Yorke Antique Textiles

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Item Details
Mid-Edo (1700-1800)
A rare, fully-embroidered silk uchishiki. The embroidery is three-dimensional, with several techniques and thread-thicknesses; there are areas – including the mask – of gold-wrapped threads. Very good condition, with small stains on the white hemp lining, as well as a few loose threads. 34" x 21" Giving an uchishiki to a temple was meant to be a prayer for the departed one to be purified and to become the spirit of an ancestor and then to be reborn again into this world. This uchishiki depicts a scene from a Shin Buddhist folktale. Before describing the folktale itself, some historical background would be useful. Several sects of Buddhism arrived in Japan via China in the 6th century. Shin Buddhism, now the most popular Buddhist sect in Japan, was founded in the 13th century by the former Tendai- sect Japanese monk Shinran Shonin. Earlier schools of Buddhism that came to Japan, including the Tendai and Shingon sects, gained acceptance because of the way they meshed the Buddhist pantheon with the native Japanese Shinto pantheon. For example, a Shinto god could be seen as a manifestation of a bodhisattva. Shin Buddhism, on the other hand, intentionally separated itself from the Shinto religion, and left out many practices associated with it as they contradicted the notion of reliance on Buddha. Shin Buddhism drew much of its support from lower social classes in Japan who could not devote the time or education to other esoteric Buddhist practices or merit-making activities. Early Shin Buddhism did not truly flourish until the time of Rennyo (15th century), who was 8th in descent from Shinran Shonin. Through his charisma and proselytizing, Shin Buddhism was able to amass a greater following and grow in strength. Rennyo was not only a Buddhist priest, but a charismatic religious leader, a shrewd political strategist, an igniter of literary imagination, a friend for turbulent times, and a representative figure for Japanese spirituality. Popular legends grew up around Rennyo which indicate his closeness to people and his attraction for them. One of the most famous is a story which was made into a humorous type of kyogen drama. This story - titled (in English) Bride-scaring Mask, is the subject-matter of this uchishiki. According to the story, a couple were devoted to Rennyo and Shin teaching and they constantly attended the temple to receive instruction. However, the wife, Okiyo, was subjected to the jealousy and wrath of her mother-in-law who tried to prevent the pious daughter from going to the temple by putting on a demon mask to frighten her when she went to the temple. When Okiyo was confronted by the demon who threatened to devour her, she held fast to her faith - and showing her devotion to Buddha - she chanted and held her hands together in prayer. Okiyo countered that the demon should not eat a person of faith. Okiyo represents the ideal woman follower who has personally chosen her faith, perhaps in face of family opposition, and who overcomes problems via the Shin ritual chant. However, when the mother tried later to get the mask off, she could not remove it. The kind Okiyo took her to Rennyo, who taking pity, recited a prayer for them, upon which the mask dropped off. The old woman experienced a complete change of heart and thereafter mother-in-law and daughter-in-law went together for temple visits. The kyogen play based on this story became very popular in the northern Japanese provinces where Shin Buddhism flourished, because it reflected problems in society and also the Shin ideal that faith transformed the mother's attitudes, enabling the family to live together harmoniously. The story reflects a conflict between the old, traditional religion that was threatened by the popularity of Rennyo and the devotion he attracted. It also reveals the transforming power of the teaching in which the ego-centric jealousy of the mother-in-law, represented by the mask, dropped away when she met Rennyo and the teaching. Through his difficult life Rennyo became intensely aware of the adversities and impermanence of life that all people share. The loss of his own wives and daughters particularly inspired his reflection and interest in the deliverance of women who made up a large part of his following. Note: a great deal of the above text was based on an essay by Rev. Dr. Alfred Bloom: Rennyo and the Renaissance of Contemporary Shin Buddhism
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