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  • Creating BodhisattvasEison, Hinin, and the "Living Mañjuśrī"
  • David Quinter (bio)

One of the most significant Buddhist movements in the Kamakura period was the Saidaiji order of Ritsu monks and nuns founded by Eison (or Eizon; 1201-1290), which later became known as the Shingon Ritsu school.1 Eison's movement has traditionally been treated as part of Kamakura "Old Buddhism" because it was based at Saidaiji, an ancient, established temple in Nara. Also, both Shingon and Ritsu were indeed older schools, with Shingon dating to the early ninth century and Ritsu to the eighth. By the time Eison moved into Saidaiji, however, the temple had greatly deteriorated, and the monastic order he formed there was new—institutionally, by lineage, and in terms of its teachings and practices. Eison's synthesis of Shingon esotericism with propagation of the precepts and charitable relief activities was innovative, and his movement rose to prominence.2

Eison and his disciples were able to carve a niche in Kamakura-period society by performing esoteric rituals for both the court and the warrior government while also undertaking social welfare and construction projects. Their social welfare and construction activities included providing charitable relief to lepers, beggars, and other hinin (outcasts);3 maintaining funerary grounds for commoners; and building [End Page 437] or restoring temples, roads, bridges, ports, shelters, and medical facilities. Meanwhile, Eison's widespread conferral of precepts on monks and nuns, warrior and courtier leaders, and commoners and hinin alike helped him to cement bonds with varied social classes as well as to distinguish himself from other esoteric practitioners.

Although these wide-ranging activities were tied to the cults of a variety of deities and saints, the Mañjuśrī cult is the one most strongly associated with Eison's charitable relief for hinin. In recent years, revisionist scholars of Kamakura-period Buddhism, especially those following Kuroda Toshio's model of the medieval "exoteric-esoteric system" (kenmitsu taisei ),4 have emphasized the discriminatory aspects of Eison's involvement with hinin and the Mañjuśrī cult. Highlighting Eison's role as an authority figure, these scholars have shown that the cult entailed more than charitable relief. Such studies have certainly yielded valuable insights into Eison's movement and his Mañjuśrī faith. They have argued, for instance, that by attributing the present suffering of lepers and other hinin to past karmic transgressions, Eison in fact helped reify the outcasts' lowly status.5 At the same time, they have tended to perpetuate a privileging of the soteriologies of the so-called "Kamakura New Buddhism" of the Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren schools, which are considered to be more socially inclusive than the older schools. Selective analysis of brief passages from Eison's writings on Mañjuśrī has exacerbated this tendency.

To redress this tendency and provide a more balanced appraisal of Eison's salvational strategies, in this article I examine his Mañjuśrī faith as reflected in two devotional texts (ganmon) he authored in 1267 and 1269 for the enshrinement of a Mañjuśrī statue at the Nara temple Hannyaji . Translations of the two texts, Hannyaji Monju engi (1267) and Hannyaji Monju bosatsu zō zōryūganmon (hereafter Hannyaji Monju ganmon, 1269), follow this introductory analysis.6 I argue that Eison's approach to Mañjuśrī was consistent with his overall soteriology and that, read in full, the two texts suggest a continuity in his religious perspective on different social classes. Eison may have seen the Mañjuśrī cult as particularly appropriate for hinin, but these texts and the circumstances underlying their composition indicate that he promoted the cult as a universal path to enlightenment, or salvation. For monastics, lay elites, and hinin alike, effecting salvation depended on fulfilling a similar set of conditions: forging karmic bonds with the bodhisattva through chanting his name, paying reverence to his image, or otherwise participating in the cult; recognizing the law of karmic deeds and consequences, one's own transgressions, and the need for repentance; generating [End Page 438] the aspiration to seek enlightenment, or the bodhi-mind;7 and engaging in Buddhist practice to advance toward enlightenment.

In the context of...


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