Hokkeji, an ancient Nara temple that once stood at the apex of a state convent network established by Queen-Consort Komyo (701–760), possesses a history that in some ways is bigger than itself. Its development is emblematic of larger patterns in the history of female monasticism in Japan. In Hokkeji and the Reemergence of Female Monastic Orders in Premodern Japan, Lori Meeks explores the revival of Japan’s most famous convent, an institution that had endured some four hundred years of decline following its establishment. With the help of the Ritsu (Vinaya)-revivalist priest Eison (1201–1290), privately professed women who had taken up residence at Hokkeji succeeded in reestablishing a nuns’ ordination lineage in Japan. Meeks considers a broad range of issues surrounding women’s engagement with Buddhism during a time when their status within the tradition was undergoing significant change. The thirteenth century brought women greater opportunities for ordination and institutional leadership, but it also saw the spread of increasingly androcentric Buddhist doctrine. Hokkeji explores these contradictions.
“This book makes major contributions to at least three key topics: women and Buddhism, mainstream Buddhism in premodern Japan, and religious institutions as settings for cultural and religious life. It is the first study to provide readers with a detailed and comprehensive overview of a single specific religious site and the women who lived there. Although the number of works that deal with women and Buddhism continues to grow (testifying to the on-going interest in this topic), none to my knowledge have yet attempted such a sustained analysis of a female religious order. While the so-called new Buddhism of the Kamakura period attracts the most attention from scholars, this study demonstrates the importance of the mainstream religious centers of Nara (and Kyoto) for our understanding of religions in premodern Japan.” —William M. Bodiford, University of California, Los Angeles
April 2010 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3394-7 / $50.00 (CLOTH)
Studies in East Asian Buddhism, No. 23
Published in association with the Kuroda Institute