Biography as Scripture: Ojoden in India, China, and Japan

By Blum, Mark L. | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Biography as Scripture: Ojoden in India, China, and Japan


Blum, Mark L., Japanese Journal of Religious Studies


Records of individuals who achieved rebirth in the pure land of Amitabha Buddha began as a genre of hagiography in eighth-century China and began appearing in Japan in the late tenth century. Thereafter these ojoden were produced repeatedly throughout Japanese history in greater numbers than in China, and came to function as a form of prooftext for the establishment of the Pure Land school. Focusing on an apocryphal Indian ojoden created in the late Heian period, this paper evaluates the form and content of ojoden as a unique genre of Japanese religious literature exhibiting influences from monastic bibliography, miracle texts, and the category of adbhutadharma in Indian Buddhist literature.

KEYWORDS: ojoden - hagiography - biography - miracles - setsuwa - Honen - China - India - Heian

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

It goes without saying that the literature of biography and its elaborate cousin hagiography play an important role in all religious traditions. A wellfunctioning religious system has many needs to provide for its community. One of those needs is to produce and maintain personal narratives that supportJ that religion's messages. In this paper I will consider the role of a unique form of biographical narratives known in Japanese Buddhism by the rubric ojoden ..., or biographies of people known to have attained a special rebirth outside sansara known as ojo, rendered here as "Birth," in which one has reached the paradisic Pure Land of the Buddha Amida (Amitabha/Amitayus). Within this genre, special attention will be given to a little-known text from the late Heian period called Tenjiku ojo kenki ... [Miraculous accounts of Birth in the Pure Land in India, zjz vol. 16, 337], which forms a rather unusual example of Birth stories located in India. After a brief overview of the history of ojoden and discussion of how they might be studied, I will show how this particular Indian ojoden is both typical and atypical of the genre, and what it suggests about the nature of the genre itself.

The term ojoden should perhaps be called properly ojo-nin-den ... because for all their depictions of the specific events of an individual's experience of ojo, the format is generally predicated on the frame of a biographical statement about individuals whose piety/diligence/praxis resulted in this specific religious attainment. While some refer to this form of soteriology as grace, the stories one encounters in the ojoden genre suggest another religious paradigm, for they always link ojo to praxis of one sort or another. The stories in ojoden may seem utterly imaginary or extremely mundane, and in combining these two aspects many resemble the magico-realism of contemporary South American literature. But in general they typically blend both the didactic and the doctrinal, mixing historiographic and hagiographic information in a way that skillfully brings the ideals of religion into the lives of what appears to be historical persons, and indeed many of the individuals are well-known historical personages. There are exceptions, however, because even though we know that the compilers of these texts often knew many of the people of whom they wrote and chose as exemplars of shared religious ideals, we also have examples of complete fiction purporting to do the same thing, as I will show below.

I cannot do justice to the rich heritage of this literature in China and Japan in the space available and bemoan the fact that no complete translation of any of these works has as yet been published. The following, somewhat limited discussion, is an attempt to come to terms with the the nature of the genre itself, asking why it arose, what motivating factors can we discern in its authors or compilers, why it persisted into the modern period, and where should this genre fit in to our general understanding of Buddhist literature in a Japanese cultural context.

Historical Overview of Ojoden

The idea of broad, inclusive biographical compendiums is essentially a Chinese rather than an Indian conception, the most famous being the Kosoden, or Gaosengzhuan [Biographies of eminent monks, t 50. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Biography as Scripture: Ojoden in India, China, and Japan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.