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What did reviving the Buddhist precepts mean in medieval Japan?

Series name, speaker information; photo of the speaker
Thursday, February 16, 2023
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Paul Groner (Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies, University of Virginia)
APSI Speaker Series

Buddhist monastics are supposed to observe a large number of rules or precepts: 250 for monks and 348 for nuns in East Asia. In medieval Japan, most monastics did not observe many of these, but occasionally serious monks would strive to re-establish the precepts. My talk focuses on two of these: Eison 叡尊 (1201-1290) and Kakujō 覚盛 (1194-1249). They believed that the orthodox lineage of monks in Japan had been hopelessly compromised and so resorted to a self-ordination in which they meditated and practiced until they received an auspicious sign from the Buddha that they had received the precepts and had re-established a lineage. Even so, the precepts that they were focusing on would never have permitted such an action. My talk describes and explains their actions and rationalizations.

Paul Groner received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Yale and teaches at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on the Japanese Tendai School during the Heian period and the precepts and ordinations, which led to research on Eison, founder of the Shingon Ritsu sect, and the status of nuns in medieval Japan. In recent years, his interests have extended to the Tendai educational system during the Muromachi Period and to the establishment of Japan's first public library at the Tendai temple, Kan'eiji. His publications consist of Saichō: The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School, Ryōgen and Mount Hiei: Japanese Tendai in the Tenth Century, and approximately fifty papers.

Following Dr. Groner's talk, attendees are invited to a light reception to formally announce and celebrate the donation of his personal library to Duke University Libraries. Dr. Groner's generous gift to the libraries comprises more than 1,200 volumes in English, 600 volumes in Japanese, and 100 volumes in Chinese, all covering aspects of East Asian religion. Please join us in celebrating Dr. Groner's incredible contribution to the scholarly community at Duke and beyond.