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In Session: Chanting Japanese Hymns as a Lay Buddhist Practice
1: Softened Praise: Form and Content in the Production and Reception of Shinran's Hymns
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Christopher T. Callahan
University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, United States
After completing his magnum opus the Kyōgyōshinshō, a doctrinal work in Classical Chinese, Shinran composed over five hundred hymns expressing the essence of the Pure Land teaching in Japanese hymns known as wasan. Through this popular imayo song format, which he explained as “softened praise” (やわれげほめ), Shinran was able to render the teachings of the Pure Land Scriptures and Patriarchs in a vernacular form that was both approachable to a broader audience and attractive to the ear. To not only be read but performed, Shinran’s wasan played an important role in shaping early Shin piety. While earlier scholarship has largely focused on the relation between Shinran’s other writings and his wasan with an eye to their doctrinal content, less attention has been given to their form and the variety of techniques that Shinran employed to make his hymns accessible and attractive to his followers. In addition to examining their form, this paper will take a close look at the earliest manuscripts of the wasan in order to uncover the various techniques that Shinran used to inform and instruct his audience. Some of these techniques include the use of furigana, left-hand explanatory notes of difficult terms, and marks for intonation, tempo and voicing. Lastly, I will examine the reception of his wasan by looking at copies, commentaries, and debates over the wasan in the early Shin community, demonstrating how the early Shin Buddhist community engaged with both the content and the form of his hymns.