This chapter centers on the late 1230s through the 1240s and examines the early activities of Eison and his most famous disciple, Ninshō. The two monks met in 1239, when Ninshō discussed with Eison his plans to compose seven Mañjuśrī images and enshrine them at seven outcast communities as a memorial to his deceased mother. The introduction of the Mañjuśrī cult and social welfare practices to the Saidaiji order’s activities is directly tied to this meeting. Yet despite the master-disciple relationship and close collaboration between the two monks from this time, contrasts in their monastic and cultic orientations deserve greater recognition. This chapter addresses the contrasts in their involvement in the Mañjuśrī cult, the closely connected cult of the itinerant saint Gyōki (668-749), and social welfare activities. I argue that while Ninshō’s social welfare activities show close emulation of Gyōki, Eison’s literary and ritual efforts point toward a simultaneous emulation of the deity (Mañjuśrī) and “erasure” of the saint believed to have incarnated that deity (Gyōki).
This chapter investigates the historical precedents for the Mañjuśrī assemblies led by Eison and his Saidaiji order disciples. I first examine the four precedents most commonly cited: the Mañjuśrī Parinirvāṇa Sutra, the Mañjuśrī cult on Mt. Wutai in China, Gyōki’s activities, and Japanese state-sponsored Mañjuśrī assemblies that began in the early ninth century. I then argue that it is also necessary to widen our perspective to include a consideration of both warrior government-sponsored Mañjuśrī assemblies in the early thirteenth century and the link between memorial rites for mothers and the Mañjuśrī cult in the Saidaiji order assemblies. In exploring the multifaceted precedents for the Saidaiji order assemblies, this chapter reveals how Eison and his disciples adopted and adapted earlier Mañjuśrī cultic traditions while staging the assemblies as performative opportunities to showcase their particular exoteric-esoteric expertise.
Focusing on the period from 1255 to 1269, this chapter investigates the “living Mañjuśrī” statue that served as the centerpiece for the restoration of the Nara temple Hannyaji and analyzes the two dedicatory texts for the statue written by Eison in 1267 and 1269. Hannyaji was located next to Yamato Province’s largest outcast community and was the temple most strongly linked to the Saidaiji order involvement with outcasts. Enshrinement ceremonies for the Mañjuśrī statue were held as broad assemblies, accompanied by devotional texts that promoted Mañjuśrī, Eison and his disciples’ exoteric-esoteric orientation, and their charitable relief activities for outcasts. I argue that Eison’s writings show a continuity in his teachings on Mañjuśrī and the bodhisattva path for diverse social groups that is neglected when the exceptional nature of his activities for outcasts is emphasized. I further suggest that Eison promoted the Mañjuśrī cult as a universal means for generating the aspiration for enlightenment, engaging in Buddhist practice, and attaining awakening. By examining the ritual, doctrinal, and narrative contexts of Eison’s writings on Mañjuśrī and outcasts in these texts, the chapter gives fuller life to Eison’s own “voice” and monastic milieu while clarifying his characteristic juxtaposition of egalitarian and hierarchical views.
This chapter explores fundraising for the restoration of the Nara temple Hannyaji and the Mañjuśrī main icon for the temple. I suggest that the Hannyaji restoration provides a rich case study of the integrated fundraising, temple restoration, and cultic activities that were typical of the Saidaiji order. Focusing on Eison’s writings and a 1287 text by his disciple Shinkū (1229–1316) dedicating attendant statues, I analyze the “rhetoric of reluctance” within which their views on fundraising and their often-invoked status as a muen (unattached) group were expressed. In short, the rhetoric and actual activities related to the rhetoric show a common pattern in which Eison repeatedly refused patronage from elites, before attaining compromise or a consensus within his group that enabled him to ultimately accept that patronage. I argue that the need for this rhetoric was exacerbated by a tension between their status as precepts-keeping “reclusive monks” and as esoteric masters gaining increasing patronage from political elites for their ritual expertise.
This chapter examines a text dated 1269/8/25 and attributed to Eison that purports to record a direct esoteric transmission from Mañjuśrī to Eison to Shinkū. This chapter shows, however, that the text’s provenance is more complex than previously acknowledged. I argue that to evaluate the text, we must consider both the influence from hagiographical accounts of the Shingon-Kegon monk Myōe (1173-1232) and an increasing esotericization of the Saidaiji order after Eison’s death in 1290. I further suggest that Eison’s reputed 1269 transmission served to legitimize the transition from Eison to Shinkū and successive Saidaiji elders as well as the very relationship between Shingon and Ritsu in the order. By analyzing these developments alongside the related synthesis of esoteric and exoteric precept traditions in fourteenth-century Myōe-lineage transmission texts, this chapter underscores how dream-visions legitimized varied exoteric-esoteric formulations of medieval Nara monastics, including those of later followers of Eison and Myōe.
This chapter centers on the period from 1290 to the 1350s. Building on recent iconographic and textual discoveries, it explores the participation of Monkan (1278–1357), a second-generation disciple of Eison, in the Mañjuśrī cult alongside his twofold biographical construction as an orthodox Shingon and Ritsu monk and as a heretical tantric practitioner. I argue that many continuities between the activities of Monkan and those of Eison and his leading first-generation disciples, including their shared emphasis on the Mañjuśrī cult, have been obscured by sensationalized portrayals of Monkan and the supposed aberrant sexual rituals of the “Tachikawa cult.” While showing how distortion itself becomes part of the historical record, this chapter highlights the blurred lines between Ritsu and Shingon, the heterodox and orthodox, and the public and private in Monkan’s activities and the biographical material we use to assess those activities.
This section features nine annotated translations of classical Chinese (kanbun) and classical Japanese sources significant to this study and to the Saidaiji order Mañjuśrī cult. The translations are intended to complement the historical narrative of the preceding main chapters, which are informed throughout by the texts. Encompassing a variety of genres, the majority of the texts have not been translated into modern languages by previous scholars. Even filtered through the lens of translation, the language and narrative flow of such primary texts gives fuller life to the voices of Nara Buddhist monastics and the broader exoteric-esoteric imaginaire informing those voices. The translations and annotations should thus enrich our understanding of the literature for the Saidaiji order and the Mañjuśrī cult.
This concluding chapter places the diverse evidence for the Shingon Ritsu Mañjuśrī cult throughout the Kamakura period in the context of competing theories on the relationship between the exoteric and the esoteric in the cult and in the Saidaiji order more broadly. The chapter then situates these issues, and the findings of the book as a whole, within changing understandings of medieval Japanese Buddhism and suggests areas for future research.
This chapter first establishes the historical context for the emergence of Eison’s Saidaiji order of monks and nuns (later known as the Shingon Ritsu school) and outlines their diverse contributions to Kamakura-period (1185-1333) religion and society. In particular, I investigate the Saidaiji order’s involvement in the Mañjuśrī cult and the twofold engagement with marginalized people and elites that is characteristic of those cultic activities. Next, I summarize the contents of the ensuing chapters and analyze the historiographical issues motivating this study. I argue that a lingering privileging of the traditionally understood “New Kamakura Buddhism” of the Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren schools—evident even in such revisionist models of medieval Japanese religion as Kuroda Toshio’s theory of the “exoteric-esoteric system” (kenmitsu taisei)—continues to hamper the study of Eison’s and other medieval Nara Buddhist movements. I then show how this study aims to redress these biases.