Accepted paper:

Ideological and methodological issues in the study of the "Tachikawa" heresy -- reassessing the legacy of Mizuhara Gyōei and Moriyama Shōshin


Gaetan Rappo (Harvard University)

Paper short abstract:

Pre-war discourses on the Tachikawa lineage in Japan had a lasting and often misunderstood legacy. This paper will focus on Mizuhara Gyōei and Moriyama Shōshin, showing how and why they wrote about this topic, and assessing their impact on our understanding of Tachikawa as a "Buddhist heresy."

Paper long abstract:

The Tachikawa lineage (Tachikawa-ryū) was a presumed group inside the Shingon School of Buddhism mainly known for its dark rituals, which employed extremely explicit sexual imagery. This view, which stems from medieval sources, has been, until recently, largely accepted by scholars. Drawing on recent studies have shed doubt on the historical validity of what had been considered one of the most famous "heresy" of Japanese Buddhism, this presentation will show that the very act of writing about the Tachikawa lineage as a Buddhist "heresy" means accepting a framework which is not completely neutral, and goes beyond importing a Western notion such as "heresy" in the study of Japanese religions. In fact, the contemporary image of the Tachikawa lineage was constructed through not only medieval sources, which had the own agenda, but also through monastic debates and scholarly studies dating from before the War. Concretely, this presentation will show how the historical image of sexual heresies in the Shingon School was built, and assess the impact of such constructions on contemporary scholarship. After a quick summary of how and why such discourses appeared in the Buddhist press of the Meiji and early Taishō period, I will center my discussion on two contrasting figures, Mizuhara Gyōei (1890-1965), a monk of the main center of the Shingon School, the Mount Kōya, and the main promoter of studies on Tachikawa in the Meiji and early Shōwa periods, and Moriyama Shōshin (1888-1967), another monk active during the same period, and the author of a seminal work on the most famous presumed member of this lineage, Monkan (1278-1357). I will especially assess how in both their cases, their studies of medieval materials were greatly influenced not only by conceptual issues, such as their conception of "heresy" as a defined movement, but also by contemporary matters, such as the problem of clerical celibacy and the place of women and sex in a newly defined monastic life for Mizuhara, and the relationship between the Shingon school and the emperor for Moriyama, which led them to very contrasted, and often misunderstood, conclusions.

panel S8a_20
Moulding the past in 20th-century Japan. The influence of narrative and academic discourses on the study of Japan's history of religions.