Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan

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9780674002456: Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan
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This study addresses the relationship between the veneration of Buddha relics and the appropriation of power in early medieval Japan. Focusing on the ninth to the fourteenth centuries, it analyzes the ways in which relics functioned as material media for the interactions of Buddhist clerics, the imperial family, lay aristocrats, and warrior society and explores the multivocality of relics by dealing with specific historical examples. Brian Ruppert argues that relics offered means for reinforcing or subverting hierarchical relations. The author's critical literary and anthropological analyses attest to the prominence of relic veneration in government, in lay practice associated with the maintenance of the imperial line and warrior houses, and in the promotion of specific Buddhist sects in Japan.

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Throughout Asia, Buddhists have both revered and fought over the remains of the Buddha. Only recently, however, have scholars begun to take their role within the development of Buddhist culture seriously.

This study addresses the relationship between the veneration of Buddha relics and the appropriation of power in early medieval Japan. Focusing on the ninth to the fourteenth centuries, it analyzes the ways in which relics and the wishfulfilling jewels constructed of relics functioned as material media for the interactions of Buddhist clerics, the imperial family, lay aristocrats, women in the imperial and Fujiwara lineages, and warrior society. Based on a thorough examination of all surviving records, Ruppert explores the multivocality of relics by dealing with specific historical examples and argues that relics offered means for reinforcing or subverting hierarchical relations through the discourse of indebtedness, particularly during the period of instability and shifts in power in the late Heian and early Kamakura eras. The author engages in a critical literary and anthropological analysis that attests to the prominence and role of relic veneration in the government, in lay practice associated with the maintenance of the imperial line and warrior houses, and in the promotion of particular Buddhist sects in Japan.

About the Author:

Brian D. Ruppert is Assistant Professor of Japanese Religions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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