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Is There Still Buddhism Outside Japan?: "Three Countries" in the Thought of Eisai and Nichiren

by Jacqueline Stone, Princeton University

In the Heian and Kamakura periods, Buddhism provided a framework for locating Japan in time and space. The "time" was the beginning of the Final Dharma age (mappo, said to have begun in 1052), and in terms of "place," Japan marked the terminus in Buddhism’s eastward spread through the "three countries" (India, China, and Japan). These spatio-temporal coordinates of masse hendo—"a marginal land in the last age"—had ideological as well as soteriological implications and were assimilated to a number of polemical agendas, across the boundaries of "new Buddhism" or "old," mainstream or heterodox.

Recent scholarship has shed light on the well-known discourse of shinkoku or "land of the kami," which accorded Japan a unique sacrality. However, not all early medieval Buddhist discourse about Japan took this direction or privileged Japan in this way. Using the examples of the monks Eisai (1141-1215) and Nichiren (1222-1282), this paper will explore a mode of argument that deployed Japan’s situation within the "three countries" as a rationale for promoting specific visions of Buddhism.

Conference paper presented at Buddhism In (and Out of) Place Conference held 17-18 October 2004

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