The article by the associate professor of religious studies examines the iconographic innovations and textual claims of a modern Japanese Esoteric Buddhist group called Shinnyo-en.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies Pamela Winfield published "Shinnyo-en and the Formulation of a New Esoteric Iconography" in the journal Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief (Taylor and Francis).
Her article examines the iconographic innovations and textual claims of a modern Japanese Esoteric Buddhist group called Shinnyo-en (lit. the Garden of Truth). This group was established in 1936 by the ordained esoteric Buddhist master Itō Shinjō and his wife Tomoji.
Winfield's article surveys the ways in which Itō used image and text to reimagine Japanese esoteric Buddhism throughout the 20th century. It examines not only Shinnyo-en's highly symbolic visual culture, but also Itō's autobiographical account called The Path to Oneness (Inchinyo no michi) in order to chart the major institutional, ritual, and doctrinal developments of Shinnyo-en.
Specifically, this article argues that Itō’s veneration of the King of Immovable Wisdom, Fudō Myōō, from 1935–1936 onwards, as well as Fudō’s two acolytes (ryōdōji), helped him to make doctrinal sense and personal meaning out of the tragic death of his own two sons. It also argues that his addition of gendered dharma protectors and the Diamond and Womb World mandalas further expanded Itō’s personalized worldview, and that his addition of the Buddha in Nirvana in 1957 and the Eleven-Headed Kannon Bodhisattva of Compassion in 1979 further filled out the so-called three wheel bodies of esoteric Buddhism.
These images, and the institutional and ritual developments associated with them, reinforced Itō’s remarkable doctrinal claim that Shinnyo-en represents the third culminating sect of esoteric Buddhism in Japan. This case study thus provides rare insight into the use of image and text to imagine, illustrate, and shape the major contours of a “new” religious movement in the modern period.