To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
In Session: Excavating New Insights on Early Northeast Asia: How Archaeological Research is Revolutionizing the Study of Early Japan and Korea
3: Grounding Prosperity: Excavated Objects, Preaching Manuscripts, and Poverty in Ancient Japanese Provincial Buddhism
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Princeton University, United States
This presentation combines archaeological and manuscript evidence to examine the rapid diffusion of Buddhism in ancient Japan (seventh through ninth centuries). A bias toward published texts haunts the study of religion in this period, resulting in a disproportionate focus on capital elites. In contrast, excavations have shown that Buddhism penetrated most provincial villages by the start of the Heian period (794–1185), centuries earlier than previously thought. What teachings and practices appealed to villagers to enable this sudden transformation? To answer this, I will focus on a Buddhist prosperity gospel from early Japan, one that promised that the impoverished could become wealthy through pious practice.
My paper will introduce two sets of objects: wooden slips from a highway station that record small-scale donations and a series of thirty-nine bowls from a provincial village temple with short inscribed prayers for wealth. I will then consider manuscript evidence from a set of early ninth-century homiletic notes from a peripatetic preacher active in the provinces. I will use this text, known as Tōdaji fujumon kō, to interpret the excavated materials. Doctrines in this manuscript of how pious conduct can turn rags to riches may have attracted villagers who offered the preacher whatever they could in hope of a better future.
In sum, I reassess the historiography of early Japanese Buddhism by explaining how the religion spread at such an early date and propose methods for combining archaeological and manuscript evidence to understand how villagers put teachings into practice on the ground.