The hues of early modern religious thought

One of my dissertation sections deals with a school I’ve translated as the “Mystical Source Shinto of the Shugen Single Reality” (Shugen Ichijitsu Reisō Shintō 修験一實靈宗神道).  It was crafted by Join 乘因 (1682–1739), a head priest of Mt. Togakushi (the main site of my research) in the early 18th c.

So you might be wondering why the name of the school is so long?  Or you might be considering returning back to your Facebook news feed.  Before you do – ! – here’s the answer:  It’s composed of a multitude of religious influences – much of which is worked into the title.  Shugendo, Buddhism, two strands of Shinto (one of which deifies the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu!), beliefs at Togakushi, and even some Daoism.

The main source for my study is Join’s treatise on this school, The secret record of the Mystical Source Shintō of the Shugen Single Reality, which I’ve translated and annotated.  One challenge in translation has been tracking down the various influences and seemingly myriad textual references Join draws from in constructing the text.

As an experiment today, I colored the text according to these influences.  For example, Shugendo = orange; Daoism = purple; Togakushi connections = yellow highlight.  It’s allowed me to better visualize the various components in play.

Image

The chart in the middle shows how these components are interwoven with each other. (I was going to add a close-up of it, but its totally illegible.  Also, I wish the different colored paperclips represented something but they don’t.)

Anyway, based on Join’s multiplicity of influences, I hope to make the following point in the dissertation:

Join’s school is one example of the rich growth of religious thought and practice during the Edo period (1600-1868).  Unlike religion in the modern world – characterized sectarian institutions and often divorced from secular realms of society (at least in theory), doctrine and praxis were highly fluid at this time. This is especially evident in the numerous schools of Shinto that appear – a stark contrast with the state-constructed, uniform Shinto of the modern era.

Join is commonly thought of as a heretic in the field of Japanese religions, but this conclusion arises from the mistaken application of distinctly modern ways of considering religion.  Once we accept the hybridity of early modern religious life for what it is, its hues, textures, and tones become more evident and interesting to visualize.

About calebscarter

I specialize in Japanese religions within the broader context of Buddhism and East Asian cultures. Within these fields, I focus especially on Shugendō, a mountain-based tradition in Japan developed largely from esoteric, Zen and Pure Land Buddhism with additional influences from Chinese religions and local spirit worship (later identified as Shintō). I approach these subjects from an interdisciplinary perspective that draws on literary, economic, political, social and intellectual history. I received my Masters (2008) and PhD (2014), both in Buddhist Studies from UCLA, with a BA (2000) in Philosophy from Colorado College. I currently teach full-time for the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA. Outside of research and teaching, I play a three-stringed instrument from Okinawa called the sanshin and spend time with my family at nearby playgrounds and campgrounds. I also love the outdoors, especially climbing in the mountains—an orientation that has in many ways shaped my current intellectual path. View all posts by calebscarter

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