Tracing the Prophetic Narratives of a Buddhist Prince: the Construction of Myths and Legends of Shōtoku Taishi in 11th-13th century Japan

Apr 27 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room, 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge

Chikamoto Kensuke (Associate Professor of Japanese medieval literature, Nagoya University; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/Discussant: Ryuichi Abe (Reischauer Institute Professor of Japanese Religions, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies

Focusing on prophetic literature, legends, statues, and art constructed in the 11th-13th century, this presentation proposes to delineate the historical development of the devotional cult of Prince Shōtoku (574-622), known as one of the founding figures of Japanese Buddhism. Two important relics were discovered at temples associated with Prince Shōtoku: The Origin Tales of Shitennōji Temple Marked with the Hand Print of Prince Shōtoku and The Oracles of Prince Shōtoku. The former was discovered at Shitennōji Temple in 1007 and believed to be written by Prince Shōtoku himself, and the latter is a stone inscription of Prince Shōtoku's prophecy of the future that was discovered in 1054 in Prince Shōtoku's mausoleum. Recent scholarship deems both of these to be forged relics, however, the fact that they were "discovered" at these precise locations indicates that the production of these relics was closely related to important developments in the cult of Prince Shōtoku. This talk seeks to clarify the reasons why these relics were constructed at these particular moments in history and to analyze the long-lasting influence they had in subsequent years. Furthermore, it will also introduce the Prince Shōtoku at Age Two statue (dated late-13th century), currently held at the Harvard Art Museum, and a number of texts that were found inside the statue. Specifying how these objects were connected to a community of nuns and the Shingon Ritsu school monk Eison (1201-1290) of Saidaiji aims to clarify how the statue could be seen as a relic that was used to memorialize the legendary prince as one who embodied the burgeoning of the Buddhist teachings.