A PUBLICATION OF THE INSTITUTE
FOR MEDIEVAL JAPANESE STUDIES
Vol. 3, No.1 February 1992
The following is based on Japanese discussion
reports and abstracts of papers kindly sent to us by Prof. NISHIGUCHI Junko.
The 1991 Summer Seminar of the Research Group on Women and Buddhism in
(Kenkyukai: Nihon no Josei to Bukkyo)
The 1991 Summer Seminar of the
Research Group on Women and Buddhism in Japan (Kenkyukai: Nihon no
Josei to Bukkyo) was held in Kyoto on August 27 and 28 with fifty-one
researchers in attendance.
A review of the past eight years
since the establishment of the Research Group in 1984 led to lively discussion
as the group reconsidered its original hopes and uncertainties and evaluated
the results of their work to date and its impact on the scholarly world
I. DISCUSSION REPORT
In 1984, we felt that:
1. The strong impact, the almost
shock effect, received from the publication of the five-volume Nihon
josei shi (History of Japanese Women) under the editorship of Wakita
Haruko had encouraged many of us to believe that it was, after all, possible
to re-write history. It had also, however, demonstrated the need to criticize
the practice of recounting history according to male principles and definitions.
2. Women's History should not be
pursued merely as a supplement useful in filling in the edges or gaps in
standard political or economic history. Rather we felt strongly the need
to be able to write history from the standpoint of women's history itself.
3. We male researchers in the group
felt that there was a danger of linking Women's History research to one's
own personal problems of sexual discrimination such as experienced by all
women, but at the same time we were all nonetheless moving in-eluctably
closer and closer into the study of this very important and interesting
4. In the hope of re-writing the
history of Japanese Buddhism we had high hopes for our "Women and Buddhism"
project and launched it with Prof. OSUMI Kazuo's "Call-to-the-field"
article in the first issue of our Bulletin in 1984.
5. We knew at the time that the major
framework of the History of Buddhism was composed of a) biographical studies
of high ranking priests; b) institutional histories of temples, the organizations
of the priesthood and religious bodies; and c) theology and doctrines;
and that there would be the danger that "Women and Buddhism" would be relegated
to a supplementary "fill-in-the-gaps" position, or worse, that in pursuing
the field it would be assumed that all the fundamental problems in the
history of Buddhism had already been established and that the situation
of "women" would merely be "applied" to an already existing theoretical
Now in 1991 after eight years, what
has been realized? We have certainly succeeded in accumulating much corroborative
evidence for the new history we set out to write about Women and Buddhism.
But while we want freely to rejoice about this, on the other hand we must
point out several problems that emerged:
1. There has been a tendency for
our research data accumulation to be too much dependent upon research topics
that happen to attract the interest of individual scholars. Put in the
baldest of negative terms this means that as this field has become recognized
as rich with as yet "uncut grain" and as the numbers of scholars in the
field increase, the tendency has been for them to use the field to carve
out their own little corner and just harvest the grain so as to build up
their list of publications. We are not as a group yet plowing the field
deeply enough to make a funda-mental advancement in the nature of the field
or the harvest.
2. Unfortunately, even after eight
years "Women and Buddhism" is still viewed as merely supplementary to the
History of Thought, History of Religious Sects and the Institutional History
of Temples. In essence, the History of Buddhism is still viewed as nothing
but the History of Priests and their temple organizations.
3. By the same token Women's History
remains in a merely supple-mentary and inferior position vis à vis
Political and Economic History. That is to say, the discipline of History
is viewed solely as an examination of political institutions and issues
of power. This in itself is a political stance that denies the validity
of the historical study of the daily life of ordinary people.
4. Eight years later what has become
of our basic intent, as set forth in OSUMI Kazuo's "Call to the field,"
to study Women's History as a means to a critical analysis of the present
image of "History" itself (including Buddhist History)? Clearly, we have
retreated from this basic intent.
A Re-examination of the Issues
It is important to study Women and Buddhism
within the traditional framework of temple and religious body organization,
impact on society and nation, and leadership in evangelism among the populace.
In doing so we discover new and revelatory aspects. However, merely discovering
the women within the context of the History of Buddhism is not a study
of "Women and Buddhism."
What, then, is the study of "Women
and Buddhism"? We lack a formal definition. We are now at present faced
with the need to think about Buddhism through the woman's perspective.
At the same time we must think about Women's History from a Buddhist perspective.
In the way of theoretical problems
The following issues have come to the
1. Gender awareness in Buddhism.
If sex was viewed as bodily differentiation, was there also an awareness
of gender? How did awareness of sex differentiation and sexual discrimination
relate to salvation? When sex was raised as a problem why did sexual differentia-tion
become a condition governing satori or salvation (jobutsu).
2. When considering Women and Buddhism
in the context of cultural phenomena is it possible to think of "male Buddhism"
and "female Buddhism" as cultural phenomena? How would such sexually differen-tiated
cultural phenomena exist and function?
3. In the context of organization
and faith, what would be Buddhism as defined by women's religious organizations
and women's faith?
4. What are shukyosha
(persons engaged in the religious life) if they are female? Without having
to add the female prefix to what is normally viewed as a male word, can
we perceive what being a shukyosha means from the woman's
5. Historical theory in the area
of religious studies lags behind other areas of historical theory. As a
result Buddhist History occupies a lower place in the artificial academic
hier-archy of history writing. Further, in the utilization of primary sources
the methodology taken for granted is the use of government and institutional
documents. History is to evaluate and theorize about this kind of data
on the basis of male interests and principles. As a result the whole issue
of methodology and the use of sources is a fundamental one for us that
must be faced squarely.
Our focus to date for the gathering
of evidence and data
1. Women's life cycle events and ceremonies
and their relation to Buddhism: birth, maturation, parturition, child-rearing,
barrenness, the unmarried life, etc.
2. Buddhism in the context of Women
and the Family (ie) structure, marriage, property, ceremonies, widowhood
3. Nuns' view of priests
4. Priests' descriptions of women
5. Matrilinear organizational developments
6. We also struggle with how to evaluate
critically historical records written by men, and to find evidence of women
who leave no written records.
Recent articles in academic journals
in the fields of literature and Buddhism raise our anxieties over current
approaches that attempt merely to fit newly emerging evidence to already
established concepts. It would appear that scholars of Japanese literature
have been little affected by Women's History, and scholars in the discipline
of Buddhist literature seem only to have progressed to the point of discovering
that not only men but women too were subjects and writers of Buddhist literature.
Worse, scholars in these fields now seem to reveal a sense of self-satisfaction
at their having discovered such new data that includes women, which is
surely a negative effect and leaves us with little promise for the funda-mental
future development of these fields.
1. We must establish main themes that
need to be addressed (from a different stance than that of traditional
historians) and attract serious scholarly attention to these themes.
2. We must challenge the perimeters
of current established areas of research.
3. There is a fundamental need for
the development of theory in addition to and based on the newly emerging
evidence. We must overcome the current tendency toward evidence gathering
in the context of shallow, immature theory. It is essential that we advocate
"Women and Buddhism" as a field and deepen our attack on the problems heretofore
4. We continue to be plagued with
the questions of why Buddhism developed as a religion that discriminated
against women; and likewise why women nonetheless turned to Buddhism for
5. It is essential that we open up
theoretical dialogue irrespective of the historiography or sources before
II. SEMINAR PAPERS
Four papers were presented:
"Women and the Various Buddhisms in
Abstract: The early ninth century setsuwa
collection Nihon Ryoiki provides rich evidence for the state
of both provincial clan Buddhism and popular Buddhism (as opposed to state
Buddhism). In this work one finds a great number of women active on an
equal level with men, as preachers, icon makers, and women referred to
as "bodhisattvas" who may be considered as founders of Buddhist cults.
One finds little evidence of gender discrimination in this work. The one
story (Vol. III Story 19) where a male lecturer questions the fact that
a nun participated freely in a religious ceremony is indicative, I believe,
not of a lowering of the status of nuns in general at that time but rather
reveals a case of the opposition between a priest of state Buddhism and
a "bodhisattva" of popular Buddhism. I believe that the world of popular
Buddhism and the Buddhism of the provincial clans were domains of both
men and women. In contrast, state Buddhism was colored heavily from the
start by the male presence. The great National Temples were all for male
priests (though from the second half of the eighth century nunneries were
added to the system). The areas of teaching and scholarship were the domain
of male "scholar-priests" from the start. The idea of "court Buddhism"
as opposed to state Buddhism, put forth by HONGO Masatsugu, should perhaps
be thought of as being a female Buddhism which evolved to com-plete the
female gender deficient parts of state Buddhism. The national nunnery,
Hokkeji, for instance, should be studied from this perspective. For women,
the realm of state Buddhism and that of popular Buddhism were two separate
worlds. Only by examining fully each of these various Buddhisms can one
interpret the history of Buddhism.
by YOSHIDA Kazuhiko.
"The Names and Ranks of Nuns"
Abstract: As a means to compare the
social roles and the characteristics of the lives of priests and nuns I
would like to examine nuns' names and their ranks (both in lay and religious
life) and demonstrate that the difference in public recognition and labelling
of priests and nuns is related structurally to the way in which males and
females were recognized within both the government civil servant ritsuryo
system and in the state Buddhist ecclesiastical structure in ancient Japan.
In the Heian period records, men in certain court rank levels, after entering
the religious life were given a religious name, but in the case of women
of the same court rank levels, even the simplest descriptive word indicating
their new role (nyudo, one who has entered the Path)
was omitted, and only their secular given names were used. The reasons
given for this are that women, even after becoming nuns, for the purpose
of retaining their civil servant salaries/stipends, do not lose their secular
names in the official ranks list; in contrast, men lose their official
ranks. We are able to trace back to the eighth century many such examples
of nuns who have not lost their public designation by secular ranks. As
a basic principle, however, both men and women who had entered the religious
life were recognized to have taken Buddhist names and to have relinquished
secular ranks and salaries/stipends. If those who entered religious life
tried to retain their secular ranks, each person had to be treated as a
special case, with no differentiation between men and women. Although there
are several distinctions based on sex (such as the existence or not of
males or females in some secular ranks), still court ranks themselves had
no sexually discriminating vocabulary, and it was possible for both men
and women to share these ranks. Likewise, clerical ranks were at first
limited only to people who had left secular life and were in principle
shared by both men and women. In 760, however, ranks meant only for priests
were established; this no doubt necessitated the creation of a separate
system of ranks for nuns and this in turn accelerated the public shift
whereby nuns then came to be recognized by their Buddhist and not secular
names. With the scandal and downfall of the politically active priest Dokyo
(d. 772), however, priests were declared ineligible for secular ranks,
and payment of salaries or stipends depended more and more upon men's clerical
institutions and ranks. In contrast, as nunneries weakened and the number
of nuns who received religious ranks likewise diminished, the number under
secular rank became increasingly obvious. Behind these phenomena lies the
gender discrimination, on a structural level, of the ritsuryo
governmental system and the ecclesiastical system.
by KATSUURA Noriko.
"Women and the Concepts of shukke
Abstract: A great deal of Buddhist scholarship
has been amassed concerning shukke (renouncing family and secular
life and responsibilities and entering the religious life) and jukai
(receiving the Buddhist precepts; ordination). However, no matter how one
dissects the research of previous scholars seeking to gain some concrete
image of how priests became priests and what shukke and jukai
represented to them we glean absolutely nothing in our understanding of
what these acts were for women. This is because Buddhist scholarship to
date has been concerned primarily with doctrinal matters, and historians'
interst has focussed on problems of the priesthood (from permission to
enter it, to certification of having received the precepts, and on the
names of officiating priests and recipient priests, etc.). No interest
has been demonstrated in concrete cases of how the people themselves from
the ancient and medieval periods understood the actions known as shukke
and jukai. In 840 Princess Seishi, with the priest Ennin as her
preceptor, received several concrete levels of the precepts and planned
to construct a nun's ordination plat-form (required for formal ordination
but then extant only for male use). Although her plan never came to fruition
in her lifetime, a nuns' ordination platform was finally later constructed
at Hoseiji. It is problematic whether that platform ever served its
intended purpose. Indeed there is no evidence that Heian nuns took the
precepts in this way. If publicly recognized ordination platforms had the
function of giving rise to a state-recognized clergy, then nuns did not
exist as officially recognized members of the clergy. We cannot maintain
however that because nuns did not receive the precepts publicly on state-recognized
platforms that they were less qualified as nuns. I believe that they fulfilled
the requirements by following the disciplines, erecting an ordination platform,
and receiving the precepts from a preceptor (irrespective of state recognition).
Before we tackle the problem of public versus private ordination platforms,
we need to investigate how shukke and jukai were actually practiced by
women and whether or not there was a step-by-step progression (female lay-devotee
to novice to nun) which corresponded to that progression for males. To
this end I would like to take the work Shukke sakuho
(a guide to shukke for women of the high aristocracy written 1113-1118)
and contrast it with concrete records of women's actual shukke and
jukai that can be found in the diaries of aristocrats. These works,
known as shukke-ki or records of the shukke of imperial consorts,
were composed generation after generation on the occasion of the shukke
of the imperial consorts, and these works need to be studied carefully.
by NISHIGUCHI Junko.
"Various Problems in the History of
Zen Nuns of the Soto Sect"
This paper raises several major questions
in the study of the history of Zen nuns and reviews historical documents
dated 1774, 1839 and 1930. A Japanese language abstract is available upon
request from IMJS.
by ISHIKAWA Rikizan
III. BOOK REVIEWS
The seminar concluded with a review
by YOSHIDA Kazuhiko of two recent books of significance to the field of
Women and Buddhism. Both complete reviews are available from IMJS upon
TAKADA Mamoru's Edo no akuryo
baraishi (The Edo Exorcist).
Tokyo: Chikuma shobo. Centering on the career of Yuten shonin
(1637-1718), a priest of the Jodo sect, this book contains
much revelatory data concerning women's faith and such problems as infanticide
and abortion, with detailed accounts of Yuten's activities and pronouncements
regarding the salvation of women.
YAGI Yuko's Josei to
ongaku (Women and music)
in Minzoku ongaku sosho (Folk Music Series), Vol. 2. Tokyo:
Tokyo shoseki. This book, a multi-authored collection of research articles
covering several countries, is reviewed because of its remarkable interconnections
with the Women and Buddhism field. It includes topics on songs that celebrate
the wedding, songs about a woman's life cycle, songs that praise one's
husband, and analyzes the difference between male and female songs in various
cultures. The chapter on Japan deals with Okinawan musical culture and
women. Prof. Yoshida discusses the book in terms of the theoretical problems
it raises that resemble those of the Women and Buddhism field. No book
to date has yet dealt with the history of Japanese music with a focus on
women and their particular function in the creation and performance of
various traditions of music.
The Japanese language abstracts of
all of the above reports and papers from which this report has been prepared
are available upon request from IMJS, free of charge, as part of our contribution
to improved communication between Japanese and Western scholars in the
field of Women and Buddhism in Pre-Modern Japan.
[ Volume 3 of IMJS Reports was
compiled by Indra Levy ]
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