2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 164: Metamorphosing Bodies in Japanese Religion

Organizer: Caroline R. Hirasawa, Waseda University

Chair: Hank Glassman, Haverford College

Discussant: Fabio Rambelli, Sapporo University

This panel will explore examples of metamorphosis of the bodies of individuals, animals, and deities in the Japanese pre-modern and early modern religious imagination. Such changes were effected through inner necessity, compassionate intervention, and as a form of punishment. Some were willed and others were involuntary.

The interdisciplinary perspectives of the scholars contributing to this panel will shed light on how flexible and undetermined the body was that it could so easily be shaped or reshaped, both within the rokud˘ framework and transcending it. Lisa Grumbach considers how the sacrifice and consumption of animals in certain hunting rituals determined their transmutation into a higher existence, justifying and excusing the act of killing living beings through a vision of their betterment. Caroline Hirasawa studies images of humans turning into beasts at the moment of judgment before the Ten Kings, and the literary and scriptural handling of that subject. Haruko Wakabayashi looks at a passage in the Tengu z˘shi picture scroll where monks are transformed into tengu, evidence that they have fallen into an evil realm due to avarice or pride. The panel will begin with Chair Hank Glassman introducing the broad themes to be considered and will conclude with Discussant Fabio Rambelli contributing thoughts on metamorphosis based on Buddhist theories of subjectivity in the context of pre-modern Japanese combinatory religiosity (honji-suijaku) in his response.

The participants hope that the juxtaposition of these explorations will initiate a wider discussion on metamorphosis in Japanese religion, and that this will lead to a more nuanced sense of how the body was perceived as an instrument molded by various imperatives.

Sacrifice in Japanese Shrine Ritual: The Transformation and Liberation of Animals through Killing and Consumption

Lisa Grumbach, Stanford University

Sacrifice is generally not counted among the rituals of Japanese religions, but in recent years the use of meat in shrine ritual has attracted the attention of a number of scholars. Sacrificial meat offerings to the kami are obtained mainly through hunting, and a major element in these hunts is the use of Buddhist-derived rituals through which hunters seek to transform the bodily existence of the animals in order to effect their liberation from samsara. Such practices continue even today in some locales.

Meat for ikenie, "live offerings," is obtained mainly through ritual hunting. The presentation will explore a number of questions relating to sacrifice, hunting, and the physical transformation of animals. What is ikenie, and can it be understood as sacrifice? Is it useful and appropriate to apply the concept of sacrifice to Japanese hunting practices? What do materials such as engimono and hunting manuals of the medieval and early modern periods tell us about the sacred and practical aspects of sacrificial hunts? How are animals believed to be transformed physically and metaphysically in rituals aimed at liberating them from the Buddhist rokud˘? What benefits accrue to the community through the performance of these rituals?

The presentation will include slides showing sacrificial offerings as practiced today at Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, and at Shiiba-mura, Miyazaki Prefecture.

The Morally Determined Malleability of Bodies in the Rokud˘

Caroline R. Hirasawa, Waseda University

In Japan’s pre-modern and early modern periods, the physical transformation of souls cycling through the rokud˘ (six realms) was described in literature and depicted in images. These representations indicate the extent to which passions and actions were thought directly to shape the body; karmic necessity determined the physical vehicles of souls to be punished in hell or reincarnated. Usually an appropriate body was adopted sometime after death, but, as a result of especially intense feelings of attachment, metamorphosis could occur even during a person’s lifetime.

Referring to sutras, commentaries, and the biographies of eminent monks, Buddhist theologians contemplated how souls were transported between realms in the rokud˘, when new bodies were assumed after death, and exactly what "body" was tortured, destroyed, and repeatedly revived in hell. Not only the Buddhist elites, however, were concerned with the mechanics of physical and metaphysical restitution; among popularly imagined explanations of these transitions were the doctrine of the chű-u, or "intermediate existence," and belief in the transformative powers of the Ten Kings, the judges of the afterlife.

Both in this world and the next, remarkably plastic conceptualizations of a morally-determined body promoted the edifying (or terrifying) perception that one’s inner life would become physically manifest. This paper explores descriptions of bodies taking shape in the rokud˘, focusing particularly on illustrations of the moment of metamorphosis into a new form and realm.

Monks Transforming into Birds: Defining the Process of Metamorphosis in the Tengu z˘shi

Haruko Wakabayashi, University of Tokyo

Tengu, which appear in Heian period setsuwa literature as symbols of anti-Buddhist evil, acquired a new identity in the Kamakura period. Learned monks that became arrogant for their knowledge, monks obsessed with fame and profit, and those attached to their monasteries and hence constantly engaged in disputes with other temples, were all believed to fall into a realm separate from the six realms known as tengud˘ after, their death.

A number of works from the Kamakura period mention the fate of those monks that have fallen into the realm of tengu. Among those, the Tengu z˘shi, a set of seven scroll paintings dated 1296, is a rare source that provides us with a visual representation of tengu-turned monks of the prominent temples of Nara and Kyoto. This paper focuses particularly on two scenes in the Tengu z˘shi that represent stages of metamorphosis—from a human monk to a bird tengu. Illustrated in these scenes, which take place in Enyrakuji and a ruined temple, are human monks, monks with beaks, and the more bird-like tengu with beaks and wings.

These scenes prompt the author to address the following issues: (1) the physical place of tengud˘ within the discourse of the six realms, (2) the coexistence of different realms in the same world, as the transformation from one being to the other takes place, and finally, (3) the meaning behind the portrayal of such metamorphosis.