Whatever place a roll of this scripture may occupy, in all of those places one is to erect a stupa of seven jewels, building it high and wide and with impressive decoration. There is no need even to lodge a relic in it. What is the reason? Within it there is already a whole body of the Thus Come One. - The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma
Bones are the relics of the living body, but sutras are the relics of the Dharma-body.
- Commentary on the Lotus Sutra
(Myoho renge-kyo mongu)
What is the Lotus Sutra? The scripture itself provides one ready answer: The Lotus Sutra is a Buddha relic. Like a number of other early Mahayana sutras, the Lotus Sutra asserts an equivalence between a roll of scripture and a relic of the Buddha. Employing a new theory of embodiment, the Lotus Sutra replaces the Buddha's corporeal remains with his textual corpus. The material form of the Buddha's word, rather than the material remains of the Buddha's body, is recognized as the central object of veneration and, as such, is to be enshrined in a stupa, a reliquary previously reserved for the remains of a buddha.
The relationship between the cult of the relic and the cult of the book has been of interest to Buddhist scholars for at least the last thirty-five years (Schopen 1975). But it has been of interest to Buddhist practitioners for much longer than that. Sutra passages, in particular the gatha on the chain of causation (pratityasamutpada), were inscribed on objects deposited in stupas in India and Central Asia from at least the second century and in northwest China from the fifth century CE (Boucher 1991). By the eighth century, the practice of enshrining Buddhist gatha and dharani within stupas had spread to the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago (Fontein 1995). This transposition of the text and the relic - a concern central to the Lotus Sutra - was foundational to the Japanese Buddhist tradition. One million miniature stupas were produced by the state between 764 and 770, each containing a printed dharani (Yiengpruksawan 1987). By the mid-eighth century as well, the relics traditionally deposited beneath the central posts of Japanese pagodas were replaced by sutra texts (Kidder 1972, 140). Such examples of bibliolatry, following the injunctions of the Lotus Sutra, underscore the significance of the materiality and performativity of religious texts.
Illuminated transcriptions of the Lotus Sutra from Heian- and Kamakura-period Japan are emblematic of this equation of Buddha and Dharma bodies. In the tenth-century Ichiji Ichibutsu Hokekyo (Zentsuji), each character of the Lotus Sutra is paired with a miniature image of a buddha as if illustrating Sengxiang's claim in the Fahua zhuanji that "each single character of the Lotus Sutra is a Buddha" (Rambelli 2007, 109; T. v. 51, 49a). In the twelfth-century Ichiji Rendai Hokekyo (Ryukoji), each character of the sutra is placed on a lotus: the Dharma physically taking the place of the Buddha. In the twelfth-century Ichiji Hoto Hokekyo (Togakushi Jinja) each character of the sutra is enshrined within a stupa: the text, in each of its lexical components, a sacred Buddha relic. Perhaps the most complete conflation of text and relic is represented in the stupa sutra (tokyo), such as the twelfth-century example at Danzan Jinja or the thirteenth-century example at Ryuhonji, in which each character of the sutra's ten fascicles is transcribed in gold to form a set of ten stupas. In these painted scrolls, the Lotus Sutra and the stupa are inseparable and mutually constitutive, or in a more Buddhist turn of phrase, interdependent and nondual. This paper will examine another practice in which the text of the Lotus Sutra was treated as a relic. Beginning in the eleventh century, Japanese Buddhists copied, consecrated, enshrined, and then buried the Lotus Sutra underground in the precincts of sacred mountains, shrines, and temples. The sutras, produced at great effort and expense, were not meant to be read, studied, or even seen for eons. Rather, they were deployed as ceremonial artifacts to assure the salvation of both the religion and the individual.
The practice of sutra burial began in the eleventh century during a time that marked, for many Japanese Buddhists, the beginning of the end: the onset of the age of the Final Dharma (Jpn., mappo) in which both the availability of texts and the ability of people to realize them would reach their lowest points. The Dharma, it was believed, would not be fully restored until 5.67 billion years after the death of Shakyamuni when the Future Buddha Maitreya would descend from his heaven and inaugurate a new golden age. The ineluctable decline of the Dharma presented soteriological problems for both the tradition and the individual. The death of the Dharma challenged, of course, the very existence of Buddhism and required acts of protection and preservation to ensure its survival. But the age of the Final Dharma also had implications for Buddhist practitioners for whom individual salvation became increasingly difficult as the source of teachings receded into an inaccessible past and the spiritual capabilities of humans diminished. It was a time when history itself represented a profound religious problem and when Japanese Buddhists began to formulate specifically religious responses to the problem of history. The burial of sutras - as revealed in their contents, dedicatory inscriptions, material form, and locations - sought to address the twin religious challenges of the Final Dharma by establishing a link between the death and salvation of Buddhist texts and that of the individual believer.
Buried copies of the Lotus Sutra were transcribed on a variety of materials, most often on paper or silk scrolls in black, gold, or vermilion ink (the latter was occasionally mixed with blood). Yet there are also numerous examples of sutras inscribed on more permanent materials such as stone, ceramic tiles, or copper plates, signaling perhaps an even more explicit concern with the preservation of the teachings. The silk or paper sutras would be placed in cylindrical, stupa-shaped containers fashioned out of bronze, iron, ceramic, or stone that were often in turn encased in a second outer vessel of ceramic or stone. They were then buried in small underground chambers lined with stones and occasionally packed with charcoal to aid in preservation. The chambers were sealed with stone and marked, like a grave, with an earthen mound and a stone stupa, lantern, or stele. The sutra containers themselves exhibit a great variety of styles, from the detailed miniature treasure pagoda (hoto) to the simple lidded cylinder. Yet, however elaborate or plain, all of the containers share the basic form of the stupa, a reliquary housing the remains of a buddha. As death rituals for the Dharma-body, sutra burials were understood within the vocabulary of Japanese Buddhist practice as kuyo, or memorial services. As such, sutra burials produced a great deal of symbolic value, yet the beneficiary of this merit - the Dharma, the sponsor, the sponsor's family members - was by no means fixed.
Although it was not the only sutra buried, the Lotus Sutra, including the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings and the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue as its opening and closing chapters, was by far the most common. There are nearly one hundred examples of Lotus Sutra burials dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and by the middle of the twelfth century such burials were performed in every province of the country (Seki 1990). The Lotus Sutra reserves the highest praise for those "who shall receive and keep, read and recite, explain, or copy in writing a single verse of the Scripture of the Blossom of the Fine Dharma, or who will look with veneration on a roll of this scripture as if it were the Buddha himself" (Hurvitz 1976, 174). In carrying out these scriptural instructions, the sponsors of sutra burials enjoyed the combined merit of copying and protecting the sutra together with that of building a stupa in which to enshrine and venerate it. The enshrinement of the Lotus Sutra within stupa-shaped reliquaries is thus entirely in keeping with the sutra's own sacramental logic. It is also in keeping with the eschatological concerns of the Lotus, in which the Buddha praises "those who preserve the sutra in the evil age after my parinirvana."
Although preeminent, the Lotus Sutra was neither the only text nor the only cult represented in sutra burials. As the Final Age was understood to portend political as well a religious troubles, the Lotus Sutra was also often joined by two additional scriptures held to protect the state, the Golden Light Sutra (Jpn., Konkomyo-kyo) and the Benevolent Kings Sutra (Jpn., Ninno hannya haramitsu-kyo). The other scriptures most commonly buried, and usually accompanying the Lotus Sutra, were the three sutras dedicated to the Buddha Amida: the Larger Pure Land Sutra (Jpn., Muryoju-kyo), the Smaller Pure Land Sutra (Jpn., Amida-kyo), and the Sutra of Meditation on Amida Buddha (Jpn., Kanmuryoju-kyo), and the three sutras dedicated to the Future Buddha Maitreya, known in Japanese as Miroku: the Sutra on Maitreya Achieving Buddhahood (Jpn., Miroku jobutsu-kyo), the Sutra on Maitreya's Rebirth Below [on Earth] (Jpn., Miroku gesho-kyo), and the Sutra on Maitreya's Rebirth Above in Tusita (Jpn., Miroku josho tosotsu-kyo). The Amida sutras describe the Gokuraku Pure Land and the Buddha Amida's vow to guarantee rebirth there for all who call on him. The Miroku sutras describe Miroku, while still a bodhisattva, practicing in the Tosotsu heaven, where, with the accumulation of sufficient merit, his devotees may also be reborn. They tell as well of a future golden age, 5.67 billion years after the death of the Buddha Shakyamuni, when the Dharma will rise again to the apex of its historical cycle. At that time Miroku, also known as Jison in his role as the future Buddha, will descend to the earth and expound the Dharma at three assemblies to be held beneath the legendary Dragon Flower Tree.
The Lotus Sutra, Amida, and Miroku cults were in no way mutually exclusive. The Lotus Sutra, for example, guarantees rebirth in Amida's Pure Land to women who revere the sutra's twenty-third chapter (Hurvitz 1976, 300). Elsewhere it promises that any male devotee "at life's end . . . shall straightway ascend to the top of the Tosotsu heaven, to the place of the bodhisattva Miroku" (Hurvitz 1976, 335). Miroku faith, moreover, emphasized that heavenly rebirth can be gained through religious works, the most common of which in Japan at the time was copying the Lotus Sutra. This emphasis on scriptural production and displays of piety suggests another reason, beyond the eschatological, for the connection between the Miroku cult and the burial of the Lotus Sutra.
The origin of Lotus Sutra burial is traditionally ascribed to the Tendai patriarch Ennin (794 - 864), who copied the Lotus Sutra and enshrined it in a small stupa on Mount Hiei in 831. Ennin's method of copying, known as "according to prescribed method," or nyoho, was itself a major ritual undertaking and set the standard for sutra transcriptions thereafter. Although sutra copying as a religious practice goes back to the earliest period of Buddhist Japan, Ennin's efforts were of a different ritual scale. He is said to have gone into retreat for three years to prepare for and carry out the transcription. He grew the hemp to make the paper on which the sutra was to be written, made his own brush of twigs and grass rather than animal hair, and made his own ink from graphite rather than using ink sticks containing animal glue. Combining ritual and writing, Ennin performed three full prostrations with the transcription of each character. He placed the completed sutra within a small wooden stupa, presented to it ten kinds of offering, and installed it in a hall at Yokawa later known as the Nyohodo (Genko shakusho 1930, 62).1 Ennin's wooden stupa containing the sutra was later placed inside a larger stupa made of bronze. Yet the sutra was not in fact buried until 1031, a full two centuries after Ennin's transcription, when it was enclosed within a third bronze reliquary and interred in the earth beneath the Nyohodo. The text chronicling the burial emphasizes the text's performative power to preserve both Buddhists and Buddhism itself until the coming of the Future Buddha.
In the Final Age, the head monk commanded that the gilt bronze sutra tube in the hall be moved and that the sutra be buried beneath the earth and stones of the mountain to await the coming of Miroku. This is in accordance with the Master's original vow. [The sutra] dwelling inside a seven-jeweled stupa will assuredly be transmitted to the age of Miroku and thus Shakyamuni's Dharma will save people. People will rely on this sutra until the age of Miroku arrives (Eigaku yoki 1959 - 60, 549b).
The eleventh and twelfth centuries were both the earliest and the most active period of sutra burial. Although the practice continued into the eighteenth century, more than half of all sutra burials date from these first two hundred years. Sutra burials from these early centuries are more extravagant than those of later periods and include many examples of gold ink transcriptions on indigo paper. The period is also distinguished by the greater number of sutras interred at a single site and by the inclusion of other items such as mirrors and swords.2 Yet these burials speak to more than the historical and soteriological anxieties of the age. They also locate the sites where such anxieties were expressed and where, it was hoped, they could be conquered as well. In an age so closely identified with the imperial court, it is significant that the majority of these sites were located outside the capital of Heian-kyo. Some of these sites were relatively close by, such as Daidoji and Mount Inari to the south, Mount Kurama to the north, and Mount Hiei to the northeast of the capital. Others, such as Makiosan in Izumi Province, Mount Koya and Kumano in Kii, and Mount Asakuma in Ise, were somewhat farther from the capital. Numerous other Heian-period sutra burials have been found throughout the northeast from Mount Fuji to as far north as Dewa and Mutsu. It is western Japan, however, that reveals perhaps the most surprising examples. In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, when the practice was at its height, more than 60 percent of known sutra burials took place in the northern part of Kyushu (Chijiwa 1987, 426).3 Indicative as well of an anxiety over the permanency of the teachings are two sets of the Lotus Sutra engraved on thin bronze plates excavated in northern Kyushu. The two sets, made of a material designed to outlast the Final Age itself, were created within a year of each other in the mid-twelfth century.
Scholars have suggested a variety of reasons for eleventh- and twelfth-century sutra burials. Some see the practice linked to the rituals of Tendai mountain asceticism, some to the hope for rebirth in Amida's or Miroku's paradise, some to the desire for enlightenment and benefits for oneself and others. Nearly all, however, agree that the primary motivation was the concern to preserve the sutras throughout the Final Age until the coming of the Future Buddha Miroku, who will use the buried sutras in his three inaugural sermons beneath the Dragon Flower Tree. The locations of major sutra burials - such as the mountains of Hiei, Koya, Kinpusen, and Hiko - were believed to be the sites of Miroku's future descent. Moreover, dedicatory inscriptions included with the deposits appear to support the claim that an anxiety over the Final Dharma constituted the central motivation for sutra burials in this period.
The term Final Dharma appears often in inscriptions, as if attesting to the timeliness of the rites. It seems to function both as chronological notice and theological rationale for the burials. A Lotus Sutra inscribed on tile and buried in 1071 is dated "the third year of the Enkyu era in the Final Age of the Buddha's Dharma" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 127, no. 123). In 1082, another buried Lotus Sutra is inscribed "at the beginning of Shakyamuni's Final Dharma Age . . . to be used when Miroku comes to preach the Dharma beneath the Dragon Flower Tree" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 131, no. 130). Numerous other sutra burials are dated "in the age of the Final Dharma of Shakyamuni" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 357, 394, nos. 407, 449). Some are even more specific, counting off the exact number of years that have elapsed since the Buddha's passing. The inscription on a sutra reliquary buried in 1103 is dated "2052 years after the death of the Buddha Shakyamuni" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 161 - 62, no. 163; Nara National Museum 1976, 83, no. 168).
Although a preoccupation with the age of the Final Dharma clearly informs the practice of sutra burial, the preservationist impulse was not necessarily the sole motivating factor. Inscriptions also express the hope that, because of this meritorious act, the donor (or another individual to whom the merit is being transferred) will be reborn, in the interim, in Amida's Pure Land or in Miroku's Tosotsu heaven. These two goals, one concerned with the salvation of the Dharma and the other with the salvation of the self, address the dual challenge of the Final Dharma and were often combined in the logic of practice. Even the burial of sutras inscribed on tile - a medium intended to withstand the test of time - reveals such multiple intentions. Perhaps the most significant burial of tile sutras was performed in the years 1143 and 1144 at Gokurakuji in Harima Province by six monks under the leadership of Zenne, the abbot of the temple (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 265 - 78; Taira 1992, 115 - 18). Nearly five hundred ceramic tiles were inscribed with some thirty different sutras and images of buddhas and bodhisattvas, and various mandalas were interred to last throughout "the ten thousand-year period of the Final Dharma" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 269).
Zenne calculated that, "20,160 years have passed since Shakyamuni entered nirvana and it is still 5.67 billion years before Jison's advent" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 268). Zenne then asked for "tranquility in this life, good health, and longevity . . . rebirth in the upper realms of the Gokuraku Pure Land and presence at the coming of Jison" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 274). In addition he prayed for a felicitous rebirth for his ancestors, his teachers, and the retired emperor Ichijo (980 - 1011), for "the tranquility of the [present] Emperor," and for "the protection of the state" (Takeuchi 1947 - 68, 270). The other monastic sponsors of the burial, however, make no mention of Miroku or the chronology of the Final Dharma but ask only for rebirth in Amida's Pure Land for themselves, their teachers, and their parents. Indeed the salvation of one's parents was not an uncommon motivation. A burial at Shiojisan was made in 1116 expressly "for the benefit of my mother" (Nara National Museum 1976, 44b, no. 74), and another at Kurodani in Echizen Province in 1157 "so that my father and mother may attain rebirth in the Pure Land" (Nara National Museum 1976, 117b, no. 233). Thus, even in the age of the Final Dharma, people buried sutras to save more than just themselves.
Such multiple intentions, moreover, characterized sutra burials from the very beginning. The sutra burial performed by Fujiwara no Michinaga in 1007 at Kinpusen in Yamato Province is usually considered the first documented example of the practice. Kinpusen had long been associated with Miroku and his realm (Miyake 1988, 15). The Daigoji monk Sonshi (832 - 909) identified the deity of Kinpusen as a manifestation of Miroku and described the mountain as the inner realm of the Tosotsu heaven (Shugendo shoso 1985, 62, 80). The sutra burial of Michinaga, the most powerful figure of the age, was an enormous ritual production. He had an elaborate sutra case cast in gilt bronze and inscribed with a lengthy dedicatory inscription and twelve Sanskrit characters praising the Lotus Sutra. He then began a seventy-three-day period of purification.4 As he climbed the mountain, with sixteen other aristocrats in attendance, he stopped to make offerings of silver and silk at fertility shrines along the way.
Once at the central sacred area, he presented lamps and parasols, 100 copies of the Lotus Sutra, 100 copies of the Benevolent Kings Sutra, 110 copies of the Heart Sutra, and 8 copies of the Essential Meaning of the Heart Sutra to "the thirty-eight gods" of the fertility shrines. These dedications were performed for the benefit of the sovereigns Reizei (950 - 1011) (whose consort was Michinaga's sister Choshi) and Ichijo (whose consorts included Michinaga's eldest daughter Shoshi and niece Teishi); for Michinaga's nineteen-year-old daughter; and for the crown prince, the future Emperor Sanjo (son of Reizei and Michinaga's sister Choshi).5 Michinaga then dedicated a set of eight scriptures in fifteen rolls that he had copied out himself in gold ink. These are listed in his inscription as including "one copy of the Lotus Sutra in eight rolls together with the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings and the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue, and one copy each of the Essential Meaning of the Heart Sutra, the Amida Sutra, the three Miroku sutras, and the Heart Sutra." He described these actions, in an inscription on the gilt bronze case in which the sutras were buried, as "burying the relics of the Dharma-body (hosshin no shari)." In identifying the sutras as "relics of the Dharma-body," Michinaga's inscription may have been informed by the statement in the Commentary on the Lotus Sutra (Myoho renge-kyo mongu) that "bones are the relics of the living body, but sutras are the relics of the Dharma-body" (T., 1718, 110c).
Michinaga worshiped both Amida and Miroku, stating that "the Amida Sutra promises that one who calls on Amida on one's deathbed will be reborn in his Gokuraku Pure Land [and] the Miroku sutras allow one to avoid an inauspicious rebirth and to be received at Jison's advent." Michinaga asked to be reborn in Amida's Pure Land but only until Miroku's advent: "When Jison becomes a buddha, may I journey from the Gokuraku realm to the place of Miroku Buddha, listen to his lectures on the Lotus Sutra, and attain buddhahood." Michinaga prayed that at that future time his "buried sutras would spontaneously well up out of the earth" like the Jeweled Stupa in the Lotus Sutra and be used by Miroku in his inaugural sermons (Nara National Museum 1976, 6b - 7a).
Early sutra burial donors such as Michinaga and those that followed for close to two centuries expressed a wide range of desires. They prayed for the salvation of the Dharma, themselves, and their family members. Michinaga dedicated the merit from some of his pious exertions on Kinpusen to his brother-in-law Reizei, his son-in-law Ichijo, his daughter Shoshi, and his nephew the crown prince. Thus, although the sites, scriptures, and dedicatory inscriptions indicate an anxiety over the death of the Dharma, the death of the individual received an equal if not greater degree of attention. Fujiwara no Moromichi (1062 - 99), for example, the great-grandson of Michinaga, followed his forebear's practice of burying sutras on Kinpusen. In 1088 Moromichi dedicated a large number of memorial transcriptions to an equally large number of family members.6 In the colophon of his gold-ink copy of the Lotus Sutra, Moromichi, who at the time was suffering from an earache, reveals some of his motivations:
In copying this sutra during the period of ritual purification for my pilgrimage to Kinpusen, I pray for the purification of my inner ear, one of the Six Roots, and thinking of the importance of the daughters of this house, hope that the merit of [copying] the One Vehicle of the Lotus will provide them with the karmic bond to be present at the three sermons beneath the Dragon Flower Tree (Nara National Museum 1976, 20b, no. 30).
Another dedicatory inscription included in the sutra mound speaks also to a concern with the future glory of Miroku and of Moromichi's lineage as well. The final section begins with Moromichi's statement that
I have copied out the Threefold Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Diamond Lifespan Sutra by hand in gold letters and buried them at Kinpusen in a copper vessel in order to advance the noble teachings of the One Vehicle of Shaka and to establish the karmic bond to be present at Jison's three assemblies. With faith that these offerings will surely enjoy the longevity of metal and stone, I present them to the mountain god with reverence for his miraculous powers, and to the fertility deities of the Thirty-eight Sites.
Yet it concludes with a prayer "for those born into this hereditary house to quickly rise to the Third Rank, for the past karma of its deceased fathers and grandfathers, and for the prosperity of its descendants" (Nara National Museum 1976, 19b - 20a, no. 29).
To these ends Moromichi offered one copy of the Diamond Lifespan Sutra for the reigning sovereign, Horikawa, and his consort; one copy each of the Benevolent Kings Sutra for the longevity and prosperity of his brother-in-law the retired sovereign Shirakawa, his sister Fujiwara no Kenshi, and their four sons; ten copies of the Lotus Sutra, five copies of the Benevolent Kings Sutra, and one hundred rolls of the Diamond Lifespan Sutra for the longevity and prosperity of his father, Fujiwara no Morozane; five copies of the Lotus Sutra, five copies of the Benevolent Kings Sutra, and one hundred rolls of the Diamond Lifespan Sutra for the health and longevity of his mother, Fujiwara no Reishi; three copies of the Benevolent Kings Sutra and one hundred rolls of the Diamond Lifespan Sutra for his son Fujiwara no Tadazane; and for his wife, Fujiwara no Zenshi, one roll each of the Kannon Sutra, the Essential Meaning of the Heart Sutra, the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Lifespan Sutra, the Sutra of the Eight Secret Dharanis, and the Sutra of the Eight Spells of Heaven and Earth together with five copies each of the Lotus Sutra, the Benevolent Kings Sutra, and the Diamond Lifespan Sutra. These offerings were all in addition to his personal gold-ink transcriptions of the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Diamond Lifespan Sutra. The disproportionate range of sutras that Moromichi dedicated to his wife suggests that the principal reason for this sutra burial was, like that of his grandfather Michinaga, to pray for the birth of descendants. Zenshi had given birth to one son, Tadazane, in 1078 and another consort had produced a second son two years later. But Moromichi was still without a daughter to marry into the imperial line, which was essential to the Fujiwara strategy for maintaining their political power. Moromichi explained as much in his prayer: "I am a young man in the prime of my life and yet I have not been blessed with many children. This I bemoan. My prayer is that I might have another" (Nara National Museum 1976, 19a).
The motivations for sutra burials were, like their contents and locations, so various that no single explanation can be meaningfully applied to all. The stated intentions of the donors exceeded a concern with the salvation of the Dharma to include the salvation of oneself and of one's family members both living and dead. This range of religious desire is reflected in the scriptures chosen and the goals to which they were directed: rebirth in Miroku's Tosotsu heaven or Amida's Gokuraku Pure Land. Gokuraku rebirth was seen not as a means of final escape but as an intermediary stage in a larger eschatological plan: a place for the fortunate to wait before returning to earth to attend Miroku's sermons ushering in the next age. Other donors who asked for rebirth in the Tosotsu heaven understood their goal also as a temporary station from whence to descend with Miroku in the far distant future.
There remains, however, a fundamental tension between these two motives; a difference in the way they approach history. The preservationist aspect of sutra burial, saving the Dharma in its material forms for the Future Buddha, represents an act of historical responsibility, an investment in the future. The advent of Miroku's golden age cannot be accelerated; its eventual appearance after a long period of decline can only be prepared for. The other intention of sutra burials, saving oneself and one's family through immediate future rebirth in either Amida's or Miroku's paradise, follows a different model entirely. Although retaining a this-worldly emphasis (the petitioner would continue to amass spiritual capital to assure his future reward), its goal has become "severely dehistoricised."7 Buddhism's cosmological timetable, the grand historical model to which the Final Dharma belongs, is circumvented. The Pure Land path of personal salvation with its immanent eschatology seems to obviate the need for institutional preservation.
This divergence is borne out in the sutra burials themselves. A preoccupation with preserving the sutras throughout the age of the Final Dharma in anticipation of Miroku's advent was largely limited to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Later sutra burials rarely mention Miroku's age and are more directly related to the fate of the individual after death. As their ritual function changed from preservation to memorialization, devotion to Amida came to replace the cult of Miroku. In Japan, as in China, Miroku's paradise cult was absorbed and superseded by that of Amida, and the transformation of sutra burials may have been part of this larger religious shift. Rather than the Miroku iconography of early examples, later burials exhibit far more pronounced Amida imagery. The engraved mirrors and hanging bas-reliefs that often accompanied the sutras were decorated with scenes of Amida descending to welcome the dying into his Pure Land, rather than portraits of the Future Buddha.
Yet as we have seen, sutra burials from their earliest examples were concerned with the postmortem salvation of both the religion and the religionist. The Pure Land faith was not limited to a single temporal orientation. Concern with a future rebirth, nostalgia for a past golden age, and visions of a paradise in the present world were in no way mutually exclusive. Such multiple intentions may explain the combined presence of the Miroku and Amida cults as well as the ambiguous place of the age of the Final Dharma in the sutra burials. For although presented, both implicitly and explicitly, as the ostensible reason for the practice, the discourse of the Final Dharma appears on closer examination to have functioned more as a rhetorical center around which other personal, familial, and political anxieties converged. If the practice of sutra burial reveals anything about the role of eschatology in early medieval Japan, it is the range of concerns that are contained within this discourse. As an umbrella term, the Final Dharma is able to embrace a variety of religious desires while at the same time charging them with a heightened sense of historical urgency.
In the age of the Final Dharma, history and salvation presented a formidable set of interrelated problems. To many monks and aristocrats of the period, the practice of sutra burial provided a solution of sorts. Ceremonial transcription, enshrinement, and burial of the Lotus Sutra was among the repertoire of Lotus Sutra - related practices that offered the ritual strategies and material means whereby the end-time could be prepared for and paradise secured. For historians of Japanese Buddhism, however, the evidence of sutra burials can address another set of problems and provide another kind of buried treasure. Sutra burials, like so many time capsules, offer materials for a geography of religious aspiration. They identify the desires, the individuals, the cults, and the sites central to Japanese Buddhist practice. As such they may offer a map to a new sort of history, a spatial history that might begin to explore the vast and less charted landscape of the Japanese religious imagination.
For scholars of religion beyond Japan, the history of sutra burials offers other lessons as well. The practice reveals that the meanings of sacred texts are not limited to their narrative content. Although the particular sutras selected were certainly relevant to the aspirations of those who buried them, the texts themselves did not bear the communicative or pedagogical function usually attributed to scripture. Great care and expense went into the production of these texts: carved on stone, clay, bronze, and copper; inscribed on precious indigo dyed paper, on costly silk, or in ink mixed with one's own blood; enshrined in reliquaries of figured gilt bronze and imported Chinese porcelain. Yet the texts were never to be recited, studied, or taught, or at least not for 5.67 billion years. The value of their production and use lay in their media as much as in their message: what mattered most were the time, place, and materiality of their deployment. They were created expressly to be hidden from sight, buried so as to outlast time and overcome death. They represent an example of how the power of sacred texts lies not only in their words and ideas but also, as the Lotus Sutra insists, in their materiality and instrumentality.
. The ten kinds of offerings are traditionally presented to a buddha, not to a text. As listed in the Lotus Sutra, they are flowers, incense, ornaments, powdered incense, unguent, burning of incense, canopies and banners, clothing, dancing and music, and joining one's hands in worship.
. These extra-scriptural materials are usually interpreted as representing the donor's concern with the protection of the sutra. Chijiwa, however, has suggested that they may also represent a form of offering directed more toward local deities than the buddhas (Chijiwa 1987, 444).
. For example, 173 sutra burials (of known location) were performed in the hundred years between 1064 and 1163. Of these, 104 took place in Kyushu (Seki 1990, 710 - 24).
. Mido kanpaku ki,
Kanko 4 (1007) 5/17. Although Michinaga's dedicatory vow, inscribed on the exterior surface of the sutra tube, refers to one hundred days of purification, the standard period lasted around seventy. Ritual preparations for pilgrimages to Kinpusen could last for twenty-one, fifty, or one hundred days. Michinaga began the rites on the seventeenth day of the fifth intercalary month and ended them on the first day of the eighth month.
. Go-Nijo Moromichi ki
(1952), Kanji 2 (1088) 7/1. This was the first of two sutra burials on Kinpusen. Moromichi again journeyed there two years later in 1090.
. Nattier (1988) has analyzed these two models as the "here/later" and the "there/later."
Boucher, Daniel. 1991. "The Pratityasamutpadagatha and Its Role in the Medieval Cult of the Relics." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 14, no. 1, pp. 1 - 27.
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Eigaku yoki. 1959 - 60. In Gunsho ruiju, vol. 16. Tokyo: Zoku Gunsho Ruiju Kankokai.
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Fujiwara no Michinaga. 1952 - 54. Mido kanpaku ki. In Dai Nihon kokiroku, vol. 2. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Genko shakusho. 1930. In Kokushi taikei, vol. 31. Tokyo: Kokushi Taikei Kankokai.
Go-Nijo Moromichi ki. 1952. In Dai Nihon kokiroku, vol. 7. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
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Miyake, Hitoshi. 1988. Omine shugendo no kenkyu. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Company.
Nara National Museum, ed. 1976. Kyozuka iho. Nara: Nara National Museum.
Nattier, Jan. 1988. "The Meanings of the Maitreya Myth: A Typological Analysis." In Maitreya, the Future Buddha, ed. Alan Sponberg and Helen Hardacre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 23 - 47.
Rambelli, Fabio. 2007. Buddhist Materiality: A Cultural History of Objects in Japanese Buddhism. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Schopen, Gregory. 1975. "The Phrase 'sa prthivipradesas caityabhuto bhavet' in the Vajracchedika: Notes on the Cult of the Book in Mahayana." Indo-Iranian Journal 17:147 - 81.
Seki, Hideo. 1990. Kyozuka to sono ibutsu. Nihon no bijutsu 9, no. 292. Tokyo: Shibundo.
Shugendo shoso. 1985 (1916). In Nihon daizokyo. 3 vols. Tokyo: Meicho shuppan.
Taira, Masayuki. 1992. "Mappo matsudaikan no rekishiteki igi." In Nihon chusei no shakai to bukkyo. Tokyo: Hanawa Shobo, pp. 110 - 54.
Takeuchi, Rizo, ed. 1947 - 68. Heian ibun, vol. 12 of Kinseki ibun. Tokyo: Tokyodo.
Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall. 1987. "One Millionth of a Buddha: The Hyakumanto Darani in the Scheide Library." In The Princeton University Library Chronicle, 48:3.
This article was originally published in the July - September 2010 issue of Dharma World.
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