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Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan's Tokeiji Convent Since 1285

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A fascinating look at a Zen convent throughout its history.

Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes examines the affairs of Rinzai Zen’s Tōkeiji Convent, founded in 1285 by nun Kakusan Shidō after the death of her husband, Hōjō Tokimune. It traces the convent’s history through seven centuries, including the early nuns’ Zen practice; Abbess Yōdō’s imperial lineage with nuns in purple robes; Hideyori’s seven-year-old daughter—later to become the convent’s twentieth abbess, Tenshu—spared by Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle for Osaka Castle; Tōkeiji as “divorce temple” during the mid-Edo period and a favourite topic of senryu satirical verse; the convent’s gradual decline as a functioning nunnery but its continued survival during the early Meiji persecution of Buddhism; and its current prosperity. The work includes translations, charts, illustrations, bibliographies, and indices. Beyond such historical details, the authors emphasize the convent’s “inclusivist” Rinzai Zen practice in tandem with the nearby Engakuji Temple. The rationale for this “inclusivism” is the continuing acceptance of the doctrine of “Skillful Means” (hōben) as expressed in the Lotus Sutra—a notion repudiated or radically reinterpreted by most of the Kamakura reformers. In support of this contention, the authors include a complete translation of the Mirror for Women by Kakusan’s contemporary, Mujū Ichien.

…a delightful triumph in which a Rinzai Zen convent emerges as the fascinating protagonist of a tale spanning seven hundred years. The Morrells write with the authority of scholars with an exhaustive knowledge of Japanese history, literature, and religion … Their study includes thoughtful reflections on the complex relationship of women and Buddhism and takes care to present as complete an image as possible of the lives of the women who passed through Tokeiji’s gates over the past centuries.” - Buddhadharma

This cultural history of the famous Tōkeiji Convent is rich in detail and generous in providing translations of the prose and poetry speaking to both its Rinzai Zen cult and its popular reputation as a sanctuary for women escaping from abusive marriages. This is an engaged scholarship.” - Edwin Cranston, Harvard University

This long-awaited tome on Tōkeiji through the ages is chock full of witty insights, poetic excerpts, irascible comments, and fascinating information. A delightful read.” - Paul L. Swanson, coeditor of Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions

This book provides a very interesting social history of a particular Buddhist temple in Japan by taking an interdisciplinary approach that integrates historical, literary, art-historical, and related materials to open a window into a fascinating side of Japanese religion and society.” - Steven Heine, co-editor of Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives

About the authors:

Sachiko Kaneko Morrell is retired from her position as East Asian Librarian at Washington University in St. Louis. Robert E. Morrell is Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature and Buddhism at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Sand and Pebbles (Shasekishu): The Tales of Muju Ichien, A Voice for Pluralism in Kamakura Buddhism, also published by SUNY Press, and Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report.

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Sachiko Kaneko Morrell, Robert E. Morrell
State University of New York Press
Year of publication
10 July 2006
Number of pages
USD 33.95

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