A Storied SageCanon and Creation in the Making of a Japanese Buddha

A Storied SageCanon and Creation in the Making of a Japanese Buddha

Micah L. Auerback

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226286389

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book offers a diachronic analysis of narratives recounting the life of the Buddha and their transformations—typically in written texts, but including material culture and ritual practice. It traces accounts of the Buddha from ancient Japan through the medieval and early modern eras, into the early 1910s. After a millennium of hagiography written in alignment with canonical accounts, stories of the life of the Buddha left the control of Buddhist organizations and entered the realm of commercial production. This shift produced a “vernacular Buddha” popular in the literary imagination of the early modern period, but unevenly responsive to the canon. Text-critical scholarship about the life of the Buddha emerged in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The book concludes by illuminating the activities of elite modern makers of culture—both lay intellectuals and lay artists—who embraced aspects of historicism to recast the Buddha as a human being and historical figure. These men inducted the Buddha into the distinctly modern, universal cult of great men of the past. This book thus argues that for Japan’s Buddhist heritage, modernity meant not only “secularization,” but also new acts of narrative apotheosis