Theses Doctoral

Dharma Possession: Daishi Myōjin and the Roles of Gods and Past Masters in the Preservation of Teachings at Premodern Kōyasan

Tinsley, Elizabeth Noelle

This dissertation is about the preservation of Buddhist teachings by means of seemingly unconventional methods. When lineages and factions competed for authority and for teachings that were believed to be in danger of being corrupted, or lost altogether, scholar monks of the Chūin-ryū lineage at Kōyasan restored, reinstated, and redelivered certain teachings through oracles given by the mountain gods, through paintings and their inscriptions, and through rituals.

In the first part of the dissertation I examine the Chūin-ryū and its connection to the role of leadership of the mountain-based community, and an oracular possession that functioned to transmit teachings from a hitherto obscure god named Daishi Myōjin. The background to this was extreme violence between two major factions in the community, and the subsequent exiles of some of the participants, which exacerbated—or perhaps provided a reason for—concerns about the decline of the lineage and even the entire community through the loss, via both corruption of teachings and exile of teachers, of embodied teachings. In the second part I examine paintings that I suggest were produced by the Chūin-ryū and involved important Chūin-ryū scholar monks who strove to restore scholarship after the exiles had exerted a damaging effect on the institutions of education. The paintings are linked to the oracle examined in the previous section and they, as well as those figures to which the paintings and inscriptions on them are linked, are connected to debate and mondō ceremonies, and to the kami worship rites they involved. I then move into an examination of Daishi Myōjin and its character as an amalgamate deity comprised of patriarchs and kami, appropriate as both the ultimate authority in teaching, and as arbiter of justice. Furthermore, this deity seems to have been appropriated and defined by the Chūin-ryū. It was of great use at a time when they sought control of the community and consolidation of their position, via knowledge transmission, worship, and punishment, for Daishi Myōjin performed all these functions. I then examine scholarship at Kōyasan, and the most prominent debates from the Kamakura to the Muromachi periods, noting that the development of the kami iconography seems to have been related to that of scholarly institutions. Finally, I look at the scholarship-related ceremonies and related rituals and discern that they involve considerable “re-enactments” of events and encounters that were important to the Chūin-ryū and to their authority as prime lineage at Kōyasan.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Como, Michael I.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 28, 2019