Touhou canon, interpretations, and opinions Anonymous 2023/03/17 (Fri) 03:08 No. 16913 ▼
Starting this thread so that we can get some discussion about things in the touhou canon and various interpretations of the things stated in the official works. ZUN is consistent about a number of things but a lot of other things he outright forgets or doesn't care that much about (*laughs*). So I think it's useful to have a space to hash the occasional point of contention out.
Anonymous 2023/03/17 (Fri) 03:09 No. 16914 ▼
I'll get things started with this post. I’ll address something that bothers me a little to see in conversations about characters here and in the western fandom in general. That is to say, that Byakuren is not a good Buddhist. This strikes me as a quintessentially outsider perspective, if not to say terribly western and overall a bad take.
I’ll start by saying that the most popular form of Buddhism in East Asia, Japan included, is Amidism or Pure Land Buddhism. I’ll be grossly oversimplifying in saying this but for most followers of this sect the practical aspects aren’t so much a thing of belief or outlook. Rather, it is about participating in the ritual and mechanics of belief; a fact that is at odds with other sects, including zen belief (which many people think of as quintessentially Japanese). To further illustrate how detached from doctrinal stiffness mainstream belief and its cultural context is, a Japanese sect known as Ippen, named after its chief preacher, was dominant for several centuries; Ippen himself went as far as to state that even faith isn’t necessary to be a good Buddhist—chanting and praying is enough to take followers to the next step of their development towards Buddha-hood. Many if not most people in Japan would be familiar with the outlooks expounded here. An imperfect analogy might be that many in the West who are culturally and nominally Christian may have an understanding of the surrounding culture, regardless of their own personal belief.
During Byakuren’s time, the Heian period, the form of Buddhism most popular with the ruling class was Tendai which, again oversimplifying, mixed esoteric and other beliefs in such a way that justified class structure and appealed to the rulers of Japan. Those depicted in The Pillow Book or The Tale of Genji would very likely ascribe their beliefs to Tendai thought (probably Mokou as a contemporaneous character would know this sort of stuff but that’s neither here nor there).
Byakuren’s brother, however, was a priest at a real-life temple that is known to this day for its devotion to the Kegon sect, which places much emphasis on the so-called Flower Garland sutra. I won’t go too into this but, suffice it to say, whatever else may be believed by their disciples, there is a universality that’s common enough to Buddhists: “Practicing one teaching is practicing all teachings”. There is no one single path towards Buddha-hood and, indeed, trying many different approaches are often treated as a desirable thing in various sects. Whether or not Byakuren is also of this sect or not is immaterial; there is no clash in belief within the greater Mahayana umbrella of Buddhist interpretation. There are many paths and many ways towards attaining enlightenment.
I’ll further state that the Mahayana tradition holds that the teaching of others (where others include all living things, not just humans) is one of the greatest things that can (and should) be accomplished, even if the teacher is not a perfect Buddha themselves.
A lot of this is understood by common people in Asia and Japan specifically, even if they’re not religious. There’s no indication that ZUN deviates from common understandings from Buddhist belief. He even presents things that are very much not part of sutras and texts but instead “culturally” Buddhist as part of the cosmology of touhou. Think hell with its bureaucracy and layers. Shou herself, to add a further example, is not only an avatar of a god but also that of the god of war. Certainly, upon face value, gods are a nonsense concept in a belief system where there is no difference between the Buddha and oneself save that one does not realize that there is no difference (see also: Platform and Diamond sutras). It is further rather universal in the sutras, including those that spawned Japanese sects and understanding, there is pointedly no mention of war as a good thing and very much acknowledgement that all living things can achieve potential Buddha-hood hence that violence and killing is anathema.
There is no intended commentary of Buddhism in depictions in Asian works like Journey to the West where pious Buddhist are shown using violence to achieve their greater goal of teaching others nor in works specific to Japan and the greater cultural tradition and interpretation. Whatever hypocrisy might be seen by someone outside the system is really not intrinsic and Japanese literature/culture, though it does have depictions of “bad” Buddhists here and there, it plays things straight. What we might see as contradictions are anything but those. This is a cultural context that most miss much like a Roman Catholic might understand that “blessed are the meek” and also find no issue with the Vatican being so opulent and wealthy nor go out of their way to donate their personal wealth.
So, well, the fact that Byakuren has a temple that’s open to humans and youkai is laudable from a general Buddhist perspective despite whatever her own selfish motivations may be; the form matters more in this context than any underlying intention of hers.
ZUN is acquainted with traditional depictions of Buddhism in Japan, most noticeably with the Shigisan-engi which provides much of the backstory and context for the Myouren siblings. I think it reasonable to therefore assume that he knows about the broad strokes of what I’ve stated and, given his lack of pointing out of the contradictions of faith as it is practiced or understood by Japanese society, I think that he doesn’t mean to comment about aspects of Byakuren’s faith or practice beyond her own fear of death. Yes, that is likely to prevent her from achieving enlightenment as that sort of attachment is deleterious. But that does not mean that her as an institution is worthless nor that there isn’t spiritual value in the temple for the humans (and, perhaps, youkai if considered as “living things”) that do go there and follow the lessons.
The little there is in terms of commentary about faith outright in, say, Symposium of Post-mysticism. Whatever commentary exists there is mainly about power and control in a cultural sense. You could say that it’s almost wholly political and not really about the plus or minuses of certain beliefs. Shinto, Buddhism and Taoism “fight it out” but, really, there’s a lot of overlap in approach, especially when it comes to the practical aspects of exercising power (manipulating and leading others). Their expression in Gensokyo is touched upon but there is no value judgment passed on the whole. Despite the particular personalities who participate in that discussion, there’s still a common mentality to it all given the historic cross-pollination. In this sense it is a microcosm of Japan, where the amalgamation of ideas and beliefs still persists to this day; despite it being a Shinto country, Buddhist beliefs are rampant, especially so in terms of funerary rites and when it comes to issues of ethics.
The few beliefs we get here and there in the manga, in regards to Myourenji, is a mishmash of ideas that seems to add to the sensation that there is no “canon” or set beliefs that Buddhists adhere to. The lecturing and lessons given are very much Pure Land in the sense of “do this to be good” but, philosophically a bit zen and bordering on esoteric. It’s never depicted as being the “wrong” thing nor a cult of any sort. Byakuren may well have her closest followers be around due to their personal loyalty, but she does not seem to espouse anything new or heterodox and is, in that sense, a very run-of-the-mill priestess.
So I’ll positively restate that for the majority of Japanese who read canon works, they’ll find nothing wrong with Byakuren’s behavior or her faith. It’s well-within the parameters of their expectations.
Anonymous 2023/03/17 (Fri) 03:32 No. 16915 ▼
Oh boy, can't wait for the hot takes to fly here.
Actually I can and hope they don't in general.
Don't have much to say re the thing above but it sounds good to me.
I think a lot of people (and not just in the Touhou fandom) get caught up in not liking certain characters to the point that they just find faults and reasons to justify it. Some people get holier than thou about it too, like c'mon man, no need to be so contemptuous of people who don't agree with you, live and let live for chrissakes. Sometimes happens with liking characters too but not as often as with hateboners.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 05:04 No. 16922 ▼
How does magic work in Touhou?
Do magicians learn magic by study or can you be born with magic? Do both methods exist in-universe?
This is just the prepared versus spontaneous spellcaster question.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 10:00 No. 16923 ▼ >>16922 >Do magicians learn magic by study or can you be born with magic?
Both. Marisa is the example of the former, Patchouli of the latter. Either way, requires research to perfect and the different touhou magicians approach things with different perspectives but they still work at improving their technique.
Look at character profiles and interviews with the various magician characters in the print works for more details. As well as comments in the Grimoire of Marisa and other works where things come up from time to time like WaHH and CoLA. This should get you started: https://en.touhouwiki.net/wiki/Perfect_Memento_in_Strict_Sense/Magician
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 17:36 No. 16924 ▼ >>16922 >How does magic work in Touhou?
The strict mechanical workings have never been explained and probably never will be; it 'works because it works', and ZUN's probably not real interested in going full 'tism with it.
Though, really, going off into interpretive territory, if you think about it, 'magic' is just 'stuff that doesn't make sense/is unexplainable'. Gensokyo is a literal land of fantasy separated from the outside by a conceptual barrier that divides everything that we know as 'real' from what we know as 'not real'. And so on and so forth.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 18:59 No. 16925 ▼
Here's something I always thought was stupid about Touhou canon. The ritual to create a Shikigami. Zun says that after you ask someone to become your Shikigami, you place a Shikigami spirit inside of them that then overwrites their personality and turns them into your servant. If that is how it works, then what was the point of asking them to become your Shikigami? The person you asked is just going to be erased from existence.
I mean lets analyze this. Yukari asks Ran to become her Shikigami, Ran agrees, then Yukari shoves a Shikigami spirit inside Ran which takes over Ran's body and becomes Yukari's Shikigami. Ran, who is the person who agreed to become the Shikigami, does not become the Shikigami and is in fact now basically dead. Yukari, who wanted Ran as her Shikigami, does not get Ran as her Shikigami, and is now stuck with a random spirit puppeteering Ran's body as her servant. The Shikigami spirit who is now controlling Ran's lifeless husk was not consulted on its opinion of becoming a Shikigami at any point during this process, and may or may not want to serve as Yukari's Sikigami, and has essentially been forced into slavery against its will. So at the end of all this, nobody wins and nobody gets what they wanted in the first place.
If this is how creating a Shikigami works, then the best way to make one would be to grab one of these Shikigami spirits, go down to the Underground City and find an Oni passed out drunk in a gutter, shove the spirit into the Oni, and Badda-Bing Badda-Boom you now have a hyper powerful Oni Shikigami as your mind slave. This whole ritual is complete nonsense.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 19:11 No. 16926 ▼ >>16925
Uh, no? I don't really have the energy or inclination to explain the whole thing, but this is something that people get wrong all the time, based on a confusion around the word 'possession'. Basically, the concept isn't a one-to-one in Japanese with the western idea of 'thing taking over other thing'; it can be more akin to having something 'clinging to' you, e.g., the idea that luck (originally involving a fox spirit) 'clinging' (tsuku
in Japanese) to you. The actual deal is a bit ambiguous as far as Ran and Chen go, but it ain't as cut-and-dried as 'dead fox puppet'. Even setting aside strange notions of possession, just look at what's mentioned in PMiSS
about Chen. The shikigami
can potentially detach
from her, leaving her in a 'feral' state. Not at all the sort of thing you're ascribing.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 19:42 No. 16927 ▼ >>16925 >>16926
To be honest, the notion of "identity death" seems like a solidly post-Cartesian thing. We know that possession isn't real in the actually real world; and yet belief in possession is well-attested in the anthropological record. When possession actually "occurs", however, the reaction of the person being "possessed" isn't always of avolitionality, involuntary servitude, or suppression of the "self" - quite often it's an ego-syntonic means of ex
pression of things that are otherwise impermissible through a more mundane modality. There's no reason, in other words, to draw a final and total distinction between "yourself" and your "possessor" - nor, in turn, is there a reason to consider either the former or the latter as whole and indivisible.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 19:56 No. 16928 ▼ >>16927
...yep, that is certainly a sequence of words.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 22:38 No. 16929 ▼ >>16927
Ran, you don't need to argue this hard. We believe you deserve Youkai rights, too.
Some personal contribution to fire starting, now.
Yukari Yakumo intentionally lost the initial Lunar-Youkai war. I personally believe this a bit further than simple headcanon, since it is easy to argue political gain for Yukari. The original lunarian war started around the time that Youkai were at their absolute highest point in strength. Shuten Doji and his commanders were still active, Yuyuko Saigyouji had recently become the spectre incarnate of death, and Yukari herself was looking for an excuse to get on everyone's radar. Invading the Lunarians is, of course, a very bad idea. The only member of an army where it's strongest members consist of the aforementioned would be Yukari herself, who has manipulation of fundamental concepts of reality as an ability. The heavenly gods of the established Lunarian dominion (and Chang'e, for whatever it's worth) are the same creation and conceptual gods of yore, and even non-god level commanders of this society are given absurdly potent weaponry. Yukari is the only member on the same playing field, and yet she doesn't seem to actively threaten the Lunarians at any given time. This is further confusing because she would be the only one capable of instigating an invasion in the first place with the means to create a portal from the Earth to the moon (that the Lunarians set up a nasty trap for her afterward). The Lunarians still don't kill her when she makes a second offense in the events of Silent Sinner in Blue, which means she never established the extent of her powers to them. It can be concluded that Yukari did not fully fight with all her power in the war, and thus the Youkai army lost handily, starting a sharp decline in all Youkai activity thereafter.
The morale hit to the Youkai society of the time after the war would have been large enough to outright spiritually harm them, and cause the start of the dwindling fear within humans toward Youkai. This goes so far as humans fighting and breaking the oni cabal (story of Shuten Doji's extermination). This would nearly solidify Yukari as the most powerful of all Youkai, even if her peers may not directly know the extent of her power, the most renowned within their own society (led a war against gods, regardless of the outcome), and probably still had a long term plan to make herself the sole leader for a foreseeable future. This last point is speculative, but this event is likely the first of a causal chain to bring about Gensokyo's separation from reality, and therefore instate Yukari as the most active of the Youkai Sages.
Anonymous 2023/03/18 (Sat) 23:15 No. 16930 ▼ >>16929
I feel like that was actually confirmed at some point, but I don't recall where. Granted, I don't believe Yukari fighting "with all her power" would have been enough to change the outcome (and I find issue with the description of her powers as affecting "fundamental concepts of reality" - such a phrase is completely oxymoronic); but that's beside the point as there was likely never any intention of success. Achoo outright summarises the result as the blunting of youkai
ambition and circumscription of their activities; and mentions that this is well-known even amongst humanity. And, more generally, when it comes to geopolitically non-dominant illiberal regimes, foreign policy is often just an extension of domestic policy, so it makes absolute sense to me.