Disempowering and Repurposing Buddhist Icons: An Analysis of the Hakken shiki

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issue (Academic Journal)


In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, statues, scriptures, and other devotional items are
believed not only to retain traces of the power of a specific deity, but even to incarnate or instantiate the Buddha or Bodhisattva they represent. Whether carved out of sacred wood, activated through ritual manipulations, or enlivened by special words and utterances, Buddhist material culture is thus eminently difficult to dispose of. For this reason, different Buddhist denominations employ a so-called an “extraction” or “sending-away ceremony” (hakken shiki or hakken sahō), to ritually disempower sacred objects that need to be dismantled, or replaced. Similarly, items that need to be only temporarily deactivated in order to be repaired or transported, undergo a similar procedure.
Whereas the two other papers of this section explore the creation and reinscription of Buddhist statuary, this paper offers an analysis of the extant ritual instructions to handle occasions of recycling and repurposing that can mark the end of a sculpture’s biography. In the first, I focus on the procedures outlined in the manuals transmitted within the Chūin and Sanbōin lineage to provide an overview of the ceremony’s structure. This is aimed at both outlining the key steps required and assessing their doctrinal underpinnings. At the same time, I intend to compare the procedures with those of the eye-opening ceremony, aimed at activating sacred icons, to ascertain whether the two mirror each other. In the second part of my paper, I assess the previously discussed ritual procedures against the those provided in medieval ritual manuals of the esoteric tradition, and with historical sources attesting to the refurbishment of old Buddhist images, such as the thirteenth century Kobutsu jūkuyō ji. These documents reveal the process of suspension, refurbishment and reactivation of Buddhist icons carried out at leading temple institutions, and are thus key in understanding the way icons were repurposed in medieval Japan.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArs Orientalis
Publication statusIn preparation - 9 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Special Issue Proposal for Ars Orientalis, Guest Editor: Halle O’Neal “Reuse and Recycling in Japanese Visual and Material Cultures”


  • Buddhist Rituals
  • Sacred Icons
  • Japanese Material Culture

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Disempowering and Repurposing Buddhist Icons: An Analysis of the Hakken shiki'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this