Coming Soon: ‘Buddhist Debate in Medieval Japan by Prof. Asuka Sango

Coming soon to Religion Compass: ‘Buddhist Debate in Medieval Japan’ by Prof. Asuka Sango – PROVISIONAL ABSTRACT:
Buddhist debate was an oral exchange of questions and answers between two monks or nuns concerning issues of Buddhist doctrine. Although it has received considerable attention from scholars of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, its vitality in medieval Japan has only recently begun receiving scholarly attention. As recent scholarship has emphasized, not only was participating in debates where issues of Buddhist doctrine were intensely deliberated indispensable to educating scholar monks, but it was also an official requirement for promotion. Yet the debates’ politicized and highly technical nature have led many critics, both medieval and modern, to dismiss them as merely a device for self-glorification or as tedious displays of pedantry. At the same time, the currently dominant historical paradigm of the “exoteric-esoteric system” presumes that doctrinal learning and debate practice declined as esoteric Buddhist schools and their thaumaturgic rites performed for private, this-worldly purposes grew in popularity. Recent studies, however, have shown that debates in fact provided occasions for inter-sectarian dialogue while advancing Buddhist doctrinal studies in both exoteric and esoteric schools and remained crucial to both educating and promoting monks throughout the medieval period.

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