Tracing the Itinerant Path: Jishu Nuns of Medieval Japan
Griffiths, Caitilin J., (University of Toronto)
PhD Thesis, Philosophy, University of Toronto (2010)
Medieval Japan was a fluid society in which many wanderers, including religious preachers, traveled the roads. One popular band of itinerant proselytizers was the jishū from the Yugyō school, a gender inclusive Amida Pure Land Buddhist group. This dissertation details the particular circumstances of the jishū nuns through the evolving history of the Yugyō school. The aim is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the gender relations and the changing roles women played in this itinerant religious order. Based on the dominant Buddhist view of the status of women in terms of enlightenment, one would have expected the Buddhist schools to have provided only minimal opportunities for women. While the large institutionalized monasteries of the time do reflect this perspective, schools founded by hijiri practitioners, such as the early Yugyō school, contradict these expectations. This study has revealed that during the formation of the Yugyō school in the fourteenth century, jishū nuns held multiple and strong roles, including leadership of mix-gendered practice halls. Over time, as the Yugyō school became increasingly institutionalized, both in their itinerant practices and in their practice halls, there was a corresponding marginalization of the nuns. This thesis attempts to identify the causes of this change and argues that the conversion to a fixed lifestyle and the adoption of mainstream Buddhist doctrine discouraged the co-participation of women in their order.