Returning to the Founder: Shakyamuni Devotion in Early Medieval Japan and Japanese Buddhist Conceptions of History


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


My dissertation examines a devotional turn to Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) in twelfth-century Japan and the transformation of Shakyamuni from an eternal buddha (which is how he was previously viewed) into a buddha who belonged to the past and to a distant land (India). Focusing on monks, texts, and rituals at the center of this trend, I argue that this turn was an attempt by Japanese Buddhists to (re)connect to what they envisioned as the source of their religious tradition. I further demonstrate that this new focus was a response to the increasing emphasis on the distant nature of that source, which was in turn a result of a new Japanese conception of history as a linear affair in which Japan existed at the geographical and temporal tail end of Buddhist transmission.