Ryûken Williams is a Ph.D.
candidate in religion at Harvard University specializing in Japanese
religious history. He has been a visiting lecturer at Brown University,
Trinity College, and Sophia University, Tokyo. He is the translator of
Shinichi Inoue's Putting Buddhism to Work (Kodansha, 1997).
Abstract of paper given at Buddhism and Ecology conference:Liberation and Death: Issues in the Study of Rites to Release Animals (Hôjô-e) in Medieval Japanese Buddhism
Based on temple, shrine, government and literary records, this paper problematizes idealized notions of Buddhist rites to release animals (hôjô-e) by examining how this ritual was actually carried out by Buddhist and Shintô institutions in medieval Japan. Though motivated by Buddhist notions of compassionate action and merit-making, this liberative ritual often involved the death of large numbers of animals. In actualizing compassionate action towards animals or the environment, this paper will argue for a more thorough examination of historical examples.