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Vows for the Masses: Eison and the Popular Expansion of Precept-Conferral Ceremonies in Premodern Japan

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Over the course of his roughly fifty-year ministry, the Japanese vinaya (ritsu) revivalist priest Eison (also read “Eizon,” 1201–1290) is said to have bestowed the bodhisattva precepts upon some 97,710 people. Many of these conferrals were given en masse, with tens or hundreds (and, according to some records, even thousands) taking precepts (jukai; Chns. shoujie) from Eison together, in single ceremonies. This study places Eison's use of precept-conferral ceremonies in the broader historical context of East Asian, and especially Japanese, Buddhist practice. It then focuses on the particular methods used and innovations introduced by Eison and his vinaya-revival movement, paying close attention to the socio-political roles that precept-conferral ceremonies played in relationships between monks, monasteries, and lay devotees in medieval Japan.

Affiliations: 1: School of Religion, University of Southern California, 825 Bloom Walk, ACB 130, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1481, USA;, Email: meeks@usc.edu

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