I recently read through the Montoku Tennō Jitsuroku in the complete English translation by Osamu Shimizu (Columbia University dissertation, 1951.) In the over one hundred references to Shinto shrines, the main story is the court's growing institutional control over networks of shrines throughout the country. Much of this is the assignation of, and promotion in, court rank to shrines and deities, from Sixth all the way up to First. This is what is referred to in the secondary literature as jinkai hōju 神階奉授Another facet of this is the designation of certain shrines as "official" -- kansha  官社 -  and the beginning of the myōjin 名神,  which Shimizu translates as "Registered Deities." There is some evidence of the grants of sustenance households and tax rice fields for the maintenance of shrines, although not as much as one would wish.

As to prayers to the kami, there are the usual prayers to start and stop rain, but also for protection against a variety of disasters, and even healing. In my recent book Senmyō : Old Japanese Imperial Edicts in the National Histories, 697-887, I provide translations of many of these. (My draft article "Shinto in Ninth-Century Imperial Edicts" provides a brief introduction.)

There are precisely five references to Buddhist activities at Shinto shrines, from 855 through 858: (I am quoting Shimizu's translation) Three of these refer to jingŭji. There are

《卷七齊衡二年(八五五)五月辛亥【戊申朔四】》○五月辛亥。詔。能登國氣多大神宮寺。置常住僧。聽度三人。永々不絶。


Saikō 2.5.4 The Buddhist temple within the Great Shrine Keta of Noto Province was commanded by the Emperor to install resident Buddhist monks, allowing them to initiate three monks every year. This practice was not abandoned for a long time.


詔。越前國氣比大神宮寺。御子神宮寺。置常住僧。聽度五人。心願住者亦五人。凡一十僧。永々不絶。


Saikō 2.5.5 The Buddhist temples within the Great Shrine Kehi and the Shrine Miko of Echizen were commanded by the Emperor to install resident Buddhist monks, allowing the to initiate five monks every year; also five volunteer residents, making a total of ten monks in both. This practice was not abandoned for a long time.


《卷十天安二年(八五八)四月戊戌【七】》○戊戌。充越前國氣比神宮寺稻一萬束。爲造佛像之料。


Ten’an 2.4.7 Ten thousand bundles of rice were allocated to the Buddhist temple within the Shrine of Kehi of Echizen, for expenses in building a Buddhist image.


There are two references to the reading of the Diamond Sutra at major Shinto shrines. Shimizu comments that these are during the last illness of Emperor Montoku and may be seen as prayers for healing.


《卷八齊衡三年(八五六)九月壬戌【廿二】》○壬戌。請僧於賀茂。松尾大神社。讀金剛般若經。限三日訖。


Saikō3.9.22 Monks were respectfully invited to the Great Shrines of Kamo and Matsunoo to read the Kongōhannyakyō. Limited to three days, it was completed. 


《卷九天安元年(八五七)五月己亥【三】》○己亥。請僧百五十人於賀茂上下松尾大神社。令轉讀金剛般若經。限以三ケ日。


Ten’an 1.5.3 One hundred and fifty monks were respectfully invited to the great shrines of Kamo – both Upper and Lower – and Matsunoo to recite the Kongōhannyakyō   for a period limited to three days.


To me the evidence for the years 850-858  demonstrates that the Buddhist process of assimilation was still quite underdeveloped in the mid-ninth century.


In your article, on page 47, you suggest that sectarian Buddhism was "privileged in the sphere of healing, whereas kami worship prevailed in land protection." I think this is a good insight, even if somewhat oversimplified. 


Ross Bender

https://www.academia.edu/60947979/Senmyo_Old_Japanese_Imperial_Edicts_in_the_National_Histories_697_887

https://www.academia.edu/53291906/Shinto_in_Ninth_Century_Imperial_Edicts


Ethan Bushelle

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May 22, 2022, 1:59:59 PMMay 22
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Dear Ross,

Thank you for sharing these references to Buddhist activities at shrines. It supports your point well, which I take to be twofold: 1) the speed and extent of the jingūji phenomenon is exaggerated in the sources 2) the role played by Buddhist mountain ascetics is exaggerated. (The second, I infer both from your discussion of Kochinski's article in your initial post and from the cited references themselves). 

On the issue of the assignation of, and promotion in, court rank to shrines and their deities, Hongō Masatsugu has a provocative discussion in his Ritsuryō kokka no kenkyū in the chapter "Tenpyō no shinbutsu kankei to ōken." In short, he argues that this policy was developed by the court as part of its efforts to justify the tennō's dual status as Buddhist patron and manifest kami. It seems, in a general way, to support your view that there were important actors other that Buddhist ascetics who contributed to the rise of jingūji.  

I wonder, though, whether Hongō's take is somewhat idiosyncratic -- I'm not sure it has received much traction since it first appeared in print in the late 80s. I am convinced by his argument that the court played a key role in the promotion of jingūji -- but I can't shake the perception, based on my reading of the sources, that even as the court actively promoted and supported jingūji, they did so in response to the activities of Buddhists "on the ground," as it were. 

Ethan
-------------------------------------------------------------
Ethan Bushelle, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
East Asian Religions and Culture
Department of Global Humanities and Religion
Western Washington University 

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