Social Networking in the East Asian Buddhist World in the Late 12th Century
Shea Ingram, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University
Social networks have always played a role in the development of religion. By the Southern Song, large-scale networks centered around a particular monastery had emerged in China that attracted the participation of common people through Pure Land devotion. A type of "two-tiered" Pure Land network, which included an "inner" tier of monastics and an "outer" tier of hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of lay disciples, served both to popularize Pure Land practice and encourage donations to the temple. In contrast, until the late Heian Period in Japan, Pure Land societies were organizations limited to scholars, monks, and wandering hijiri, with few ties to common laypeople. This changed due to the efforts of the monk Chōgen (1121-1206), who traveled to China on three occasions between the early 1150's and 1176. During his voyages, Chōgen witnessed the success of the institutionalized Pure Land network at Yanqingsi in Ningbo. Based on his experiences there, he organized a similar, two-tiered network in Japan as part of a larger project to reconstruct Nara's Tōdaiji temple, which had been destroyed during the Gempei Civil War (1180-1185). Chōgen deployed his network not only to raise revenues and procure raw materials, but also to popularize Pure Land devotion according to a continental model that would have lasting effects on medieval Japanese Buddhism and beyond.