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Taking the tonsure in Heian

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Tsushima no Kami
Tsushima no Kami
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Joined: 09 Apr 2007
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Location: Washington, DC, USA

PostPosted: Wed Jul 13, 2011 4:57 am    Post subject: Taking the tonsure in Heian Reply with quote
So here is one that has recently popped into my brain... just as all my books disappear for 6-8 weeks (maybe more) as I start my move: What were the realities of Heian kuge receiving vows (jukai) and later coming back to a secular life in Heian?

I know that people would take jukai multiple times--one princess took them three times over her life, for a variety of reasons; only the last two appear to have been for actual piety while the first seems to have been more a request for spiritual protection. Emperors and other powerful nobles are known for taking vows and "retiring", but keeping their hand in the game. Taira Kiyomori is famous for doing just this, and I believe the Heike Monogatari makes a comment about the conflict in him wearing religious garb over his armor at one meeting--though I could be misremembering.

However, I also see references to people coming back to what sounds like a truly secular position; not just controlling things from outside and via family councils, but actually taking up position in the government again.

Taking temporary Buddhist vows is not isolated to Japan. Although they practice a more Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, it is common practice for people here to take vows temporarily in order to earn merit or get an education. Children might do it as a sort of Buddhist summer school, or perhaps to earn merit for themselves or their family members. People might do it because they are hitting an inauspicious time in their life and feel they need to counter that somehow. When they come back, they go back to whatever they were doing before.

So was this the model of some of the kuge in Heian-kyo? Would they take vows at one point and then come back to an official position in the government? If so, I imagine they would need to do away with their souken and don an official hou once more; is that others' impression? Or could you have a lay novice as Minister of the Right garbed in his Buddhist vestments at court?

Does anyone know the answer to this? I've looked online and haven't found any articles that really go in depth about how this worked in Heian society beyond people just "retiring" and running things from afar; can anyone think of famous cases of people coming out of retirement and back to a secular government position?

I'm probably missing someone quite obvious, but we'll see.
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