The Buddha’s Evil Twin: Another Look at Medieval Japanese Religion

The Buddha's Evil Twin: Another Look at Medieval Japanese Religion

Bernard Faure - Kao Professor of Japanese Religion, Columbia University

Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Room 351, Loria Center See map
190 York Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Unlike early Buddhism, which seems on the whole unconcerned with the question of evil, much of medieval Japanese Buddhism has to do with exorcizing demons. In other words, premodern Japanese Buddhism was above all a demonology. But who were these demons, and why have they been neglected for so long by Buddhist scholarship? The Western distinction between gods and demons, with its moral connotations, is misleading. Most medieval deities were “demonic” (in the Greek sense of daimon) rather than “demoniac” (in the Chritian sense). A paradigmatic case is that of of an elusive deity called Kōjin: it reveals how, while Buddhism populated the outside world with demons, it also interiorized them — finding evil (yet at the same time deliverance) at the innermost heart of human beings.

Demons of obstacles once stood in the way of Awakening and had to be ritually propitiated. Likewise, they stand today in the way of our scholarly understanding of premodern Japanese religion, and have to be paid their dues. The present paper is but a small step in that direction.

Bernard Faure, Kao Professor in Japanese Religion, received his Ph.D. (Doctorat d’Etat) from Paris University (1984). He is interested in various aspects of East Asian Buddhism, with an emphasis on Chan/Zen and Tantric or esoteric Buddhism. His work, influenced by anthropological history and cultural theory, has focused on topics such as the construction of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, the Buddhist cult of relics, iconography, sexuality and gender. His current research deals with the mythico-ritual system of esoteric Buddhism and its relationships with medieval Japanese religion. He has published a number of books in French and English. His English publications include: “The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism” (Princeton 1991), “Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition” (Princeton 1993), “Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism” (Princeton 1996), “The Red Thread: Buddhist Approaches to Sexuality” (Princeton 1998), “The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender” (Princeton 2003), and “Double Exposure” (Stanford 2004). He is presently working on a book on Japanese Gods and Demons: The Fluid Pantheon: Medieval Japanese Gods I (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016) and Protectors and Predators: Medieval Japanese Gods II (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016).

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