Micah Auerback - Associate Professor of Japanese Religion, University of Michigan
From the debut of the Buddha Śākyamuni in early historical Japan through the fifteenth century, the Indian sage often cut a remote and un-affecting figure. Only late in Japan’s tumultuous sixteenth century did new stories of his life, filled with original poetry, drama, and derring-do, begin to circulate as commercial books. In turn, these print commodities were adapted for the puppet theater from the middle of the seventeenth century, and for the kabuki stage from the mid-nineteenth.
Largely overlooked by scholars of Japanese Buddhism and the Japanese theater, these new staging’s of the life of the Buddha (and their tie-in publications) center on a changed character: a prince-cum-awakened being preoccupied with his mother’s well-being in the afterlife, indignant toward his scheming cousin, and cozy with courtesans—— in other words, a thoroughly vernacular Buddha.
This talk introduces the popular transformations of the Buddha in early modern Japan. It gestures to resonances both with earlier depictions of the Buddha on the Asian continent, and with changing global understandings of his figure today.