In reevaluating popular Buddhism in premodern Japan, discussion of mountain religion is indispensable. Within mountain religion, there are many important issues for the study of Japanese religions that have been highlighted in past scholarship. However, some scholars have tended to evaluate the top or peak of mountains in particular as holy places or argued for mountain religion as a symbol of a substratum of indigenous faith, unchanging from ancient times. As such, I will focus on the historical development of how mountain religion transformed in relations to humans. I will also examine mountain temples and ascetics in the world at the bottom of mountains, which extend to the boundaries of habitation. I will further discuss the relationship between the state, society, and mountain religion. First, I will explain my perspectives to mountain religion by introducing my latest book, Japanese and Mountain Religion (Kōdansha, 2020). From there, I will develop two issues. In the eighth century, the ancient state paid attention to the activities of mountain ascetics and tried to absorb their thaumaturgical power into the state system. After the collapse of Empress Shōtoku’s and monk Dōkyō’s reign in 770, the new dynasty of Emperor Kōnin permitted activities in mountains and appointed superior ascetics to the “Ten Masters of Practice” (jūzenji) system as part of a range of reforms. This system had been developed with the title of “Inner Court Server” (naigubu) which was first bestowed on Saichō (767-822) according to the Tang system for the protection of the emperor. However the “bureaucratization of monks” and the activities of mountain ascetics came to contradict each other and the title naigubu-jūzenji lost its substance eventually.With the establishment of medieval kingship from the court-centered polity (ōchō kokka), retired emperors and regent family members tried to forge direct ties with ascetics staying in mountains using informal methods. One of these was pilgrimage to mountain temples by retired emperors in the Insei period (1086–1221). Retired Emperor Shirakawa and successive retired emperors made pilgrimage to Mt. Kumano many times, establishing relationships with mountain ascetics, and enhancing the position of mountain temples. The custom of mountain pilgrimage spread widely all over Japan through connections between ascetic “leaders” and lay “followers.” I will introduce a work called Kumanogokōki by a court noble of the middle class, Fujiwara no Teika(1162-1241), who attended the pilgrimage to Mt. Kumano by Retired Emperor Gotoba in 1201. Finally I will conclude by summarizing the entire development of mountain religion into the modern period.
Apr 15, 2021, 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm