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The Joy of the Dharma: Esoteric
Buddhism and the Early Medieval

Transformation of Japanese Literature
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Citation Bushelle, Ethan David. 2015. The Joy of the Dharma: Esoteric
Buddhism and the Early Medieval Transformation of Japanese
Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate
School of Arts & Sciences.

Citable link http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467509

Terms of Use This article was downloaded from Harvard University’s DASH
repository, and is made available under the terms and conditions
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The Joy of the Dharma:
Esoteric Buddhism and the Early Medieval Transformation of Japanese Literature






A dissertation presented

by
Ethan David Bushelle

to
The Department of East Asian Language and Civilizations





in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy
in the subject of

East Asian Languages and Civilizations





Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts





May 2015

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173

In his discussion of Japanese phonology and its relation to Sanskrit, Jien is

drawing on the tradition of Sanskrit, or Siddham, studies in Tendai esoteric Buddhism.

Annen is a major figure in this tradition. In 880, he compiled one of the first studies of

Siddham, the Shittan zōDzɑθ, which subsequently served as the foundation for the

study of Sanskrit in medieval Japan. As Itō Satoshi has argued, it is likely that Jien’s

theory is shaped by the phonological theories of the Tendai monk MyōgakuɁϝ, who

based his study of Sanskrit on Annen.268 In his influential treatise on Sanskrit phonology,

Han’non sahō ĉ҉§ʸ, Myōgaku elaborates a chart of the fifty-sounds of the Japanese-

language (gojū-on zu �û҉Ŀ) based on Sanskrit phonology and argues that all sounds

of the Sanskrit language can be correlated to Japanese sounds in the chart.269 Jien’s use of

this theory reveals the importance of esoteric Buddhist language theory in the formation

of waka-mantra theory.

Jien then uses this implied identity between Sanskrit mantra and Japanese waka as

the basis for his claim that the Way of Waka (uta no michi) is identical to the Buddhist

path: “Since it is the technique of language of our Kingdom, the Way of Waka is also the

Way of the Buddha.” (wa ga kuni no kotowaza nareba, tada uta no michi ni te Butsudō o

mo narinu beshi F�ŀ1�-F�.D3�'Iʗ1х/+�хG>.B07 ).

Thus, in this poem preface, Jien articulates a view of waka as the Japanese analog to


268 Itō Satoshi, “Bon, kan, wago no dōitsu-setsu.” Itō characterizes Jien’s theory of the identity of

Japanese with Sanskrit as a kind of extension of divine kingdom discourse in the realm of language theory
that, like the origins-traces buddha-body theory on which it is based, creates a close link between Japan and
India and, in so doing, uses the prestige of the latter in elevating the status of the former.

269 On the reception of the fifty-sounds chart in early modern Kokugaku, see Regan Murphy, “Esoteric
Buddhist Theories of Language.”

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Indian mantra. This represents the earliest example of this theory, which, as noted above,

came to figure centrally in medieval Japanese poetics.

Jien’s comparison of waka to mantra shares the same basic assumption

underpinning his claim that waka is Dharma joy: namely, that waka, as a custom of the

Yamato kingdom, is the primordial language of the kami. These two claims thus both

operate within a broader discourse on Japanese language. While waka-Dharma joy theory

emphasizes the efficacy of waka to elicit the response of the kami, waka-mantra theory

explicates this efficacy by revealing the elements of waka poetry as coextensive with the

elements of the Buddhist universe that make up the body of the Buddha. This suggests

that esoteric Buddhist discourse on mantra played a formative role in the development of

Dharma joy waka.



Waka-mantra theory came to figure prominently in medieval discussions of waka

poetry.270 In later expositions, waka is associated specifically with dhāranī understood as

a mnemonic device, or sōji ǻț, or literally “holding everything,” a Chinese translation

that closely reflects the term’s verbal root dhr in its root sense of “to uphold.” This

association of waka with dhāranī, moreover, is more explicitly predicated on origins-

traces buddha-body theory. In his late thirteenth-century collection of homiletic tales

Shasekishū ʳ̨ѻ, Mujū Ichien˨¡hÒ (1227–1312) provides a paradigmatic

example:

In regard to the virtue of waka, it eliminates the mind of distraction and
impulse and has the virtue of quieting and stilling [the mind]. Also, in a


270 For a recent English-langauge discussion of this theory, see Keller Kimbrough, “Reading the

Miraculous Powers of Japanese Poetry.”

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