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ShōtokuEthnicity, Ritual, and Violence in the Japanese Buddhist Tradition$

Michael I. Como

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195188615

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195188615.001.0001

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(p.161) Appendix: Primary Sources for the Study of the Early Shōtoku Cult

(p.161) Appendix: Primary Sources for the Study of the Early Shōtoku Cult

Oxford University Press

The following is a brief survey of some of the most important Nara and early Heian period sources for the study of the Shōtoku cult. For a more comprehensive discussion of general source documents from the Nara period, see Joan Piggott's The Emergence of Japanese Kingship.1 For a discussion of epigraphical and textual sources that have been attributed to the reign of Suiko tennō, I can do no better than refer the reader to David Lurie's outstanding dissertation The Origins of Writing in Early Japan: From the 1st to the 8th Century C.E.2

General Documents

Fudoki. These texts were gazetteers composed in response to a decree by the court in 713 that each province should submit an account of the resources, geography, and legends of the townships and districts within its borders. Throughout this book, I have used these texts not only to supplement the corpus of myths and legends contained in the sources produced at court but also as a treasure trove of information concerning the activities and location of lineages across the Japanese islands. Aoki Michiko has ably translated the surviving portions from the gazetteers of Harima, Hitachi, Hizen, Bungo and Izumo provinces.3

Kojiki. This text contains only one reference to Shōtoku in the genealogy section, as the text stops with the court of Suiko. Throughout this book, however, I have repeatedly turned to the Kojiki as a source of myths and legends related to lineages and deities associated with the early Shōtoku cult.

Nihon ryōiki. Composed sometime before 822 by the monk Kyōkai, this Buddhist tale collection is a treasure trove of information concerning everything from more popular Buddhist beliefs and practices during the period to the daily life of the non-elite segment of the population. It contains a series of legends related to the prince, including an account of the encounter with the beggar at Kataoka, that show significant differences with (p.162) that found in the Nihon shoki. The prince also appears in a legend concerning the near death experience of one of Shōtoku's retainers. This legend is notable both for its pairing of Shōtoku with the monk Gyōki and for its depiction of the prince as possessing an elixir of immortality. The Nihon ryōiki also features several legends that concern members of the Hata, Kishi, Kusakabe, and other lineages related to the early Shōtoku cult.

Nihon shoki. In general I have used this text as a document that illustrates the historical imagination of the Nara court at the time of its completion in 720. Although its historical accuracy is greatly open to question, it is probable that entries for later periods were less amenable to embroidery than earlier entries. Whatever its shortcomings as a historical source, however, the text is invaluable for its wealth of genealogical information as well as for geographic detail that can be used to situate lineages and events within both the geographic and cultic landscapes of the period.

Unlike the Kojiki, the text does not speak with a single unified voice but rather often presents a variety of accounts of early myths and even later events. I have thus throughout this book treated the Nihon shoki as a site of ideological contestation in which competing lineages sought to offer their own versions of events and legends related to their ancestors and their lineal claims. I have also treated it as a major cultural and historical artifact, the construction of which reveals invaluable insight into the cultural and religious imagination of the age.

Specific references within the Nihon shoki to Kamitsumiya/Shōtoku reflect a diversity of views and agendas. Several passages, of course, present the prince as a paradigmatic lay Buddhist. Among the most important passages in this regard are the legend of the establishment of Buddhism in the Japanese islands, in which Shōtoku's prayers result in the victory of the pro-Buddhist forces of the Soga over the Mononobe. Other important references in this regard include the monk Hyeja's declaration upon the death of Shōtoku that the prince had been reborn in a Buddhist Pure Land, and an editorial comment within the text that Shōtoku was a Dharma King. In addition, the text recounts three temple-founding legends associated with the prince: the first states that Shōtoku built Shitennōji in fulfillment of his vow to the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism during the battle between the Soga and the Mononobe. The second states that the prince built Hōryūji after receiving a gift of lands in Harima Province following lectures that he gave upon the Lotus and Queen Śrīmālā sutras. Finally, the text also states that Shōtoku gave a Buddhist statue from Silla to Hata no Kawakatsu after receiving assurances that Kawakatsu would build a temple to house the image.

Equally important, however, is the information provided by the text that is not distinctively Buddhist. Most obviously, Shōtoku is presented as a member of the royal line. We are also given his genealogical background, which states that he was the son of the Yamato ruler Yōmei and his consort Anahobe no Hashihito, and we are told that Kamitsumiya served in the role of crown prince, attending to all matters of state with super-human acumen. Shōtoku is also said to have composed the first history of the Japanese islands and instituted the first continental-style system of ranks at court. More mundanely, we are told of the different names by which the prince was referred and we are assured that the prince had mastered both Buddhist and non-Buddhist forms of continental learning at a young age.

The text also hints in several places that the prince was a sage who possessed special powers over life and death. We are told, for instance, that he entered the world miraculously as his mother gave birth to him painlessly in front of a horse stable. The death narrative of the prince is designed to show both the tremendous devotion he (p.163) engendered among his subjects and his death-transcending bond with the sage monk Hyeja. Finally, the prince is shown to have super-human powers of perception in his encounter with the sage-immortal who posed as a beggar at Kataoka.

These intimations of the superhuman status of the royal ancestor are reinforced in later passages related to the prince's son, Yamashiro no Ōe. The text clearly asserts that Kamitsumiya's heir had a rightful claim to the throne, that he sacrificed himself for the common good, and that Heaven and Earth manifested multiple omens foretelling the doom of Kamitsumiya's line. As with so much of the Nihon shoki, the picture that emerges is thus richly ambiguous, drawing upon multiple sources and serving multiple interests.

Manyōshū. This Nara-period poetic anthology contains but one poem related to the prince, purportedly composed upon meeting a beggar not at Kataoka but near Mount Tatsuta. It nonetheless contains a treasure trove of information concerning the cultic geography and religious imagination of courtiers and literate figures across the Japanese islands during the early Nara period.

Sanbōe kotoba. Composed in 984 by Minamoto Tamenori, this text is a compendium of Buddhist hagiography that was intended to illustrate the meaning and historical development of the Buddhist tradition from India to Japan. Not surprisingly, the figure of Shōtoku is featured prominently as the fountainhead of the Japanese Buddhist tradition. When read in conjunction with such works as the Jōgū Shōtoku taishiden hoketsuki and the Shōtoku Taishi denryaku, the text helps illustrate the trajectory of the development of the Shōtoku legend corpus throughout the Heian period and beyond.4

Shinsen shōjiroku. This genealogical compendium, which was composed sometime around 815, is important both for its role in standardizing genealogical claims during the period and for its accounts of several ancestral legends and lineages not found in other sources. Also of note is the text's format, which explicitly separates lineages that claimed descent from figures from overseas with lineages of royal descent.

Shoku nihongi. This successor volume to the Nihon shoki, in addition to its obvious value as a source on developments at court during the Nara period, is also useful in recording genealogical and rank claims of numerous lineages associated with the Shōtoku cult.

Temple Records

Daianji garan engi narabi ni ruki shizaichō. This text, which was completed sometime around 747, traces the origins of Daianji back to Prince Kamitsumiya. Daianji, in addition to serving as one of the main state temples of the Nara period, was for many years the home temple of Dōji, the most learned monk of the early eighth century and possibly an editor of the Nihon shoki. Because few scholars accept the Daianji engi's account of the temple's origins, this portion of the text has frequently been ignored. The passage is nonetheless extremely important for understanding the development of the cult of Prince Shōtoku; the site where Kamitsumiya is said to have originally founded the temple, for instance, corresponds closely with the site of Dōji's kinship group temple. Thus, it appears that Dōji sought to associate both Daianji and Shōtoku with his ancestral home. Dōji's role in the promotion of the Shōtoku cult is discussed at some length in chapter 7.5

Gangōji garan engi narabi ni ruki shizaichō. Although the current form of this text is thought to date from the mid-eighth century, it is generally believed that it was based (p.164) upon earlier texts that predated the Nihon shoki. Because the text differs at points from the Nihon shoki account of the introduction of Buddhism to Japan and the role of the royal house in the suppression of Buddhism, it is considered to be an especially valuable resource by scholars of early Japanese history and religion. Because Gangōji—formerly known as Asukadera—was the Soga kinship group temple, it is generally believed that the the Gangōji garan engi reflects the perspective of the Soga and several affiliated immigrant lineages on the introduction of Buddhism in Japan.6 The text has been translated into English by Miwa Stevenson.7

Hōryūji garan engi narabi ni ruki shizaichō. In addition to a brief rehearsal of legend materials concerning Shōtoku, this text, which was completed sometime around 747, contains important entries concerning the temple's assets that suggest that Kamitumiya's lineage may have had exceptionally large land holdings. These also seem to overlap frequently with areas formerly controlled by the Mononobe, lending credence to the Nihon shoki's statement that half of the Mononobe's land and slaves were given to Prince Kamitsumiya after the destruction of the Mononobe in 587. Records of other gifts, such as statues and scriptures, from members of the court have also helped scholars reconstruct the temple's development through the early Nara period.8

Hōryūji tōin engi. This document in its current form appears to be a Heian period account of matters related to the famed Yumedono and Eastern Complex at Hōryūji. Although material appears to have been added at several points in the text's rather complicated textual history and must be used with great care, most scholars believe that it contains materials gathered in 761.9 The text highlights the role of the Fujiwara Queen Consort Kōmyō in the building of the complex and in the furtherance of the Shōtoku cult. I discuss Kōmyō's role influence on the Shōtoku cult in chapters 6 and 7.

Works Attributed to the Prince

Sankyō gisho. These are commentaries of the Queen Śrīmālā, Vimilakirti, and Lotus sutras that have historically been attributed to Prince Kamitsumiya. Although they are known to have circulated in Yamato by the middle of the eighth century at the latest, these commentaries are no longer believed to have been the original compositions of the prince. As Lurie points out, there is simply no evidence that these texts were produced during Prince Kamitsumiya's lifetime, nor is there any evidence that they were produced by Kamitsumiya.10 Discoveries of texts in Tun-huang and elsewhere in China have made it clear that the commentaries were more transcriptions than original compositions.11 Regardless of their ultimate provenance, the commentaries nonetheless did play an important role in the development of the Shōtoku cult. During the Heian period, Yamato monks and diplomats repeatedly brought copies of the Lotus Sutra commentary to T’ang China as proof of the enlightened Buddhism that flourished in the land.12

Seventeen Article Constitution. This text is a statement of political philosophy that most likely dates from the seventh century.13 It is comprised of seventeen admonitions concerning the proper roles of ministers and rulers. No single philosophical viewpoint dominates the text, which at various points reflects Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist influences. Of special interest are the repeated references to the concept of the sage king (hijiri no kimi). This aspect of the text is treated in detail in chapter 4. Here again there is no evidence that the text was produced by Kamitsumiya or even during his lifetime. I therefore prefer to bracket the issue of authorship, treating the work as most likely a reflection of the views of the immigrant kinship groups at the forefront of the early Shōtoku cult.

(p.165) Epigraphical Sources Related to the Prince

Several pieces of epigraphy related to the prince have been the subject of long-standing scholarly debates. Unfortunately, none of the following sources can be assumed to have existed at the time of their purported construction.

Hōryū ji kondō Shaka sanzō. The inscription on the aureole at the back of this statue of Shakyamuni Buddha at Hōryūji states that it was commissioned by those close to Kamitsumiya in hopes that the karmic merit generated by the act would bring about recovery from his final illness. The inscription also states that the statue was built to Kamitsumiya's size, suggesting that Kamitsumiya may have been seen as a Buddha even in the period immediately following his death.14 Several questions remain, however, concerning the reliability of the inscription as a historical document. One particularly vexing issue involves a problematic reign year at the start of the inscription. The date of Kamitsumiya's death also differs from that given in the Nihon shoki.15 Lurie notes, however, that the inscription was apparently cast along with the statue rather than simply carved into the finished work. Because most art historians agree that the statue itself closely resembles other works from the period, Lurie concludes that the text of the statue may in fact date from the Suiko era.16 If this is indeed the case, it would suggest that a nascent cult to the prince may have begun almost immediately after his death.

Hōryū ji kondō Yakushi sanzō. The inscription on the aureole at the back of this statue states that it was produced as a result of a vow by Kamitsumiya and the future ruler Suiko in the hopes that the karmic merit generated by this act would allow Kamitsumiya's father, Yōmei, to recover from illness. The inscription continues that the statue was completed only after Yōmei had died. If the inscription is to be believed, this would make it one of the earliest pieces of writing in Yamato. There are widespread doubts about the inscription's historical authenticity, however, mainly because of the apparently anachronistic use of the term “tennō” in reference to Suiko as well as the use of the term “sage king” (hijiri no kimi) in reference to what would have been a very youthful Kamitsumiya.17

The Iyo kuni fudoki/Dōgo inscription. Although only two fragments of the original Iyo kuni fudoki survive, one fragment contains a transcription of a stele purporting to commemorate an almost certainly fictional visit by Shōtoku and his mentor, the Koguryô monk Hyeja, to the Dōgo hot springs in Shikoku. As I argue in chapter 2, this text provides invaluable evidence that the Shōtoku cult had already spread to a comparatively remote region prior to the writing of the Nihon shoki. Because the text makes reference to a land of eternal life (kotobuki no kuni or jukoku), it also provides a rare glimpse into early conceptions of the afterlife during the period.18

Tenjukoku shūchō mei. This inscription was woven into a tapestry that was purportedly produced almost immediately following the death of Prince Kamitsumiya. Although only fragments of the tapestry exist, reconstruction of the full text has been made possible by its inclusion in the Jōgu Shōtoku hōō teisetsu. The inscription contains a detailed list of Kamitsumiya's wives and children, thereby offering an important glimpse into the marital and familial alliances into which Kamitsumiya entered during his lifetime. The tapestry also gives an account of the reaction of the Yamato court and Shōtoku's immediate family to his death, including a statement of their belief that he had been reborn in tenjukoku, a land beyond death that is not mentioned in any Buddhist sources. I discuss the meaning of this term and the worldview upon which it is based in chapter 2.19

(p.166) Shōtoku Hagiographical Collections

Jōgū Shōtoku hōō teisetsu. Although scholars date the current form of this text to the eleventh century, parts of it are thought to predate the Nihon shoki and Kojiki and are thus extremely valuable. Especially important are the inclusion of the entire text of the Tenjukoku shūchō and an extended genealogy of Prince Kamitsumiya's lineage.20

Jōgū kōtaishi bosatsuden. This text, which was composed by Ganjin's disciple Ssut’uo between 784 and 794, also sets out in detail the legend that Shōtoku was the reincarnation of the Chinese T’ien-t’ai Buddhist patriarch Hui-ssu. This legend, which is not found in the Nihon shoki, is generally believed to have been the creation of Ganjin's disciples.21 I discuss the formation of this legend at length in chapter 7.

Jōgū Shōtoku taishiden hoketsuki. This text is thought to have been composed at Shitennōji sometime during the early to mid-Heian period. It is important both for its elaboration of Shōtoku legend materials and for the view it provides of the beliefs of immigrant kinship groups associated with Shitennōji.22 The text contains a fair amount of material also found in the Nihon shoki. Reference is made to the prince's role in government and in establishing the cap rank system. The prince's miraculous birth and reasons for his multiple names are also briefly mentioned, as is his role in the battle for the establishment of Buddhism in the Japanese islands.

More interesting, however, are the text's divergences with the Nihon shoki. In addition to providing an account of the prince's genealogy, the text emphasizes Shōtoku's close relationship with his teacher, the Koguryô monk Hyeja. Shōtoku is also said to have written numerous sutra commentaries and is explicitly associated with the Lotus, Vimilakirti and Queen Śrīmālā sutras. A mysterious gold-colored figure is said to have regularly appeared to the prince in his dreams to teach him about Buddhist doctrine. Shōtoku is also said to have built seven temples during his lifetime, and his death, and that of his father, are recounted with reference to the Yakushi and Shakyamuni statuary discussed earlier. The text concludes with brief references to the death of Kamitsumiya's Kashiwade wife as well as the construction of the Tenjukoku tapestry. The author of the text thus appears to have been drawing upon numerous sources of Shōtoku hagiography. The text has been partially translated into English by William Deal, and Shinkawa Tokio has produced an exceptional monograph on the work in Japanese.23

Shichidaiki. This text was composed in 772 by a monk from Tōdaiji named Myōichi. This is the first extant document that we have that sets out in detail the legend that Shōtoku was the incarnation of the Chinese T’ien-t’ai patriarch Hui-ssu. The text is also extremely important for its numerous citations of now-lost texts from the legend corpus of the Chinese monk Hui-ssu. I discuss the text and Hui-ssu in detail in chapter 7.24

Shōtoku Taishi denryaku. This very large work, sometimes referred to as the “Heishi den,” contains an abundance of legends concerning the life of the prince and events related to his cult following his death.25 As such, it is therefore an invaluable resource for understanding any number of aspects of Buddhist belief and practice during the Heian period. Although tradition ascribes the authorship of the work to a member of the Taira lineage, however, there is no agreement as to who the author might be. Because the text is quoted in the Sanbōe kotoba, which was completed in 984, there is general agreement that the text was most likely composed sometime during the 10th century. Within the text there are some indications that the author was closely aligned with the Shōtoku cult at Shitennōji. One important argument for viewing the Hoketsuki as an early Heian period document, for instance, is rooted in the fact that the Hoketsuki is cited in the Denryaku. Unfortunately, too little is known about the text to draw many further inferences from the text concerning the Shōtoku cult of the Nara period.

(p.167) Tō daiwajō tōseiden. This work was completed in 779 by Ōmi no Mahito no Mifune, one of the leading intellectuals of his day and a former monk and student of the Chinese monk Dōsen of Daianji.26 The text is an extended biography of the Chinese vinaya master Chien-chen (J: Ganjin) that focuses mainly on the Chinese master's travails in reaching the Japanese islands. The text is important for the study of the Shōtoku cult because it asserts that Chien-chen was motivated to come to Yamato by the legend that the Chinese monk Hui-ssu had transmigrated to Yamato in order to spread the Buddhist teaching there. I discuss this passage in chapter 7.

Chinese and Korean Sources

Samguk sagi. Completed in 1145, this text provides essential information concerning political events on the Korean Peninsula as well as nation-founding legends and myths of the kingdoms of Koguryô, Paekche, Silla and the Kara confederation of states. Several passages appear to record legends that might have influenced Yamato mythology, particularly myths associated with the descent of the Heavenly Grandchild as well as the Jingū/Ōjin legend cycle. Also notable in this regard is an account from the Chronicles of Silla (Silla pongi) that records an encounter between a virtuous king and a beggar on a roadside.

Samguk yusa. Although the myths and legends included in this text, which was completed in 1284, cannot be used as evidence for historical events of previous ages, they do provide an invaluable glimpse into the mythic world of 13th century Koryo. One legend of particular note is the text's account of the founding of Sachŏnwangsa, the main temple of the Silla state temple network. For more on this legend and its relation to the founding legend of Japanese Buddhism, see chapter 1.

Sui shu. Completed in 656, this official Chinese court history contains accounts of missions from the Sui to the Suiko court and provides a rare glimpse of life in the Japanese islands at the time of the Suiko court that is unfiltered by the editors of the Nihon shoki. The text also famously records a letter sent from the court of Suiko to the Sui ruler Yang-ti in which Yamato is referred to as “the land of the rising sun,” whereas Sui China is referred to as “the land of the setting sun.” (p.168)


(1) . Piggott, Emergence of Japanese Kingship.

(2) . David Lurie, The Origins of Writing in Early Japan, 399–422.

(3) . Aoki Michiko, Records of Wind and Earth. Extant texts, remnants and citations of now-lost Fudoki have been collected in SNKBZ 5.

(4) . Passages related to Shōtoku may be found in SNKBT 31: 77–88. For an extremely able English translation, see Kamens, The Three Jewels, 174–190.

(5) . The text may be found in Takeuchi, Nara ibun 1: 366–382. See also Ōyama, Nagayaōke mokkan, 270–341.

(6) . The text may be found in Takeuchi, Nara ibun 1: 383–393. For relevant Asukadera/Gangōji related materials, see Iwaki, Gangōji hennen shiryō 1. For a brief comparison of the NSK and the Gangōji engi, see Sonoda, “Early Buddha Worship,” 370–379. See also Mizuno, Nihon kodai no jiin to rekishi, 21–101.

(7) . Stevenson, “The Founding of the Monastery Gangōji and a List of Its Treasures,” 299–315.

(8) . The text may be found in Takeuchi, Nara ibun 1: 344–365. See also Mizuno, Nihon kodai no jiin, 227–271. I discuss this in greater detail in chapter 6.

(p.214) (9) . The text may be found in DNBZ 85: 127–129. The text is discussed in Hayashi, Taishi shinkō no kenkyū, 73–83. See also Tōno, “Shoki no Taishi shinkō to Jōgūōin,” 453–466.

(10) . Lurie, Origins of Writing in Early Japan, 427–429. The commentary on the Queen Śrīmālā may be found in T 56: 1–19 (no. 2185). The commentary on the Vimilakirti Sutra may be found in T 56: 20–64 (no. 2186). The commentary on the Lotus Sutra may be found in T 56: 64–128 (no. 2187).

(11) . Ōno, Shōtoku taishi no kenkyū, 91–138. See also Inoue Mitsusada, Nihon kodai shisōshi, 161–226.

(12) . For the transmission of the Shōtoku legend cycle to China, see Wang, Shōtoku taishi jiku chōetsu, esp. 250–266 and 367–380.

(13) . For the Constitution, see Ōno, Shōtoku Taishi, 171–211.

(14) . The text of the inscription may be found in STZ 3: 472–473.

(15) . For a critical assessment of the text, see Ōno, Shōtoku Taishi, 210–213.

(16) . Lurie, Origins of Writing, 435.

(17) . The text of the inscription may be found in STZ 3: 471. For a cogent assessment of the inscription's historical validity, see Ōyama, Nagayaōke mokkan, 208–210.

(18) . This text can be found in SNKBZ 5: 505–506. I discuss this text in detail in chapter 2.

(19) . For an annotated version of the text, see Deguchi and Hiraoka, Shōtoku taishi nanto Bukkyō shū, 223–229. Secondary literature on both the tapestry and the inscription is extensive. For a representative sample of scholarly positions, see Ōyama, Nagayaōke mokkan, 309–324; Ōhashi, Tenjukoku shūchŌno kenkyū; Pradel, Fragments of the Tenjukoku Shūchō Mandara, and Ōno, Shōtoku Taishi, 45–91.

(20) . Piggott has given a concise summary of the text as well as a brief account of its importance for historians of the period. See Piggott, Emergence of Japanese Kingship, 295–296. For the full text and analysis, see Ienaga, Jōgu Shōtoku hōō teisetsu no kenkyū and Sakamori, Satō, and Yajima, Jōgū Shōtoku hōō teisetsu no chūshaku to kenkyū. The text may also be found in DNBZ 71: 119–121, and STZ 3: 9–22.

(21) . The text may be found in STZ 3: 46–50. For Ganjin and Shōtoku, see Wang, Shōtoku taishi jiku chōetsu, 126–139.

(22) . The text may be found in STZ 3: 53–62. Shinkawa Tokio has analyzed the text with special attention to the role of the immigrant kinship groups affiliated with Shitennōji in its formation. See Shinkawa, Jōgū Shōtoku Taishiden hoketsuki no kenkyū.

(23) . Deal, “Hagiography and History,” 316–333.

(24) . The full text may be found in Takeuchi, Nara ibun 3: 890–894. The text is also discussed in detail in Hayashi, Taishi shinkō no kenkyū, 149–188.

(25) . The text may be found in STZ 3: 71–122.

(26) . The full text may be found in Takeuchi, Nara ibun 3: 895–908. For Ganjin's life as well as a lengthy discussion of the text, see Andō Kōsei, Ganjin. See also Ishida, Ganjin—sono kairitsu shisō, esp. 269–326.