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In Session: Summoning Rain into the Human World: The Many Rainmaking Traditions Across East Asia
1: The Dragon and the Emperor: Rainmaking and Divine Kingship in Medieval Japanese Esoteric Buddhism
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Waseda University, Japan
The Shingon school of esoteric Buddhism in medieval Japan constitutes a complex and variegated system of cults and practices, but one cult that had an impact far greater than any other on the historical development of this sect is the belief in the jewel of the dragon. Shingon monks adopted this belief to ensure success in rainmaking rituals and eventually raised its status to one of the highest secrets of the school. What is more, its religious features were elaborated in ways unseen in continental Buddhism and these features, extending beyond the simple domain of rainmaking, further influenced the development of various other religious beliefs and doctrines. One of these beliefs, on which the paper wishes to shed more light, concerns the divine nature of imperial sovereignty. Shingon monks, as is well known, were deeply involved in rites for the protection of the emperor and in enthronement ceremonies, and in this process established various esoteric views on the sacredness of the imperial monarch. As will be demonstrated in this paper, these views have a strong connection with the dragon-jewel beliefs of the rain ritual. Hence, this paper will first provide an analysis of the structure and contents of the jewel cult of Shingon rainmaking and then proceed with an explanation of how this cult impacted on the formation of the school’s unique visions of divine kingship.