Sometime during the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, several variants of an indigenous Chinese sutra known as the Xuepenjing 血盆経 (“Blood Bowl Sutra,” Jpns. Ketsubonkyō), were transmitted to Japan. Emphasizing the impurity of women’s reproductive blood, this short scripture teaches that women are fated to fall into a special hell known as the “Blood Pond Hell” (chi no ike jigoku 血の池地獄) in retribution for the sin of polluting the earth with blood. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, temples throughout Japan actively promoted the cult of the Blood Bowl Hell as a method of saving women. In this cult, disgust for the female body, first emphasized in Buddhist texts as a means of encouraging celibate monks to remain distant from women, is directed not to celibate monks, but to a new audience of lay men and women. My talk will explore two early modern commentaries on the text in an effort to understand how priests presented the teachings of the Blood Bowl Sutra to this audience. 

An audio-only version of this episode is also available.

Originally recorded April 22, 2011 at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, Ca.
Copyright © 2010 Lori Meeks

Making Sense of the Blood Bowl Sutra: Gender, Pollution, and Salvation in Buddhist Sermons from Early Modern Japan
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