Graduation Date

5-2018

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department or Program

Graduate Humanities

Department or Program Chair

Joan Baranow, Ph.D.

First Reader

Leslie Ross, Ph.D.

Second Reader

Judy Halebsky, Ph.D.

Abstract

Post-modernism asserts that the world as we know it does not exist independently from the symbolic interpretations we formulate about it. This symbolic and ever unfolding interpretation of reality applies to our understanding of science as well as philosophy, to religion as well as art. In striving to describe religious experiences, various cultures have developed complex symbolic languages whose purpose is to reference a culturally understood version of sacred reality as presented through religion. Religions contribute to shaping these cultural perceptions of reality by utilizing symbolic acts, objects, events, qualities, or concepts to express otherwise inexpressible elements of a culture’s cosmology and ethos. Considering this, it becomes apparent that sacred symbol system formation can be identified and traced within cultures. Analyzing Zen Buddhism from this perspective as it flourished in twelfth century Japan is particularly interesting in light of the rapid proliferation of new symbol systems emerging in its wake. These included symbolic acts such as tea ceremony, Sumi-e painting styles, Zazen meditation, and haiku poetry. By creating, or providing new reference points for, these highly symbolic acts, Zen Buddhist monks altered the ethos and world-view of medieval Japanese culture in a powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting manner. From a post-modern perspective therefore, Zen Buddhism was acting as a catalyst for sacred symbol formation in medieval Japanese society after the introduction of that society to Zen.

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