Winfield publishes article on 'The Philosophy of the Mandala'

The article appeared in June in The Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy, which compiled more than 30 of Japan and America's leading scholars of Japanese philosophy and philosophy of religion. 

In June, Associate Professor of Religious Studies Pamela D. Winfield published her full-length article on "The Philosophy of the Mandala" in The Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy

Edited by Gereon Kopf and published in both English and Japanese by the highly respected Springer Press (Netherlands), this volume compiles more than 30 of Japan and America’s leading scholars of Japanese philosophy and philosophy of religion. It is the "first comprehensive introduction to Japanese Buddhist philosophy" that defines the canon of topics and thinkers in the field and offers cutting edge scholarship on the relationship between Japanese Buddhist philosophy and popular beliefs and conceptions.

Specifically, Winfield's 30-page chapter strips away anachronistic accretions and assumptions about the ritual role of mandalas and offers original insight into how mandalas actually functioned historically. Her research first disabuses the reader of the anachronistic assumption that all mandalas function as later Tibetan ones do to trigger awakening through deity yoga. It also strips away psychologizing Jungian associations that have been grafted onto his universalized mandala archetype ever since the nineteenth century.

Most importantly, Winfield's article argues for both historical accuracy and functional-ritual specificity when considering the ontological and soteriological messages of two Japanese medieval mandala case studies. Specifically, it argues that the eighth-century Taima mandala functions to illustrate (but not trigger) especially women’s rebirth in a heavenly Pure Land after death. It also argues that the famous pair of Diamond and Womb World mandalas depict the nondual and ungendered ends and means to enlightenment primarily to empower esoteric ritual spaces (not to effect awakening through deity yoga).

In so doing, Winfield simultaneously argues to her intended audience of philosophers that visual culture and ritual praxis precede abstract philosophical theorizing, and that these mandalas were the primary means for teaching complex doctrines in the first place.