This chapter introduces the notion of ritualized writing, a specific mode set apart from more quotidian forms. It traces the development of sutra transcription in terms of the “cult of the book” in the Buddhist tradition and highlights similar practices in a variety of religions around the world. It then outlines a practice based approach to ritual that focuses on ethical cultivation and social function, while arguing against a classic functionalist position. The introduction then turns to historiographical issues related to the “state Buddhism model” as well as its critics. It proposes new approaches to get beyond common elite/folk binaries. It outlines the structure and logic of the book and overviews the sources with a detailed description of Shōsōin documents, a collection of roughly 10,000 documents from the eighth century that deal primarily with sutra copying.
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