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Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of GenjiPhilosophical Perspectives$
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James McMullen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190654979

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190654979.001.0001

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Murasaki’s “Mind Ground”

Murasaki’s “Mind Ground”

A Buddhist Theory of the Novel

(p.257) Chapter 8 Murasaki’s “Mind Ground”
Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji

Melissa McCormick

Oxford University Press

Over the course of its reception history, The Tale of Genji was viewed by many readers and commentators as a Buddhist text relevant to issues of morality and ethics, but also metaphysical questions about the nature of truth, perception of the phenomenal world, and the phenomenal world’s relationship to language. Numerous Genji commentaries promoted the idea that the Tendai Buddhist notion of nonduality formed an underlying structural component of the tale. Writers based this idea on the belief that the Genji’s author, Murasaki Shikibu, had mastered a system of meditation put forth in The Great Calming and Contemplation (Ch. Mohe zhiguan, J. Makashikan) by the sixth-century founder of Tien-t’ai in China, Zhiyi (538–597). This essay examines the commentaries as well as a group of paintings produced alongside them as crucial evidence for the existence of a nascent philosophical theory of the novel. Taking seriously the ideas of historical readers who attempted to understand Genji holistically through the lens of Tendai philosophy may bring us closer to the intellectual foundations of the tale than previously imagined, adding another dimension to our understanding of the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and literature.

Keywords:   Murasaki Shikibu, Tendai Buddhism, nondualism, four gates (shimon), Zhiyi, Fujiwara no Shunzei, Ishiyamadera, Hotaru, Suma, Akashi

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