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The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha

The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sohei in Japanese History

Copyright Date: 2007
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    The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha
    Book Description:

    Japan’s monastic warriors have fared poorly in comparison to the samurai, both in terms of historical reputation and representations in popular culture. Often maligned and criticized for their involvement in politics and other secular matters, they have been seen as figures separate from the larger military class. However, as Mikael Adolphson reveals in his comprehensive and authoritative examination of the social origins of the monastic forces, political conditions, and warfare practices of the Heian (794–1185) and Kamakura (1185–1333) eras, these "monk-warriors"(sôhei) were in reality inseparable from the warrior class. Their negative image, Adolphson argues, is a construct that grew out of artistic sources critical of the established temples from the fourteenth century on. In deconstructing the sôhei image and looking for clues as to the characteristics, role, and meaning of the monastic forces, The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha highlights the importance of historical circumstances; it also points to the fallacies of allowing later, especially modern, notions of religion to exert undue influence on interpretations of the past. It further suggests that, rather than constituting a separate category of violence, religious violence needs to be understood in its political, social, military, and ideological contexts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6508-5
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. ONE Discourses on Religious Violence and Armed Clerics
    (pp. 1-20)

    To most modern scholars and observers, violence involving religious centers and ideologies is deeply disturbing. Such sentiments only increased following the events of 9/11, when religious beliefs became inexorably associated with terror acts. In fact, one scholar concluded, in conjunction with a conference on religion and violence in 2004, that “the modern period [is] particularly prone to religious violence in part because religion is a powerful resource to mobilize individuals and groups to do violence (whether physical or ideological violence) against modern states and political ideologies.”¹ In contrast to the common assumption that religions played a more prominent role in...

  8. TWO The Contexts of Monastic Violence and Warfare
    (pp. 21-56)

    History has repeatedly shown that religious precepts and actual practices do not always correspond. One might even argue that religious beliefs have as often been used to condone violence as to condemn it. In that light, Buddhism in Japan seems no different from Christianity in Europe or South America or Islam in Minor Asia, neither do Japanese monastic warriors appear any different from European Crusaders or Spanish Moors. Although most Buddhist centers in premodern Japan did in fact maintain armed forces at one time or another, one must be careful not to impose on all denominations the views and practices...

  9. THREE The Fighting Servants of the Buddha
    (pp. 57-86)

    The development of Japan’s monastic forces has frequently been viewed as inversely related to a perceived decline in the socio-spiritual power of temples and, by extension, of Buddhism in general. There was and continues to be tacit agreement among scholars that religious institutions were not to engage in politics, much less warfare, hence their involvement in both has been promptly imputed to moral deterioration. But even if we were to accept the notion that monks and priests should not take up arms, a more precise definition of terms such as “armed monks” or “monastic warriors” is needed. What exactly makes...

  10. FOUR The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Noble Monks and Monk-Commanders
    (pp. 87-115)

    In his 1974 opus on the rise of the warrior class, Jeffrey P. Mass asserted that it was the noble commanders, whom he described as “bridging figures,” who played the most crucial role in linking the provincial warriors to the capital elites. In short, whereas warriors had been prominent members of local society for much of the Heian age, it was only through the leadership of nobles, who became commanders over groups of local warriors (sometimes referred to asbushidanby historians), that armed men were brought into the foreground of national politics.¹ Likewise violent elements had always been present...

  11. FIVE Constructed Traditions: Sōhei and Benkei
    (pp. 116-156)

    Despite the prominence of monk-warriors in popular culture and the ubiquity ofsōheiin Japanese academic works, no searches will yield any occurrences of this term in pre-1600 sources, literary or historical. It is no surprise therefore that none of the historical figures among the monastic forces match the “monk-warrior” image. Rather, as the preceding chapters have demonstrated, temple warriors were a diverse group, some of whom might share individual features with thesōheistereotype, but all of whom had more in common with the warrior class and their leaders than any other group in society. Some Japanese scholars noted...

  12. SIX Sōhei, Benkei, and Monastic Warriors—Historical Perspectives
    (pp. 157-162)

    Thesōhei, monastic warriors, and Benkei images can be described as three strands that, even though they came out of the same historical context, should be treated and understood separately. First and oldest are the monastic warriors, who emerged and developed as part of the social, political, and military milieu of the late Heian and Kamakura ages, not because of the deterioration of conditions within religious complexes, but as part and parcel of the increased tendency to settle disputes with the help of warriors. This “militarization” may be attributed to two separate trends that ultimately merged in the late Heian...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 163-186)
    (pp. 187-200)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 201-212)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-214)