The Halo of Golden Light

The Halo of Golden Light: Imperial Authority and Buddhist Ritual in Heian Japan

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Halo of Golden Light
    Book Description:

    In this pioneering study of the shifting status of the emperor within court society and the relationship between the state and the Buddhist community during the Heian period (794-1185), Asuka Sango details the complex ways in which the emperor and other elite ruling groups employed Buddhist ritual to legitimate their authority. Although considered a descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, the emperor used Buddhist idiom, particularly the ideal king as depicted in theGolden Light Sūtra, to express his right to rule. Sango's book is the first to focus on the ideals presented in the sūtra to demonstrate how the ritual enactment of imperial authority was essential to justifying political power. These ideals became the basis of a number of court-sponsored rituals, the most important of which was the emperor's Misai-e Assembly.

    Sango deftly traces the changes in the assembly's format and status throughout the era and the significant shifts in the Japanese polity that mirrored them. In illuminating the details of these changes, she challenges dominant scholarly models that presume the gradual decline of the political and liturgical influence of the emperor over the course of the era. She also compels a reconsideration of Buddhism during the Heian as "state Buddhism" by showing that monks intervened in creating the state's policy toward the religion to their own advantage. Her analysis further challenges the common view that Buddhism of the time was characterized by the growth of private esoteric rites at the expense of exoteric doctrinal learning.

    The Halo of Golden Lightdraws on a wide range of primary sources-from official annals and diaries written by courtiers and monks to ecclesiastical records and Buddhist texts-many of them translated or analyzed for the first time in English. In so doing, the work brings to the surface surprising facets in the negotiations between religious ideas and practices and the Buddhist community and the state.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5400-3
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    In 1990 the accession of Emperor Akihito (1933–) to the Japanese imperial throne was celebrated in an elaborate enthronement ceremony. Interviewed by a reporter from theAsahi shinbunnewspaper about his impressions of the event, U.S. historian John Dower said that he had found in this ceremony a “beautiful contradiction,” that is, a curious ambivalence between the message of peace and democracy as verbally expressed in the emperor’s speech and the traditional image of sovereignty as visually represented by various liturgical paraphernalia, such as the emperor’s ancient-style dress and throne.¹ This “beautiful contradiction” between the modern and democratic and...

  5. ONE The Emperor and the Golden Light Sūtra
    (pp. 1-23)

    So said the king of Kudara (Paekche), one of the states in the Three Kingdoms period of early Korean history (300–668), praising “the merit of propagating and worshiping the teaching of Buddhism.”² According to Japan’s oldest extant annals, known as theChronicles of Japan(Nihon shoki;hereafter theChronicles), in the sixth century the kingdom of Kudara dispatched messengers to Japan offering Buddhist scriptures and implements as tribute. This is the famous episode of Buddhism’s official introduction to Japan. Along with novel philosophical and religious ideas and practices, its arrival also brought to Japan superior technology and cultural...

  6. TWO Buddhist Debate and the Religious Policy of the Heian State
    (pp. 24-42)

    The blazing debate described in this epigraph is repeated perpetually in hell. In the story a scholar monk (gakushō) from the old capital of Nara makes a journey to observe the “debate hell” (jōron jigoku), into which his deceased teacher has fallen.² The debate hell, as described by the monk Mujū in a thirteenth-century collection of tales, follows standard accounts of hell in the premodern Japanese imagination, including tropes such as the torment of drinking molten iron, demons serving as prosecutors, and the perpetual repetition of torture for many lifetimes. Deploring his fate, the deceased teacher explains why he is...

    (pp. 43-59)

    The establishment of the clerical training program as a way to standardize and regulate monastic promotion in the early Heian period, as described in the last chapter, had an important sequel. How did monks react to the program? How effectively did it help the state in trying to control Buddhism? How did it change over time? This chapter examines these questions by taking a detailed look at two cases of vigorous competition between the monks of two different schools in seeking promotion through the program, along with the fallout and consequences for the program itself.

    Although my focus on debate...

  8. FOUR Buddhist Rituals and the Reconstitution of the Ritsuryō Polity
    (pp. 60-74)

    Chapter 1 demonstrates that emperors in the Nara and early Heian periods established the Misai-e Assembly as a central symbolic enactment of an ideology centered on the emperor. Chapters 2 and 3 describe how the emperors and the Council of State attempted to use this assembly and other debate rituals to better control the monastic population (and did not entirely succeed). Together, the first three chapters discuss how the leaders of the Ritsuryō state in ancient Japan appropriated theGolden Light Sūtraand rituals pertaining to it for the purpose of building a strong, centralized state based on the emperor-centric...

    (pp. 75-98)

    One of the major arguments of this book is that it is thesuccessfulperformance of a religious ritual that is crucial for legitimizing authority by showing how a sponsor’s successful execution of a Buddhist ritual invested him with authority or how a monk’s successful performance in a Buddhist debate brought him a promotion in the ecclesiastic hierarchy. But what happens when a rite goes wrong? This chapter turns to this rather overlooked side of ritual—the case of unsuccessful performance. In particular, it focuses on a sponsor’s failure to gather the intended number and kinds of guests when his...

  10. SIX Ritual Imitation and the Retired Emperor: REINVENTING IMPERIAL RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY
    (pp. 99-116)

    In 1022 a Buddhist ritual was held to dedicate the newly built Main Hall at Hōjōji, the Fujiwara family temple. According to the eleventh-centuryTale of Flowering Fortunes(Eiga monogatari), at the beginning of the ritual performance, ecclesiastic participants entered the hall “riding palanquins, following [the ritual procedure of] the Misai-e Assembly” (Misai-e ni nazuraete).¹ A contemporary diarist, Fujiwara Sanesuke (957–1046), likewise noted that the manner in which the monks entered the ritual hall was “like the Misai-e Assembly” (Misai-e no gotoshi).² In fact, the resemblance between this Buddhist ritual and the Misai-e Assembly was intentional. According to Sanesuke,...

    (pp. 117-120)

    Declan Quigley has observed that “kingship is an institution that develops its full reality in a world where the political has not emerged as an autonomous sphere from the ritual.¹ Indeed, in Heian Japan, there was no political authority in the absence of liturgy. The poetics and politics of kingship were inseparable. Buddhist rituals both innovated and renovated the emperor’s traditional authority in conversation with the social and political changes in Heian court society. The emperor’s Misai-e Assembly was originally developed as the emblem of the Ritsuryō-based authority of the emperor, legitimized by his unparalleled position as the leader of...

  12. APPENDIX: Jun Misai-e Rites (909–1185)
    (pp. 121-124)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 125-172)
    (pp. 173-180)
    (pp. 181-204)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 205-216)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-219)