Buddhism in Japan

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The history of Buddhism in Japan can be roughly divided into three periods, namely the Nara period (710 - 794), the Heian period (794–1185) and the post-Heian period (1185 onwards). Each period saw the introduction of new doctrines and upheavals in existing schools. See Sōhei (warrior monks).

In modern times, the main paths of Buddhism are Amidist (Pure Land) schools, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

The root of the Japanese word for Buddhism, bukkyō (仏教?) comes from (butsu, “buddha”) + (kyō, “teaching”).[1]

About 91 million people in Japan claim to be Buddhist practitioners.


[edit] Arrival along the Silk Road

The arrival of Buddhism in Japan is ultimately a consequence of the first contacts between China and Central Asia which occurred with the opening of the Silk Road in the 2nd century BC, following the travels of Zhang Qian between 138 and 126 BC, which culminated with the official introduction of Buddhism in China in 67 AD. Historians generally agree that by the middle of the 1st century, the religion had penetrated to areas north of the Huai River.[2]

[edit] Early Chinese accounts

Tile with seated Buddha, Nara Prefecture, Asuka period, 7th century. Tokyo National Museum.

In 467 CE, according to the Chinese historic treatise Liang Shu, five monks from Gandhara traveled to the country of Fusang (Chinese: 扶桑, Jp: Fusō: "The country of the extreme East" beyond the sea), where they introduced Buddhism:[3]

Fusang is located to the east of China, 20,000 li (1,500 kilometers) east of the state of Da Han [Korea] (itself east of the state of Wa in modern Kansai region, Japan). (...) In former times, the people of Fusang knew nothing of the Buddhist religion, but in the second year of Da Ming of the Song Dynasty (467 CE), five monks from Kipin [Kabul region of Gandhara] travelled by ship to Fusang. They propagated Buddhist doctrine, circulated scriptures and drawings, and advised the people to relinquish worldly attachments. As a result the customs of Fusang changed.

Liang Shu, 7th century AD[4]

[edit] Asuka and Nara Periods

Pagoda of Yakushi-ji in Nara (730).

Although it is possible that Buddhism was known to the Japanese previously, the "official" introduction of Buddhism to Japan is dated to 552 in Nihon Shoki (otherwise 538 according to the History of Gangōji monastery),[5] when Seong of Baekje sent a mission to Nara including some Buddhist monks or nuns, together with an image of Buddha, and numbers of sutras to introduce Buddhism.[6][7] The powerful Soga clan played a key role in the early spread of Buddhism in the country. Initial uptake of the new faith was slow, and Buddhism only started to spread some years later when Empress Suiko openly encouraged the acceptance of Buddhism among all Japanese people.

In 607, in order to obtain copies of sutras, an imperial envoy was dispatched to the Sui Dynasty in China. As time progressed and the number of Buddhist clergy increased, the offices of Sojo (archbishop) and Sozu (bishop) were created. By 627, there were 46 Buddhist temples, 816 Buddhist priests, and 569 Buddhist nuns in Japan.

The initial period saw the six great Chinese schools, called Nanto Rokushu (南都六宗 lit. the Six Nara Sects?) in Japanese, introduced to the Japanese Archipelago including the Ritsu (Vinaya), Jōjitsu (Satyasiddhi), Kusha (Abhidharma) Sanron (Madhyamika), Hossō (Yogacara), and Kegon (Hua-yen),[8] centered around the ancient capitals of Asuka and Nara, where great temples such as the Hōryū-ji and Tōdai-ji were erected respectively. These were not exclusive schools, and temples were apt to have scholars versed in several of the schools. It has been suggested that they can best be thought of as "study groups". The Buddhism of these periods, known as the Asuka period and Nara period – was not a practical religion, being more the domain of learned priests whose official function was to pray for the peace and prosperity of the state and imperial house. This kind of Buddhism had little to offer the illiterate and uneducated masses, and led to the growth of "people’s priests" who were not ordained and had no formal Buddhist training. Their practice was a combination of Buddhist and Taoist elements, and the incorporation of shamanistic features of the indigenous religion. Some of these figures became immensely popular, and were a source of criticism towards the sophisticated academic and bureaucratic Buddhism of the capital.

[edit] Ritsu

Founded by Dàoxuān (道宣, Jp. Dosen), China, c. AD 650
First Introduction to Japan: Ganjin (鑑真), AD 753. The Ritsu school specialized in the Vinaya (the monastic rules in the Tripitaka). They used the Dharmagupta version of the vinaya which is known in Japanese as Shibunritsu 四分律)

[edit] Jōjitsu

The Satyasiddhi school is considered to be an offshoot of the Sautrantika school, one of the Nikaya schools of Indian Buddhism (see early Buddhist schools). They were distinguished by a rejection of the Abhidharma as not being the "word of the Buddha". The name means literally, "Ends with the Sutras", which refers to the traditional order of texts in the Tripitaka—vinaya, sutra, abhidharma.

Temple tiles from Nara, 7th century, Tokyo National Museum.

[edit] Kusha

Introduced into Japan from China during the Nara period (710–784). The school takes its name from its authoritative text, the Abidatsuma-kusha-ron(Sanskrit:Abhidharma-kosa), by the 4th- or 5th-century Indian philosopher Vasubandhu. The Kusha school is considered to be an offshoot of the Indian Sarvastivada school.

[edit] Sanron

Literally: Three-Discourse School; a Madhyamika school which developed in China based on two discourses by Nagarjuna and one by Aryadeva. This school was transmitted to Japan in the 7th century. Madhyamika is one of the two most important Mahayana philosophies, and reemphasizes the original Buddhist teachings that phenomena are neither truly existent or absolutely non-existent, but are characterized by impermanence and insubstantiality.

[edit] Hossō

The Yogacara (瑜伽行派 Yugagyouha) schools are based on early Indian Buddhist thought by masters such as Vasubandhu, and are also known as "consciousness only" since they teach a form of idealism which posits that all phenomena are phenomena of the mind. The Hossō school was founded by Xuanzang (玄奘, Jp. Genjo), China, c. AD 630, and introduced to Japan in AD 654. The Discourse on the Theory of Consciousness-Only (Jo yuishikiron 成唯識論) is an important text for the Hosso school.

[edit] Kegon

Tōdai-ji, the head temple of the Kegon school

Also known by its Chinese pronunciation Huayen (華厳), the Kegon school was founded by Dushun (杜順, Jp. Dojun), China, c. AD 600, and introduced to Japan by the Indian monk Bodhisena in AD 736. The Avatamsaka Sutra (Kegonkyō 華厳経) is the central text for the Kegon school. The Shin'yaku Kegonkyō Ongi Shiki is an early Japanese annotation of this sūtra.

[edit] Heian Period

The Late Nara period saw the introduction of Esoteric Buddhism (密教, Jp. mikkyo) to Japan from China, by Kūkai and Saichō, who founded the Shingon and Tendai schools. The later Heian period saw the formation of the first truly Japanese school of Buddhism, that of Nichiren.

[edit] Tendai

Known as Tiantai (天台) in China, the Tendai school was founded by Zhiyi (智顗, Jp Chigi) in China, c. AD 550. In 804 Saichō (最澄) traveled to China to study at the Tiantai teachings, at Mount Tiantai. However, before his return he also studied, and was initiated into, the practice of the Vajrayana, with emphasis on the Mahavairocana Sutra. The primary text of Tiantai is Lotus Sutra (Hokkekyo 法華経), but when Saichō established his school in Japan he incorporated the study and practice of Vajrayana as well.

[edit] Shingon

Kūkai traveled to China in 804 as part of the same expedition as Saichō. In the T'ang capital he studied esoteric Buddhism, Sanskrit and received initiation from Huikuo. On returning to Japan Kūkai eventually managed to establish Shingon (真言) as a school in its own right. Kūkai received two lineages of teaching—one based on the Mahavairocana Sutra (Dainichikyo 大日経), and the other based on the Vajrasekhara Sutra (Kongochokyo 金剛頂経).

See also Shinnyo-en.

[edit] Kamakura, Muromachi to modern period

Kinkakuji (Rinzai-Shōkoku-ji sect) , the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, located in Kyoto. It was built in Muromachi period.

The Kamakura period saw the introduction of the two schools that had perhaps the greatest impact on the country: (1) the Amidist Pure Land schools, promulgated by evangelists such as Genshin and articulated by monks such as Hōnen, which emphasize salvation through faith in Amitabha and remain the largest Buddhist sect in Japan (and throughout Asia); and (2) the more philosophical Zen schools, promulgated by monks such as Eisai and Dogen, which emphasize liberation through the insight of meditation, which were equally rapidly adopted by the upper classes and had a profound impact on Japanese culture.

In Muromachi period, the Zen school, particularly Rinzai, obtained help of the Muromachi shogunate and the Emperor, and accomplished considerable development.

With the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the new government adopted a strong anti-Buddhist attitude, and a movement to eradicate Buddhism and bring Shinto to ascendancy arose throughout the country due to the strong connections of Buddhism to the Shoguns.

During World War II, most Buddhist schools (with the exception of the Soka Gakkai), strongly supported Japan's remilitarization. Post World War II, there was a high demand for Buddhist priests who glorified fallen soldiers, and gave funerals and posthumous names, causing a strong revival. However, due to secularization and materialism, Buddhism and religion in general, have declined.

Japan has seen a minor decline in Buddhist practice in the 21st century, with roughly 100 temples a year closing.[9] However 70% of Japanese people still follow Buddhism in some form, and 90% of Japanese funerals are conducted according to Buddhist rites.[10]

[edit] Amidist Schools

[edit] Jōdo shū

Chion-in, the highest temple of Jodo shu.

Founder: Hōnen (法然), AD 1175
Japanese name: 浄土, "Pure Land"
Major Influences: Chinese Jingtu (浄土 "Pure Land"), Tendai
Doctrine: nembutsu (念仏, "prayer to Buddha")
Primary Text: Infinite Life Sutra (Muryojukyo 無量壽経)

[edit] Jōdo Shinshū

Founder: Shinran (親鸞), AD 1224
Japanese name: 浄土真, "True Pure Land"
Major Influences: Jōdō, Tendai
Doctrine: nembutsu no shinjin ("nembutsu of true entrusting", that is, saying nembutsu is a declaration of faith in Amida's salvation plan for the individual rather than a plan for salvation.)
Primary Text: Infinite Life Sutra (Muryojukyo 無量壽経)

[edit] Ji Shū

Founder: Ippen (一遍), AD 1270
Japanese name: 時宗 or 時衆, "Time"
Major Influences: Jōdō
Doctrine: nenbutsu (念仏, "mindfulness of the Buddha")
Primary Text:

[edit] Yuzunenbutsu Shū

Founder: Ryōnin (良忍), AD 1117
Japanese name: 融通念仏
Doctrine: sokushitsu ōjō (速疾往生,)
Primary Text: Avatamsaka Sutra (Kegonkyo 華厳経)・Lotus Sutra (Hokekyo 法華経)

[edit] Zen Schools

Several variants of Zen's practice and experiential wisdom (禅宗) were separately brought to Japan. Note that Zen influences are identifiable earlier in Japanese Buddhism, esp. cross-fertilization with Hosso and Kegon, but the independent schools were formed quite late.

[edit] Sōtō

Eihei-ji, the highest temple of Sōtō.
Japanese Buddhist priest c.1897

Founders: Caoshan (曹山, Jp. Sosan) and Dongshan (洞山, Jp. Tosan), China, c. 850
Chinese name: Caodong (曹洞), named after its founders
First Introduction to Japan: Dogen (道元), AD 1227
Major Influences: Tendai, Hosso, Kegon
Doctrine: zazen (坐禅, "sitting meditation"), especially shikantaza
Primary Texts: Transcendental Wisdom Sutras aka Prajnaparamita Sutras (般若波羅蜜経), incl. Heart Sutra

[edit] Rinzai

Founder: Linji (臨済), China, c. 850
Chinese name: Linji (臨済), named after founder
First Introduction to Japan: Eisai (栄西), AD 1191
Major Influences: Hosso, Kegon
Doctrine: zazen (坐禅, "sitting meditation"), especially koan (公案, "public matter") practice
Primary Texts: Transcendental Wisdom Sutras aka Prajnaparamita Sutras (般若波羅蜜経), incl. Heart Sutra

[edit] Ōbaku

Founder: Ingen (隠元), Japan, AD 1654
Japanese name: 黄檗, named for the mountain where the founder had lived in China
Major Influences: Rinzai
Doctrine: kyozen itchi (経禅一致, "Unity of Sutras and Zen")
Primary Texts: Transcendental Wisdom Sutras aka Prajnaparamita Sutras (般若波羅蜜経), incl. Heart Sutra

[edit] Fuke

Founder: Puhua Chanshi (普化禅師)
First introduction to Japan: Shinchin Kakushin (心地覚心), AD 1254
Major Influences: Rinzai
Abolished: 1871

[edit] Nichiren Buddhism

The schools of Nichiren Buddhism trace themselves to the monk Nichiren (日蓮: "Sun-Lotus") and the proclamation of his teachings in AD 1253. Doctrinally the schools focus on the Lotus Sutra (妙法蓮華經: Myoho Renge Kyō; abbrev. 法華經: Hokkekyō), but practice centers on the mantra Nam(u) Myōhō Renge Kyō (南無妙法蓮華經). Nichiren Buddhism split into several denominations after the death of Nichiren, typically represented by tradition-oriented schools such as Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu and "new religions" such as Soka Gakkai, Rissho Kosei Kai, and Reiyukai. See Nichiren Buddhism for a more complete list.

[edit] Silk Road artistic influences

Iconographical evolution of the Wind God.
Left: Greek wind god from Hadda, 2nd century.
Middle: wind god from Kızıl, Tarim Basin, 7th century.
Right: Japanese wind god Fūjin, 17th century.

In Japan, Buddhist art started to develop as the country converted to Buddhism in AD 548. Some tiles from the Asuka period (shown above), the first period following the conversion of the country to Buddhism, display a strikingly classical style, with ample Hellenistic dress and realistically rendered body shape characteristic of Greco-Buddhist art.

Buddhist became extremely varied in its expression. Many elements of Greco-Buddhist art remain to this day however, such as the Hercules inspiration behind the Nio guardian deities in front of Japanese Buddhist temples, or representations of the Buddha reminiscent of Greek art such as the Buddha in Kamakura.[11]

[edit] Deities

Iconographical evolution from the Greek god Herakles to the Japanese god Shukongōshin. From left to right:
1) Herakles (Louvre Museum).
2) Herakles on coin of Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I.
3) Vajrapani, the protector of the Buddha, depicted as Herakles in the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.
4) Shukongōshin, manifestation of Vajrapani, as protector deity of Buddhist temples in Japan.

Various other Greco-Buddhist artistic influences can be found in the Japanese Buddhist pantheon, the most striking of which being that of the Japanese wind god Fujin. In consistency with Greek iconography for the wind god Boreas, the Japanese wind god holds above his head with his two hands a draping or "wind bag" in the same general attitude.[12] The abundance of hair have been kept in the Japanese rendering, as well as exaggerated facial features.

Another Buddhist deity, named Shukongoshin, one of the wrath-filled protector deities of Buddhist temples in Japan, is also an interesting case of transmission of the image of the famous Greek god Herakles to the Far-East along the Silk Road. Herakles was used in Greco-Buddhist art to represent Vajrapani, the protector of the Buddha, and his representation was then used in China and Japan to depict the protector gods of Buddhist temples.[13]

[edit] Artistic motifs

Vine and grape scrolls from Nara, 7th century.

The artistic inspiration from Greek floral scrolls is found quite literally in the decoration of Japanese roof tiles, one of the only remaining element of wooden architecture throughout centuries. The clearest one are from 7th century Nara temple building tiles, some of them exactly depicting vines and grapes. These motifs have evolved towards more symbolic representations, but essentially remain to this day in many Japanese traditional buildings.[14]

[edit] Timeline

[edit] Buddhist Holidays in Japan

[edit] Obon (お盆)

Though its date and practices vary region to region, the Buddhist Obon festival is celebrated primarily in Japan and in communities with large Japanese diasporic communities. It is believed that the spirits of the dead return to earth for three days and visit the family shrines or graves. Similar to Mexico's Day of the Dead, it is customary to clean the graves and to hold family reunions.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Kodansha's furigana Japanese Dictionary. Japan: Kodansha Inc.. 1999. 
  2. ^ Hoffman, Michael, "Buddhism's arrival, Shinto's endurance", Japan Times, March 14, 2010, p. 7.
  3. ^ While some thinks this is Japan, others disagree. For more information, read the article on Fusang.Leland, Charles G (2009). Fusang Or the Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century. iblioBazaar, LLC. ISBN 9781110850785. 
  4. ^ In the original Chinese: "扶桑在大漢國東二萬餘里,地在中國之東(...)其俗舊無佛法,宋大明二年,罽賓國嘗有比丘五人游行至其國,流通佛法,經像,教令出家,風 俗遂改"
  5. ^ Bowring, Richard John (2005). The religious traditions of Japan, 500-1600. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 0-521-85119-X. 
  6. ^ Bowring, Richard John (2005). The religious traditions of Japan, 500-1600. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0-521-85119-X. 
  7. ^ Dykstra, Yoshiko Kurata; De Bary, William Theodore (2001). Sources of Japanese tradition. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 100. ISBN 0-231-12138-5. 
  8. ^ Powers, John (2000). "Japanese Buddhism". A Concise Encyclopedia of Buddhism. 1. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 103–107. 
  9. ^ In Japan, Buddhism, long the religion of funerals, may itself be dying out by Norimitsu Onishi, International Herald Tribune, 14 July 2008
  10. ^ http://traditionscustoms.com/death-rites/japanese-funeral
  11. ^ "Needless to say, the influence of Greek art on Japanese Buddhist art, via the Buddhist art of Gandhara and India, was already partly known in, for example, the comparison of the wavy drapery of the Buddha images, in what was, originally, a typical Greek style" (Katsumi Tanabe, "Alexander the Great, East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan", p19)
  12. ^ "The Japanese wind god images do not belong to a separate tradition apart from that of their Western counter-parts but share the same origins. (...) One of the characteristics of these Far Eastern wind god images is the wind bag held by this god with both hands, the origin of which can be traced back to the shawl or mantle worn by Boreas/ Oado." (Katsumi Tanabe, "Alexander the Great, East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan", p21)
  13. ^ "The origin of the image of Vajrapani should be explained. This deity is the protector and guide of the Buddha Sakyamuni. His image was modelled after that of Hercules. (...) The Gandharan Vajrapani was transformed in Central Asia and China and afterwards transmitted to Japan, where it exerted stylistic influences on the wrestler-like statues of the Guardian Deities (Nio)." (Katsumi Tanabe, "Alexander the Great, East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan", p23)
  14. ^ The transmission of the floral scroll pattern from West to East is presented in the regular exhibition of Ancient Japanese Art, at the Tokyo National Museum.

[edit] Further reading

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