The discipline of writing scribes and purity in eighth-century Japan

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This article focuses on ritualized scribal practices in eighth-century Japan. It uses colophons, scriptorium documents, and narrative tales to explore how sutra copyists upheld vegetarian diets, performed ablutions, wore ritual garments, and avoided contact with pollutants stemming from death and illness. Such practices, often described in terms of purity, spread widely on the Asian continent in the seventh century and reached Japan by the eighth century. This article argues that upholding purity was deeply connected to notions of ritual efficacy but also enabled pious lay scribes to train for monastic careers. The evidence is used to reassess historiographical debates on Nara Buddhism with particular attention to the well-known "theory of state Buddhism" (kokka Bukkyō ron).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)201-239
Number of pages39
JournalJapanese Journal of Religious Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


  • Nara buddhism
  • Purity
  • Scribes
  • Shōsōin
  • State buddhism
  • Sutra copying


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