Dream, Pilgrimage and Dragons in the Kegon Engi Emaki (Illustrated Legends of the Kegon Patriarchs): Reading Ideology in Kamakura Buddhist Narrative Scrolls

Chan, Yuk Yue 陳玉茹
Supervisor: Dr. P.R. Stanley-Baker

Dream, pilgrimage and dragons are remarkable themes in Kegon engi, the illustrated narrative picture scrolls in the Japanese Kamakura period (1185-1333) which tells the legendary tales of two Kegon (C. Huayan) sect patriarchs, Gangyō and Gishō. Gangyō becomes enlightened after having a demonic dream. He is recommended to the emperor by a dragon king and then becomes one of the patriarchs of the Silla Kegon sect. Gishō makes a
pilgrimage to China and meets a beautiful lady Zemmyō. She has transformed into a dragon and used her supernatural power to help him to achieve his Buddhist goal.

Living in an era of warfare and disasters, many Kamakura people believed that they were living in the time of mappō, the end of the dharma. In this hopeless time, besides the old Buddhist sects, many new Buddhist sects arose to answer people’s need for salvation. Some Buddhist sects created narrative picture scrolls as their didactic tools, which illustrate the stories of their patriarchs or the eminent priests. Kegon engi is seen as the didactic tool of an old Japanese Buddhist sect, Kegon sect, to revive against the new Buddhist sects.
Previous research has discussed the dating, attribution, stylistic analysis and reconstruction of Kegon engi, and the analyses have mainly focused on discussing the creation and the narration methods. However, the meaning of a narrative is generated through a narrating process, not a creative process, in which the narrator communicates with the audience. To recount a story, the audience inevitably needs to re-interpret the meaning conveyed in a narrative. In this process, values and thoughts of the audience will unconsciously affect their interpretations of the narrative. Thus, to study this kind of ideology of a narrative picture scroll, we can also find out what kind of ideological belief existed at that time.

From Gangyō’s dream we can see that the audience perceived the universe as a non-dual totality, therefore the dream sometimes does not differentiate between the illusion, vision or reality. We can find that the demon and the good teacher are two complementary subjects in a pilgrimage and the pilgrimage was perceived as a reflection of a karmic life. By analysing the story of the dragon-lady Zemmyō, we can see the perception of viewing woman’s body as inferior and defiled that hinders woman from obtaining Buddhist enlightenment. The analytical methods used in this thesis include studying the Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist narrative arts, examining the legendary tales in Japan and China, and studying ideological analysis derived from Western culture.

The development of narrative picture scrolls reached its zenith in the Kamakura period. The various genres and artistic styles of scrolls in this period reflect the social and cultural complexity of this era. Examining the ideology in Kegon engi gives a way to look into the Kamakura society from another interesting and valuable perspective.