"Kechien" as Religious Praxis in Medieval Japan: Picture Scrolls as the Means and Sites of Salvation
AdvisorHarrison, Elizabeth G.
Committee ChairHarrison, Elizabeth G.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation investigates the praxis of kechien, forming a karmic connection, evidenced in various religious picture scrolls produced during the Golden Era of their production in Japan, the late thirteenth through the early fourteenth century. This study is inspired by two goals: (1) to define the concept and practice of kechien, and (2) to challenge the widely accepted idea that picture scrolls, emaki, were used solely as a didactic and proselytizing tool. This absence of scholarly work focusing on kechien is rather astonishing considering that a variety of kechien practices are still omnipresent today and were especially so in medieval Japan. Inspired by Miya Tsugio's suggestion that some emaki were created for the purpose of kechien, I examine text and painting within picture scrolls as well as Buddhist scriptures and contemporary literary works in order to understand the role they played in the formation of kechien. I propose that emaki scrolls served as both a means and a site of kechien in medieval Japanese religious praxis.The dissertation starts with the concept of kechien seen through various modern dictionaries and the writings of Zhiyi and Genshin, two early monks whose works are often cited as the locus classicus for the term. As my study aims to explore praxis, I then turn to various practices of kechien performed by two types of people: producer and audience. I argue that production and consumption of religious picture scrolls were both regarded as valid and legitimate religious practices, especially near the perceived beginning of the age of mappo, the Final Age of the Dharma. People believed that once they had formed a kechien link with the subject of emaki scrolls through its production and viewing, they would be reborn into a Pure Land and ultimately achieve enlightenment sometime in the future. They also performed meritorious acts utilizing emaki scrolls in order to strengthen their karmic affinity and improve their conditions for enlightenment.
Degree ProgramEast Asian Studies