Accepted paper:

Relics and Regalia: Kōshū's (1276 -1350) Vision of Imperial Authority


Léo Messerschmid (Asien-Afrika-Instutu (Universität Hamburg))

Paper short abstract:

The paper aims at clarifying some of the hermeneutical strategies that the Tendai Monk Kōshū employs in his work Keiranshūyōshū to conflate the meanings of the imperial regalia and key Buddhist concepts in order to locate imperial authority into a larger ritualistic and cosmological framework.

Paper long abstract:

The proposed paper aims at contributing to a general discussion of the problems pertaining to the relationship between the Buddhist clergy and the court in medieval Japan. Specifically, it addresses ideas concerning the origin and nature of imperial authority that have been disseminated from one of the most significant Buddhist monastic institutions throughout the Japanese history: the Hieizan. A closer look at the hermeneutical strategies employed by the Tendai monk and erudite Kōshū (1276-1350) to conflate the meanings of the imperial regalia and key Buddhist concepts helps to understand how the Tendai clergy sought to situate imperial authority within a larger cosmological and ritual framework that would both legitimate the court and secure the significant role of their religious institution at a time, in which such assertions were increasingly difficult to sustain. This reassertion of the apparently insoluble ties between the royal law (ōbō) and the Buddhist law (buppō) is one of the main purposes of Kōshū's magnum opus: the Keiranshūyōshū (traditionally assumed to be written in the years between 1311 and 1348), a highly fragmentary and disparate text that has - with few exceptions - not yet been adequately studied even by Japanese scholars. An examination of the interpretative strategies that Kōshū exerts to this end, does not only shed light on the way the so called chroniclers (kike) of the Hieizan understood imperial authority, but also offers insights as to what degree their understanding was grounded in ideas that have been labelled as a "syncretism" of Buddhist and Shintō elements, such as the notion of origin and trace (honji suijaku). Finally, the paper outlined above may also contribute to the question of methodological difficulties that occur when the seemingly clearly divided fields of religion and politics are merged in a distinctly premodern setting. How fruitful are attempts to apply a modern understanding back onto texts that clearly defy such categorizations?

panel S8a_10
Religion and Religious Thought: individual papers II