In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mountain Buddhism in East Asia

  • Introduction
  • Mountains as Buddhist Sacred Space in East Asia
  • Site-Based Studies
  • Mountain Deities
  • Traversing Buddhist Mountains in China and Korea
  • Buddhist Mountains in Poetry and Narrative Accounts
  • The Visual Culture of Mountain Buddhism
  • Shugendō and Ascetic Mountain Practice in Japan
  • Mountain Buddhism in Modern and Contemporary Perspectives

Buddhism Mountain Buddhism in East Asia
Lindsey E. DeWitt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0258


Mountains play a central role in Buddhist cosmology and practice. Scriptural accounts of Mount Sumeru (cosmological center of the Hindu-Buddhist universe) and Vulture Peak in India (favored abode for the Buddha and a panoply of deities and disciples) clearly attest to this, as does the physical and symbolic construction of Buddhist sacred sites in mountainous locales. The varieties of Buddhist activity that developed in East Asia reflect a new valorization of mountains not found in India, however. Diverse forms of Buddhist thought and practice took root at mountain sites throughout present-day China, Korea, and Japan, flourishing in complex and fascinating ways over time through transregional and transcultural exchange—and always in relation to (and sometimes competing with) local concerns and customs. International research on Buddhist mountain spaces, places, and practices has prospered in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with various monographs, anthologies, and essays presenting information about mountains in Buddhist discourse or Buddhist activity that takes place in mountains. Still, no single work to date investigates mountain Buddhism in East Asia in a comprehensive or comparative manner. This review introduces an eclectic mix of English-language sources, grouped thematically (although with significant overlap), that span all time periods and employ various disciplinary approaches. The slight geographical imbalance present in the list reflects the nascent state of research on Korean religions and the exceptionally well-developed body of work on mountain Buddhism in Japan, especially Shugendō, a combinatory and mountain-centric religious tradition deeply influenced by Buddhist doctrine and ritual.

General Overviews

Buswell 2004 and Buswell and Lopez 2014 (both cited under Reference Works) cover a range of topics relevant to the study of mountain Buddhism, including the significance of mountains in East Asian Buddhist lineages (e.g., Chan/Sŏn/Zen, Tiantai/Tendai, Huayan, Shingon), mountain monasteries and their founders, mountain hermits, mountain-centric Buddhist practices (e.g., ritual circumambulation, cave meditation), and Shugendō (Japanese mountain religion). Both volumes serve as excellent starting points for research and teaching. Lopez 1996 and Tanabe 1999 (both cited under Anthologies), Princeton Readings in Religion anthologies on China and Japan, respectively, present key primary sources and excellent introductory perspectives on mountain Buddhism. Buswell 2007 (cited under Anthologies) introduces the multifaceted nature of Korean religions with some commentary on the significance of mountains. Einarsen 1995 (cited under Anthologies) compiles assorted works, some non-scholarly, on Buddhism and sacred mountains in East Asia.

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