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  • From Outcasts to Emperors: Shingon Ritsu and the Mañjuśrī Cult in Medieval Japan by David Quinter
  • Paul B. Watt
From Outcasts to Emperors: Shingon Ritsu and the Mañjuśrī Cult in Medieval Japan. By David Quinter. Leiden: Brill, 2015. 340pages. Hardcover €125.00/$162.00.

David Quinter’s From Outcasts to Emperors is a detailed and careful study of the Shingon Ritsu movement, in which Shingon esoteric Buddhism was combined with the practice of the ritsu, or precepts for monks and nuns. The movement was established by Eison (1201–1290) at the Nara temple Saidaiji, but early on was shaped by his disciple Ninshō (1217–1303). From the start, Shingon Ritsu devoted much of its energies to the rebuilding of temples that were destroyed in the Genpei War (1180–1185) and to the care of people on the margins of society, the so-called hinin, or “outcasts”—a group “including lepers, beggars, courtesans, prisoners, executioners, and attendants at funerary grounds” (p. 10). Quinter follows the complex development of this widely influential movement through the activities of two later leaders, Shinkū (1229–1316) and Monkan (1278–1357); the latter figure is often most remembered for what Quinter convincingly argues is an inaccurate portrayal of him as a leader in the “heretical” Shingon Tachikawa lineage. Quinter places his treatment of the Shingon Ritsu movement in the context of current academic interpretations of Kamakura Buddhism, noting especially the views of Kuroda Toshio, who emphasized the links between the exoteric/esoteric schools of the Nara and Heian periods and the ruling elites of the medieval period, and the views of Matsuo Kenji, who contrasted the New Buddhism of the Kamakura period with the older traditions. Quinter chooses to complicate these categories by offering a picture of a major movement with roots in the older tradition that had a significant impact in the Kamakura period, even while it sought to maintain (in the end, unsuccessfully) its distance from the ruling elites.

Eison’s conviction regarding the importance of the monastic precepts arose from his observation of the lax behavior of his contemporaries and from his knowledge of the centrality attached to the precepts both by Kūkai (774–835), the founder of Shingon, and by the exoteric tradition. The attention given by the Saidaiji order to caring for “outcasts” grew out of its reverence for the cult of Mañjuśrī, which by Eison’s day already had a long history in China and even in Japan. In China, Mañjuśrī was presented in the Mañjuśrī Parinirvāņa Sutra as a bodhisattva who “would manifest as a poor, solitary, or afflicted sentient being in order to elicit acts of compassion,” and the famous Mt. Wutai was considered his abode in this world (p. 58). In Japan, as early as the ninth century the government sponsored assemblies that “combined offering ceremonies to Mañjuśrī with charitable practices,” and by the time of Eison and Ninshō the activist monk Gyōki (668–749) had been regarded for centuries as a manifestation of the bodhisattva (p. 67). When Ninshō joined Eison, he brought with him his own devotion to Mañjuśrī and to compassionate acts for the downtrodden, [End Page 400] which he understood as a way of transmitting merit to his deceased mother. While Eison himself had been a devotee of Mañjuśrī, it was under Ninshō’s strong influence that the Saidaiji order came to emphasize care for “outcasts.”

The branch temple of Hannyaji, located north of the city of Nara near “the largest outcast community in Yamato Province in the medieval period,” became the center of the Saidaiji order’s activities (p. 89). In chapter 3, Quinter gives prominent attention to the reconstruction of Hannyaji; to the image of Mañjuśrī enshrined there, an image that Eison called the “living Mañjuśrī”; and to the holding of “non-discriminatory” assemblies. In the 1268 summons calling on fellow monks to hold such an assembly, Eison wrote, “You should know that compassion and Mañjuśrī are two different words for the same thing. To promote compassion, Mañjuśrī appears in the form...


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