Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
In the mid-eighth century, Emperor Shōmu ordered the creation of provincial national protection monasteries and convents (kokubunji and kokubun-niji, respectively) connected to the Golden Light and Lotus Sūtras. The monasteries were called the "Temples of the Golden Light Four Deva Kings for the Protection of the Country" (konkōmyō shitennō gokoku no tera) and the convents were the "Temples of the Lotus for the Atonement of Sin" (hokke metsuzai no tera). Emperor Heizei added the Sūtra for Benevolent Kings to the kokubunji half a century later; by the end of the ninth century the three texts were known collectively as the "three national protection sūtras" (sangokokukyō). While the Golden Light Sūtra and the Sūtra for Benevolent Kings both contain passages related to national protection, the Lotus Sūtra does not. Nor does the Lotus Sūtra include the theme of atonement that could suggest why it was connected to the kokubun-niji.
examine what the three sūtras say with regards to protection, kingship and atonement to determine if their specific messages might be responsible for their becoming Japan's official national protection sūtras. I also look at King Aśoka, Sui Wendi and Empress Wu's relic distributions as forebears to Emperor Shōmu's kokubunji system, where he may have spread sūtras as relic replacements. Finally, I examine the relationship between atonement and national protection. I propose that Kūkai and Saichō, both looking to promote their sects' protective powers, made use of these three sūtras, which were already seen as particularly potent protective texts on account of their association with the kokubunji and kokubun-niji.
MacBain, Abigail I., "Temples and Sutras: Nara Japan's National Defense System" (2008). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5790.
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