Kirigami (Soto Zen)

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The kirigami were esoteric documents of the Sōtō school in medieval Japan which

...reflect a creative use of traditional kōan records integrated with popular religious themes such as devotion to local gods and the exorcism of demonic spirits."[1]

For instance,

Various kirigami present the deity of Hakusan as a form of Izanagi, of Kannon, or a dragon-king."[2]

Some kirigami

...describe talismans that women had to carry or swallow to purify themselves from blood defilement when they attended religious ceremonies."[3]

Kirigami were also

...'notes' or 'memos' transmitted from master to disciple together with oral or esoteric teachings; they included instructions in the various functions of a temple priest, including memorial services and necrologies, both of which were conducted with the explicit aim of perpetuating social discrimination."[4]

Bernard Faure writes that the kirigami were

...documents whose diagrammatic aspect and ritual function bring to mind the prophetic scriptures (chanwei) of Confucian imperial ideology and Daoist talismans studied by Anna Seidel.[5]

Steven Heine writes that,

...[the] tradition of using kirigami was widespread in diverse medieval apprenticeship programs."[6]


  1. Shifting Shape, Shaping Text; 185
  2. Visions of Power; 101
  3. The Power of Denial; 77
  4. Hubbard, et al.; 477
  5. Chan Buddhism in Ritual Context; 225-226
  6. Did Dogen Go to China?; 275


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