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Mountain Buddhism in East Asia

  • De Witt, Lindsey
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2019
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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Mountains play a central role in Buddhist cosmology and practice. Scriptural accounts of Mount Sumeru (cosmological center of the Hindu-Buddhist universe) and Vulture Peak in India (favored abode for the Buddha and a panoply of deities and disciples) clearly attest to this, as does the physical and symbolic construction of Buddhist sacred sites in mountainous locales. The varieties of Buddhist activity that developed in East Asia reflect a new valorization of mountains not found in India, however. Diverse forms of Buddhist thought and practice took root at mountain sites throughout present-day China, Korea, and Japan, flourishing in complex and fascinating ways over time through transregional and transcultural exchange—and always in relation to (and sometimes competing with) local concerns and customs. International research on Buddhist mountain spaces, places, and practices has prospered in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with various monographs, anthologies, and essays presenting information about mountains in Buddhist discourse or Buddhist activity that takes place in mountains. Still, no single work to date investigates mountain Buddhism in East Asia in a comprehensive or comparative manner. This review introduces an eclectic mix of English-language sources, grouped thematically (although with significant overlap), that span all time periods and employ various disciplinary approaches. The slight geographical imbalance present in the list reflects the nascent state of research on Korean religions and the exceptionally well-developed body of work on mountain Buddhism in Japan, especially Shugendō, a combinatory and mountain-centric religious tradition deeply influenced by Buddhist doctrine and ritual.

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