Reading by heart: Translated buddhism and the pictorial heart sutras of early modern Japan

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This article combines contemporary work in social bibliography, translation theory and Buddhist studies to focus on two questions. First, what exactly does the act of "reading" sutras entail? And second, what is the precise relation between material sign and acoustic sound in Buddhist recitation? Answers to these questions are necessarily inextricably bound to local contexts and communities. The so-called 'pictorial Heart Sutras' (Jp: esetsu Shinkyō) of early modern Japan provide the particular aperture through which I pursue these queries. Following D. F. McKenzie, I understand the pictorial sutras "not simply as verbal constructs but as social products" (1999: 127) which may be examined to reveal patterns of textual engagement, practices of translation and particular techniques for associating the quotidian world of rice paddies and rounded bellies with the abiding realm of religious doctrine. In particular, I argue that the pictorial sutras develop a "visual vernacular" whose lexicon evinces an abiding interest in fecundity and a belief in the apotropaic value of sutra reading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-25
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number220
StatePublished - Mar 22 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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