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Exploring The Esoteric In Nara Buddhism

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Chapter Summary

This chapter examines esoteric thought and practice within what has come to be known as Nara Buddhism, a label that conveys two related but distinctive meanings. On the one hand, Nara Buddhism carries a temporal connotation: it designates Buddhism of the Nara era in Japan. On the other hand, it holds a geo-sectarian meaning in that it often refers to the six schools established and headquartered in Nara that remained powerful and influential well beyond the Nara era. The chapter focuses on the presence and adaptation of esoteric thought and practice within the Nara establishment from the Nara era onward. Kūkai was a paradigm-changing figure within Japanese Buddhism because he introduced a clear taxonomy to distinguish between esoteric and exoteric doctrine, texts, and practices. Esoteric Buddhism represented a paradigm shift in terms of the discourse and practice of Japanese Buddhism.

Keywords: esoteric Buddhism; Kūkai; Nara Buddhism



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