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Miracles of Book and Body

Miracles of Book and Body: Buddhist Textual Culture and Medieval Japan

Charlotte Eubanks
Series: Buddhisms
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Miracles of Book and Body
    Book Description:

    Miracles of Book and Bodyis the first book to explore the intersection of two key genres of sacred literature in medieval Japan: sutras, or sacred Buddhist texts, andsetsuwa, or "explanatory tales," used in sermons and collected in written compilations. For most of East Asia, Buddhist sutras were written in classical Chinese and inaccessible to many devotees. How, then, did such devotees access these texts? Charlotte D. Eubanks argues that the medieval genre of "explanatory tales" illuminates the link between human body (devotee) and sacred text (sutra). Her highly original approach to understanding Buddhist textuality focuses on the sensual aspects of religious experience and also looks beyond Japan to explore pre-modern book history, practices of preaching, miracles of reading, and the Mah?y?na Buddhist "cult of the book."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94789-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
    (pp. XV-XVI)
    (pp. XVII-XVIII)
  8. Introduction The Cult of the Book and the Culture of Text
    (pp. 1-18)

    Sometime in the late 1190s the Japanese Buddhist monk Myōe (1173–1232) decided that a shaved head was not a reliable enough symbol of a person’s devotion or true intentions. Thus, as a sign of his sincerity, he picked up a dagger and sawed off his right ear, spattering blood over the various ritual implements arrayed before him. According to his disciple Kikai, Myōe’s logic in choosing to cut off his ear was as follows: “If he plucked out an eye, he would grieve over not being able to see the scriptures. If he cut off his nose, snot would...

  9. ONE The Ontology of Sutras
    (pp. 19-61)

    The final chapter of theLotus Sutraopens on a very curious scene. The bodhisattva Fugen (Sk: Samantabhadra), long abiding in the eastern quarter of the cosmos, has heard that a buddha is preaching theLotus Sutraon Earth. He arrives, with a multitude of beings trailing him, at the foot of the historical Buddha. After circumambulating the Buddha seven times, he announces, “I have come to listen receptively. I beg of the World Honored One to preach [theLotus Sutra] to us!”¹ He immediately follows this request with a question: “After the extinction of the Thus Come One, how...

  10. TWO Locating Setsuwa in Performance
    (pp. 62-96)

    On the twenty-sixth day of the Sixth Month of 1110, the otherwise unknown priest Kyōshakubō delivered a sermon before an audience of high-ranking aristocrats in the imperial capital of Heian. His sermon was part of a multiday event organized in accordance with a vow made by one of the imperial princesses. Seated before the assembly, he opened his address with the following words: “The heart of the Dhāranī [chapter of theLotus Sutra], on which I will lecture today, is that this chapter tells how the bodhisattva Medicine King, the bodhisattva Brave Donor, the four deva kings, and various other...

  11. THREE Decomposing Bodies, Composing Texts
    (pp. 97-132)

    Let us return now to the story of Myōe (1173–1232), the Japanese monk who chose to cut off his ear as a sign of his deep devotion and with whose example I began this book. As I suggested in the introduction, Myōe’s act, although a singular one, could not have been wholly unexpected in medieval Japan, simply because his bodily self-sacrifice responds to and is contextualized by Buddhist metaphors, tropes, and figures that were pervasive in scripture and in the visual, literary, and musical arts of his time. Myōe’s act performs, in essence, an excruciatingly literal reading of the...

  12. FOUR Textual Transubstantiation and the Place of Memory
    (pp. 133-172)

    Narratives of bodily decomposition and sacrifice are not the only kind of performative writing in the Buddhist tradition. Their focus on disappearance and disintegration into textual fragment is balanced against other religious writings and art forms that feature the performative reintegration of textual fragment into body. In chapter 1 I have already discussed the literary mechanisms through which sutras take on the characteristics of a symbiotic life form, and in chapter 2 I explored the performance venue of setsuwa collections, which are often figured as food or medicine, that is, as substances to be ingested by the human body and...

  13. Conclusion On Circumambulatory Reading
    (pp. 173-196)

    I began this book with the figure of Myōe (1173–1232), the monk who cut off his own ear, believing wholeheartedly in the material connection between the sacred words he read from the sutras’ pages and the physical matter of his own body. To mark one was to mark the other. And I ended the last chapter with the complementary image of the sutra-reading noblewoman (painted in 1164), whose figure provides a metacommentary on the ways in which medieval Japanese Buddhists conceived of the text-flesh continuum. The reading voice allows reality to pulse between the word (buddha) and the thing...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 197-228)
    (pp. 229-236)
    (pp. 237-256)
  17. Index
    (pp. 257-269)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)