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Writing and Renunciation in Medieval Japan
The Works of the Poet-Priest Kamo no Chômei
by Rajyashree Pandey, La Trobe University

“It will doubtless become a standard reference, and remain so, for many years to come.”
Hiroko Kobayashi in Asian Studies Review  

“An enlightening treatment of Cho€mei and the issues of his day.”
Margaret H. Childs in Monumenta Nipponica
 

This is the first monograph-length study in English of Kamo no Chomei, one of the most important literary figures of medieval Japan. Pandey situates Chomei’s works within a debate that had become central in both China and Japan: litterateurs considered the implications of writing, seen as a fundamentally worldly pursuit, for the goals of detachment and renunciation as central to the experience of Buddhist enlightenment. Drawing upon a wide range of writings in a variety of genres from the Heian and Kamakura periods, Pandey shows how the terms kyogen kigo (wild words and fancy phrases), shoji soku nehan (samsara is nirvana), ho€ben (expedient means), and suki (single-minded devotion to an art) were deployed by writers in an attempt to reconcile literary and artistic activities with a commitment to Buddhism. By locating Chomei within this broad context, the book offers an original reading of his texts, while at the same time casting light upon intellectual preoccupations that were central to the times.

Through an examination of records left by Chomei’s contemporaries, the book also traces the life of Chomei, particularly his activities as a court poet and the circumstances that led to his taking the tonsure. Focusing on one key term, suki, which finds a central place in Chomei’s poetic treatise, the Mumyosho, and his collection of religious setsuwa, the Hosshinshu, Pandey argues that Chomei’s reworking of this concept and his exploration of its semantic possibilities are central to his project of reconciling the contesting claims of writing and renunciation. The Hojoki too emerges as a text that reworks this tension and places it at the very center of its concerns.

Published by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan
Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies No. 21
Published 1998, 208 pp.
ISBN 0 939512 86 6, hardback, £24.00