Sino-Japanese religious discourse, more often than not, is treated as a unidirectional phenomenon. Academic treatments of pre-modern East Asian religion usually portray Japan as the passive recipient of Chinese Buddhist traditions, while explorations of Buddhist modernization efforts focus on how Chinese Buddhists utilized Japanese adoptions of Western understandings of religion. This paper explores a case where Japan was simultaneously the receptor and agent by exploring the Chinese revival of Tang-dynasty Zhenyan. This revival—which I refer to as Neo-Zhenyan—was actualized by Chinese Buddhist who received empowerment (Skt. abhiṣeka
) under Shingon priests in Japan in order to claim the authority to found “Zhenyan” centers in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and even the USA. Moreover, in addition to utilizing Japanese Buddhist sectarianism to root their lineage in the past, the first known architect of Neo-Zhenyan, Wuguang (1918–2000), used energeticism, the thermodynamic theory propagated by the German chemist Freidrich Wilhelm Ostwald (1853–1932; 1919 Nobel Prize for Chemistry) that was popular among early Japanese Buddhist modernists, such as Inoue Enryō (1858–1919), to portray his resurrected form of Zhenyan as the most suitable form of Buddhism for the future. Based upon the circular nature of esoteric transmission from China to Japan and back to the greater Sinosphere and the use of energeticism within Neo-Zhenyan doctrine, this paper reveals the sometimes cyclical nature of Sino-Japanese religious influence. Data were gathered by closely analyzing the writings of prominent Zhenyan leaders alongside onsite fieldwork conducted in Taiwan from 2011–2019.
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