The Doukyou affair

April 20, 2011

In my post about Nagaoka-kyou I mentioned the Doukyou affair – now let’s see something more on the topic.

Doukyou (道鏡, 700 – May 13, 772) was a Buddhist monk of the Hossou school. He was born in the Yuge family, in the lineage of the Mononobe clan (yes, the conservatives that had opposed the introduction of Buddhism in 538 – but a couple of centuries can change many things…) so he was known also as Yuge no Doukyou (弓削道鏡). He had been a disciple of the monk Gien and learned Sanskrit from Rouben. In addition, it was said that he acquired the spells of Esoteric Buddhism while studying in the mountains of Yamato Province.

In 761 he cured a mysterious illness of Empress Kouken, who had reigned from 749 to 758, then abdicating in favour of her cousin Emperor Junnin. The nature of their relationship was not clear, however they are often reasoned to have been lovers. At that time, Kouken was 43 years old, Doukyou was 61. The Nihon Ryoiki, written at the beginning of the ninth century, says “the priest Doukyou and the retired empress shared the same pillow”.

In the sixth month of 762, Koken became irritated with the ruling Emperor and decided to excercize her influence as a retired Empress, like her her mother, Empress Koumyou, had done. She suddenly left the detached palace at Hora and took up residence at a Buddhist temple in Nara, issuing an edict stating that “henceforth the emperor will conduct minor affairs of state, but important matters of state, including the dispensation of swards and punishments, will be handled by me”.

In 763 Doukyou was appointed Shosozu.

In 764 Fujiwara no Nakamaro plotted against the two; scholars have reasoned about the causes of his strong opposition, which are probably due not so much to an anti-Buddhist feeling, but rather to different opinions on the role of the Emperor, Koutoku favouring the Chinese model, in which the monarch had an actual power, while Nakamaro and his supporters preferred the usual practice of having the Emperor devoted to rituals and the current affairs in the hands of a related clan. Anyway, his rebellion failed, and he was executed in Lake Biwa with his wife and children.

On January 26, 765, Kouken reascended the throne with the new name of Empress Shoutoku (not to be confused with Prince Shoutoku). The same year Doukyou was appointed Daijin Zenji. In the next year he was promoted to Hō-ō (法王; king of the Dharma).

In 769 he obtained a divine proclamation from the Shinto god Hachiman at the Usa Shrine that prophesied peace in the realm if Doukyou were proclaimed Emperor. Shortly afterwards, Empress Shoutoku is said by the Shoku Nihongi to have herself received a message from Hachiman advising her to have the authenticity of the report checked. So she dispatched Wake no Kiyomaro to the Usa Shrine to find out what Hachiman’s wishes were.

The southern roumon of Usa Shrine.

Kiyomaro returned to the capital, he brought back quite a different version of the Hachiman oracle:

Ever since the founding of the Yamato state, emperors and empresses have been selected by their predecessors. But no minister has ever become emperor.
An emperor or empress must necessarily be selected from those who are in the Sun Goddess’s line of descent. A person not selected in accordance with this principle should be summarily rejected.

This report angered Doukyou, who used his influence to have an edict issued sending Kiyomaro into exile; he also had the tendons of Kiyomaro’s legs cut, and only the protection of the Fujiwara clan saved him from being killed.

The chief priest of the Usa Shrine may have been trying to ingratiate himself with Shotoku and Dokyo by passing along the first version, and the Fujiwara clan might have arranged for Kiyomaro to bring back the second. We do not know what really happened except that efforts to make Dokyo the emperor were blocked.

In the eighth month of 770 Shotoku suddenly died of smallpox, without having selected a successor. The Fujiwara managed to have Prince Shirakabe was enthroned as Emperor Kounin. Doukyou was removed from his high offices and was exiled to the province of Shimotsuke.

Wake no Kiyomaro was recalled from exile and appointed as both governor of Bizen Province and Udaijin. The following year, he had officials sent to Usa to investigate allegations of “fraudulent oracles”; in his later report, Wake no Kiyomaro stated that out of five oracles checked, two were found to be fabricated, so he had the head priest replaced by the previously disgraced one.

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One Response to “The Doukyou affair”

  1. kitty said

    hey, thanks for posting this, I was looking for the story for a long time. Did u know that they where burried in the same grave and later seperated? If yes, Maybe do you know why?

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