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  • Localizing StrategiesEison and the Shōtoku Taishi Cult
  • David Quinter

In thirteenth-century Japan, the charismatic monk Eison 叡尊 (or Eizon; 1201–1290) founded an influential monastic order from his base at the Nara temple Saidaiji 西大寺. The Saidaiji order later became known as the Shingon Ritsu 真言律 school due to its twofold specialization in Shingon esoteric rituals and the teachings and practices of the Buddhist disciplinary code (Jp. ritsu; Sk. vinaya). Under Eison, the order strove to establish a firmer ethical, ritual, and material foundation for Buddhism in the turbulent Kamakura period. To do so, Saidaiji-order monks and nuns widely promoted the precepts and charitable activities; performed state-protecting and other esoteric rites; and constructed temples, icons, and such public facilities as ports, hospices, and collective gravesites. Centering first on Saidaiji and other Nara-area temples, the order gradually expanded from Yamato province and formed a network of temples from Kantō to Kyushu. Essential to the order’s expansion was its vigorous engagement in deity and saint cults.

This study analyzes Eison’s involvement in one of the most popular cults in Japanese history, that of the reputed father of Japanese Buddhism, Shōtoku Taishi 聖徳太子 (Prince of Sagely Virtue; ca. 574–622). Eison’s involvement in the Shōtoku cult provides a rich case study of the close interrelationships among real and imagined places, cultic practices, and ritual and visual culture in medieval Japan. I am most concerned here with Eison’s participation in the Shōtoku cult amid his travels to temples beyond Saidaiji; with his composition of the liturgical text Shōtoku Taishi kōshiki [End Page 153] 聖徳太子講式 (Prince Shōtoku Ceremonial) in 1254 (a complete, annotated translation of which is appended to this study); and with his disciples’ construction of four extant sculptures of the “filial Shōtoku” in four different regions from 1268 to 1303.1 To help situate these activities, I first examine the early medieval context for Eison’s activities related to the cult, including trans-sectarian examples of the Shōtoku cult in the thirteenth century, and then look briefly at the ritual context for both icon construction and kōshiki 講式 performances.2 Next, I trace the evolution of Eison’s involvement with the cult and temples linked to it and analyze Eison’s Shōtoku Taishi kōshiki, his most substantial writing on Shōtoku. Last, I investigate the four sculptures of the filial Shōtoku as well as the rosters and other texts placed within them, which testify to the expanding geographic and social influence of both Eison’s movement and the Shōtoku cult during the late thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries. Throughout the article, I aim to show how Eison adapted the cult to widely promote his characteristic concerns. In doing so, I hope to provide a concrete case study that will help illuminate the landscape of the cult and of Buddhism more broadly in the Kamakura period.3

The Shōtoku cult was instrumental in the imagining of Japan, both politically and culturally. It had long been tied to specific places in the land and to narratives of the formation of Japanese Buddhist and political power, yet it proved readily adaptable to diverse practitioners’ own concerns in the period. Thus Eison’s and other thirteenth-century practitioners’ devotion to Shōtoku, which highlights the Prince’s broad appeal as a deified native figure, reveals the “localizing” power of the cult both geographically and conceptually.

I also contend, however, that we can simultaneously identify a discourse of delocalization in Eison’s involvement in the early medieval Shōtoku cult; while celebrating Shōtoku’s distinctive salvific power for the people of the land and time, Eison’s activities show that the cult also calls attention to a “center” or centers elsewhere. In this sense, the discourse is embedded in narrative, visual, and ritual expressions that also draw attention away from the local. I have dubbed this aspect of discourse [End Page 154] “delocalizing”—rather than, say, centralizing, internationalizing, or universalizing— for a few reasons. First, the centers in question are multiple: they are in some cases foreign relative to Japan and in other cases domestic (any of various “capitals...


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pp. 153-198
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