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Buddhism and the Transformation of Old Age in Medieval Japan$
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Edward R. Drott

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780824851507

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824851507.001.0001

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Decrepit Demons and Defiled Deities

Decrepit Demons and Defiled Deities

Elders at the Crossroads in Late Heian Japan

(p.39) Chapter Three Decrepit Demons and Defiled Deities
Buddhism and the Transformation of Old Age in Medieval Japan

Edward R. Drott

University of Hawai'i Press

Chapter Three presents two Heian-period legends in which the aged body was used to represent otherworldy beings associated with death, disease, dirt (fujō), pollution (kegare), and liminal zones—the dōsojin (a god of the crossroads) and the datsueba (hag of the Japanese Styx). These tales were compiled at a time of heightened concern that Japan was entering a “defiled age” of decline of the Buddhist Dharma (mappō). Pure Land Buddhists promoted “transcendentalist” solutions in which mortals could escape the defilement and impermanence of this world, epitomized by the aged body, through rebirth in a Pure Land. Both tales demonstrate this form of salvific logic. In the case of the aged male dōsojin, auditors were encouraged to identify with the polluted old god as he achieved release from his polluted aged form. The datsueba was instead presented as an embodiment of the fearful aspects of samsara the faithful should seek to flee.

Keywords:   dōsojin, datsueba, kegare, fujō, “defiled age” of mappō, Pure Land ideology, transcendentalist Buddhist logic

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