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Graduate Students Workshop: "Conjuring Demons: Buddhist Narratives of Encounters with the Demonic"

April 27, 2019 (All day)
Bldg 70, Rm 72A


Michael Dylan Foster (University of California, Davis)

"Entertaining Demons: The Namahage Ritual and its Buddhist Inflections"


The Namahage ritual of Akita Prefecture in Northern Japan is an annual New Year’s Eve event during which young men costumed as demons (oni) tramp through the snow to raucously enter individual households; there they frighten and discipline children, are entertained with food and drink by family members, and bless the household with good fortune for the coming year. The ritual was first documented two hundred years ago; in the twentieth century it became the focus of scholarly and touristic attention, and in 2018 it was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In this paper, I draw on my own ethnographic research, as well as historic and legendary accounts of the ritual, in order to explore how the appearance and behavior of these Namahage demons may be linked to Buddhist imagery and belief.


Michael Dylan Foster is a professor in the UC Davis Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, where he teaches courses on Japanese folklore, heritage, tourism, and popular culture. He is the author of The Book of Yōkai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore (2015), Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yōkai (2009), and numerous articles on Japanese folklore, literature, and media. He is also the co-editor of The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World (2016) and UNESCO on the Ground: Local Perspectives on Intangible Cultural Heritage (2015).


Christine Mollier (Research director CNRS/ Center for Research on the Civilizations of East Asia (CRCAO), Paris)

"Demons of the Last Age: Perspectives from Medieval China" 


Archeological evidence and historical sources demonstrate that the Chinese people, including the elite, had already mastered the arts of arresting and exorcising demons during the Warring States period (5th-3rd c. B.C.E). However, little remains of these ancient demonological documents. For a more fully elaborated literature on the topic, one has turn to early medieval religious sources. It is with the development of Buddhist and Daoist eschatology, during the first centuries C.E., that we see a multiplication of demonological inventories, of which I will introduce the most representative. I will show how their taxonomies served to identify and track down demons of varied origin, most of all spectral-spirits, which inflict harm and disease upon human beings. The exorcistic strategies that are advocated by these manuals for protecting and saving the faithful from the demonic noxious attacks, including ritual devices such as talismans, dharanis and incantations, will be surveyed. Finally, we will see how Chinese demonology reached its heights, acquiring an ideological dimension, in Buddhist and Daoist apocalyptic literature of the fifth and sixth centuries. These works describe the merciless battle between good and evil and prophesize the impending end of the world and the coming of a messianic deity. Demonization of the miscreants and foreigners, and the ambivalent role of the demons themselves, are among the themes that will be explored in this context.


Christine Mollier is a research director (Prof.) at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). A specialist in the history of Chinese medieval religions, she was a member of the French research group on Dunhuang manuscripts, and now belongs to the Center for Research on the Civilizations of East Asia (CRCAO) in Paris. Her work focuses on medieval Daoist eschatology, Buddho-Daoist interactions, and talismanic traditions. Her publication include the award-winning Une apocalypse du Ve siècle: Le Livre des incantations divines des grottes abyssales (Collège de France, 1990) and Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic Exchange in Medieval China (Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2008).


Jacob Dalton (University of California, Berkeley)

"Demons Underfoot: The Tibetan Ritual of Oath-Breaker Suppression (dam sri mnan pa) and Its Mythic Context"


The myth of King Songtsen Gampo's seventh-century suppression of Tibet's rākṣasī demoness beneath a gridwork of Buddhist temples is well known.  This talk will begin with a review of the mythic and ritual precedents for the myth in Indian tantric and puranic sources.  The talk will argue that the myth shares elements in common with foundation sacrifice, a practice found around the world, in which the sacrificial victim's corpse is placed beneath a building to enliven and strengthen its construction. The talk will then turn to the little-known Tibetan Buddhist rite of Oath-Breaker Suppression (dam sri mnan pa). Digital copies of numerous short manuals for the performance of this rite are now available.  Some of these will be surveyed for shared underlying ritual patterns, and possible connections to both the rākṣasī myth and the larger theme of foundation sacrifice will be considered.

Jacob Dalton, Khyentse Foundation Distinguished Professor of Tibetan Buddhism, received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Michigan in 2002. After working for three years (2002-05) as a researcher with the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library, he taught at Yale University (2005-2008) before moving to Berkeley. He works on Nyingma religious history, tantric ritual, early Tibetan paleography, and the Dunhuang manuscripts. He is the author of The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism (Yale University Press, 2011) and Through the Eyes of the Compendium of Intentions: The History of a Tibetan Ritual Tradition (Columbia University Press, 2015), and co-author of Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Stein Collection at the British Library (Brill, 2006). He is currently working on a book-length study of tantric ritual manuals from Dunhuang.
Event Sponsor: 
Co-sponsored by From the Ground up: Buddhism and East Asian Religions Project
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This event belongs to the following series