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Japanese Buddhism in the Formation of Tokugawa Authority

by Sonehara, Satoshi, Tohoku University

During the social disturbances at the end of the medieval period a new group of leaders emerged who sought to exert control over the realm. They were: Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616). As these men sought to obtain ever more powerful authority, they devised ways to effectively use the spiritual power of Buddhism for their own ends. In concrete terms, they identified themselves with the "ultimate principles of Buddhism" so as to assert their own apotheosis. This process first became possible during the dawn of the early modern period at the time when Buddhism finally had been absorbed by ordinary Japanese people. Only recently have scholars started to address the role of Buddhism in formation of the authority of the Tokugawa Shogunate. I will discuss this topic in more detail in a way that reveals some of the special features of Buddhism in Japan.

Conference paper presented at Buddhism In (and Out of) Place Conference held 17-18 October 2004

Center for Buddhist Studies