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Dissertation Project Operetto (Abstract)

A research focused on Genshin’s Ichijō yōketsu, its influence on Japanese Medieval Buddhism and its place in the monastic milieu

(Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Klaus Vollmer)

The aim of this doctoral project in Japanese Buddhist studies is to conduct a research on monk Genshin’s (源信942-1017) Ichijō yōketsu 一乗要決. In particular, I focus on how it was perceived, studied and considered in the Tendai 天台 hongaku 本覚 discourse, and how it affected later schools of Buddhism included in a framework that has been called “Kamakura new Buddhism” (Jap. Kamakura shinbukkyō 鎌倉新仏教) schools. The third aspect of my research is to enquire about the reasons behind the neglect of the Ichijō yōketsu in favour of the more famous Ōjōyōshū 往生要集, especially in the monastic milieu.

The Ichijō yōketsu is a treatise on the One-vehicle doctrine and expounds the teaching of the originary enlightenment from a pre-medieval perspective. The doctrine of the originary enlightenment (the so-called hongaku doctrine) begins to have a different nuance during the medieval period. From this historical period on, it means that all beings are already enlightened the way they are, that is to say, that the mere existence coincides with enlightenment. It expresses the affirmation of “suchness” and of the concrete phenomenal world. The different meaning that the concept of originary enlightenment acquired during the medieval period has been called by later scholars “hongaku shisō” 本覚思想. The hongaku shisō greatly influenced the founders of the Kamakura schools: Hōnen (法然1133-1212), Eisai (栄西 1141-1215), Shinran (親鸞 1173-1263), Dōgen (道元 1200-1253) and Nichiren (日蓮 1222-1282). One of the aims of this research is to study the influence that the Ichijō yōketsu had on the teachings formulated by the founders of the Kamakura schools. Furthermore, a specific attention is devoted to the evolution of the meanings of the word “hongaku” itself.

A research on the ways the Ichijō yōketsu was studied, perceived and received within the Tendai tradition, and on how it influenced monks of the Kamakura schools can lead to a deeper understanding of the dynamics within Japanese Medieval Buddhism.