HEIAN PERIOD BUDDHISM

HEIAN PERIOD BUDDHISM AND RELIGION


Heian-era painting, Five Buddhas

F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “ Buddhism continued to grow during the Heian period, helped by an almost harmonious co-existence with the native Shinto religion and the acceptance of its teachings by the Court. Great religious complexes sprang up in the central provinces, aided by grants of shoen and other land rights. Chief among these was the Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei, to the northeast of the capital. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com |~|]

In the Heian period, Buddhist culture was primarily the property of the court and the aristocracy — a very small minority in Japan. Religion to some extent was separated from politics but Buddhist clergy were very powerful and had close ties with the Imperial family and ruling elite. The conflict between Buddhism and Shinto was dealt with making Shinto gods manifestations of Buddha. Two important Buddhist sects — Tendai and Shingon — were founded by Japanese monks after returning from China.

The most important temple was Enryaku-ji Temple, built on top of Mt. Hiei near Kyoto. Founded in 788 by Saicho, the priest who founded the Tendai school of Buddhism, it was established to protect Kyoto from demons traveling from the northeast and was the center of Buddhism in Japan for 800 years. At it height the temple contained 3,000 buildings, ruling monks more powerful than the Imperial family and warrior monks that supported them. Many famous monks are associated with Enryaku and Mt. Hiei: Honen, founder of the Jodo sect; Eisai, founder of the Zen sect; Dogen, founder of the Soto sect; Shinran, founder of the Jodoshin sect; and Nichiren," founder of the Nichiren sect. [Source: Library of Congress]

Good Websites on Nara- and Heian-Period Japan: Essay on Nara and Heian Periods aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink archaeolink.com ; Wikipedia article on the Nara Period Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on the Heian Period Wikipedia ; Essay on the Japanese Missions to Tang China aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Kusado Sengen, Excavated Medieval Town mars.dti.ne.jp ; Kojiki, Nihongi and Sacred Shinto Texts sacred-texts.com ; Good Photos of Yamato, Nara and Heian Sites at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; List of Emperors of Japan friesian.com ;

Nara Nara Prefecture site pref.nara.jp ;Nara City site narashikanko.jp Nara Art at the Tokyo National Museum www.tnm.jp/en ; Temples and Shrines in Nara Park Kofukuji site kohfukuji.com ; Yamasa yamasa.org ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Kasuga Taisha Shrine (in Nara Park) Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Todaiji Temple Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Toshodaiji Japan Guide japan-guide.com UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Shosoin Treasury Repository and Nara Museum aris.ss.uci.edu

Mt. Hiei and Enryaku-ji Temple Websites: Enryaku-ji Temple official site hieizan.or.jp; Photos taleofgenji.org ; Marathon monks Lehigh.edu ; Tale of Genji Sites: The Tale of Genji.org (Good Site) taleofgenji.org ; Murasaki Shikibu Biography womeninworldhistory.com ; Tale of Genji Links meijigakuin.ac.jp ; Nara and Heian Art Sites at the Metropolitan Museum in New York metmuseum.org ; Heian Art at the British Museum britishmuseum.org

Good Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com; Essay on Early Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Japanese Archeology www.t-net.ne.jp/~keally/index.htm ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink archaeolink.com ;Essay on Rice and History aboutjapan.japansociety.org

Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp ; Japanese History Documentation Project openhistory.org/jhdp ; Cambridge University Bibliography of Japanese History to 1912 ames.cam.ac.uk ; Sengoku Daimyo sengokudaimyo.co ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iriki ; WWW-VL: History: Japan (semi good but dated source ) vlib.iue.it/history/asia/Japan ; Forums Delphi Forums, Good Discussion Group on Japanese History forums.delphiforums.com/samuraihistory ; Tousando tousando.proboards.com

Buddhism, Politics and Government in Heian-Era Japan


Emperor Murakami

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “There was a substantial crossover between the elite monks of the major Buddhist establishments and the court aristocracy. For one thing, members of aristocratic families often became monks, either early in life or after retiring from political office. The major posts in the Buddhist clergy were in part political appointments, usually requiring the support of leading government officials. In no way, however, should these facts imply that the Heian nobility took a cynical view of Buddhism. Remember, we live in a society today that generally regards close ties between church and state as improper. In Heian Japan, however, Buddhism was seen as absolutely essential for the well being of the state, and it was natural that religion and politics would mix. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

Consider, for example, the text of the following Buddhist prayer, uttered at a Buddhist ritual by Fujiwara Morosuke, a Minister of the Left with ambitions to place his sub-branch of the Fujiwara family into positions of great power: “Through the power of this [ritual] may the glory of my family be passed on. May the fullness of the glory of the emperor [Morosuke’s son-in-law, Emperor Murakami], the empress [Morosuke’s daughter, Yasuko], the crown prince [Morosuke’s grandson, Prince Norihira], the princes and princesses, the three ranks of officials [including the minister of the left, Morosuke himself], and the nine ranks of courtiers unceasingly persist for generation after generation and fill the court.1

The names of specific individuals are not important here. Instead, notice that this is a prayer by the Minister of the Left for the political success of his immediate family members (which includes the emperor for reasons we examine later). We are a long way from the Buddha’s original teachings.” *~*

“Although this particular prayer was uttered by a government official, the larger ritual in which it took place was conducted by a monk--and not just any old monk. The Minister of the Left had selected a rising star of the Buddhist establishment as the head ritualist, and, of course, this selection by the minister furthered the monk’s career even further. This monk was not originally from a powerful family. Instead, his career within the Buddhist establishment rose mainly because of his superb skill as a debater of theological issues. Neil McMullen points out that "in the tenth century there appears to have been a correlation made between knowledge and power. That is, a monk who demonstrated great intelligence was considered to be a prime candidate for patronage because such a monk was believed to be capable of performing especially efficacious rituals."2 One point to be made here is that the Buddhist clergy offered some possibility of social mobility. Because monks perceived as having special powers of the mind or spirit were especially desirable to be employed by powerful officials, a monk who managed to demonstrate such power might advance to high rank despite humble origins. Such advancement was not easy, but it was possible during most of the Heian period. *~*

“Toward the end of the Heian period, however, even monastic advancement had become entirely a matter of family connections and status. In other words, the same group of aristocrats staffed both the Buddhist and government hierarchies. They did not necessarily get along well with each other. Infighting within a family and competition between aristocratic families was the rule in Heian Japan because the number of eligible aristocrats greatly exceeded the number of prestigious posts in the bureaucracy or in the Buddhist hierarchy. Especially because the same pool of aristocrats supplied both monks and ministers, conflict between the government and some of the powerful monasteries increased during the last century of the Heian period. Large monasteries maintained armies of warrior monks (sohei), who were usually more warrior than monk. These monastic warriors would sometimes march through the streets of the capital and demand concessions from the government (more land, for example). Usually, the imperial guards dared not resist the warrior monks because the monks carried with them Buddhist relics and other ritual objects believed to possess supernatural power. *~*

Buddhism and Power in Heian-Era Japan

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Buddhist Guardian deity
Governing and religion went hand and hand. Throughout Japanese history, new sects and temples needed government approval to become established. More often than not permission was granted on the basis of grain tax revenues and land than on particular religious beliefs. Buddhist temples were meeting places and their schools were the foundation of the education system. They served as a local government, recording births and deaths, collecting taxes and providing help to the needy.

Religious sects that were viewed as helpful to the government were given beneficial treatment while those that were viewed in unfavorable terms were persecuted. Almost all religious activities, from the number of priests per temple and what was taught in schools, needed government approval.

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “In terms of personnel, there was a significant overlap between the leading Buddhist clergy and both the nobility and the imperial family. It was common, for example, for imperial princes to become the heads of the major Buddhist monasteries. Furthermore, emperors and nobles alike often retired from worldly affairs to become Buddhist monks. In many cases, however, they continued to exert political influence even after joining the clergy. Buddhist temples maintained armies of warrior monks and held interests in the special estates mentioned previously. They were, in short, wealthy and powerful, and they often wielded political influence as a result.” [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

Buddhist Militarism and Power in Japan


Fighting Monk

There was a militant side to Japanese Buddhism. Many monasteries were fortified and had standing armies. These measures began as protective measures against brigands and marauding armies but over time led to the sects becoming like feudal states, sometimes with large armies and controlling entire provinces.

Until the 12th century, Buddhism was closely associated with the aristocracy’s strategy of centralizing political control. Temple such as Kofukuji in Nara, Enryakuji in Kyoto and Koyasan south of Nara held a great deal of power. Religious leaders, court nobles and military leaders competed with one another and formed alliances. Temples earned money from taxes and donations, intended to support monks and maintain buildings.

Monks worked as soldiers and formed power networks with the imperial court and influential members of the nobility. It was not uncommon for violence to occur between monks and warriors over conflicts between temples and the Imperial court. The Buddhist monk Shunkan (1142-1179) is a tragic figure in Japanese history. As punishment for his failed plot against the ruling Heike clan, he was exiled to Iojima island, south of Kagoshima, Kyushu. He was left alone on the island after his conspirators were granted amnesty and is believed to have committed suicide. His story is the basis of a famous Noh play.

Heian Period Buddhist Sects

The main Japanese Buddhist sects — Shingon, Tendai, Pure Land Nichiren, and Zen — sprung up during the Heian Period (794-1185) and Kamakura Period (1192-1338). The first homegrown Buddhist sects to take hold in Japan were the Tendai and Shingon schools.

Buddhism began to spread throughout Japan during the Heian period, primarily through two major esoteric sects, Tendai (Heavenly Terrace) and Shingon (True Word).Tendai originated in China and is based on the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important sutras of Mahayana Buddhism. Shingon is an indigenous sect with close affiliations to original Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese Buddhist thought founded by Kukai (also called Kobo Daishi). A third school emerged at the end of the Heian Period. The monk Hônen (1133-1212), a former priest of the Enryakuji, founded what would become known as the Jodo, or Pure Land.


Emperor Saga

A close relationship developed between the Tendai monastery complex on Mount Hiei and the imperial court in its new capital at the foot of the mountain. As a result, Tendai emphasized great reverence for the emperor and the nation. [Source: Library of Congress]

Tendai

The Tendai sect is an eclectic form of Buddhism that incorporates elements of both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra is Tendai’s central text. Followers believe that salvation can be achieved by reciting and copying it. The Tendai sect appeared at the end of the 8th century and was centered at Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei near Kyoto.Its founder, Saicho (762-822), studied meditation, tantric rituals and the Lotus sutra in China.

Under the patronage of Emperor Kanmu (737-806) and Emperor Saga (786-842) the Tendai sect was officially sanctioned. It was embraced by these emperors who had tired of the authoritarian nature and political power of the priests in the Nara Buddhist sects. Priest were ordained at Enryakuji, the temple founded by Saicho, Tendai artists produced wonderful Buddhist sculpture---graceful and beautiful sculptures of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and deities---in the Heian period.

Tendai was not recognized as a school until after Saicho’s death. After Mt. Hiei received the right to ordain monks the sect took off, At it height Mt, Heie boasted 3,000 temples and 30,000 monks and produced wonderful works of art. The monasteries kept armed retainers and sometimes imposed their will on the government by force.

Almost every sects has its origins in Enryakuji Temple on Mt, Heie. All new sects founded in the 12th and 13th centuries were founded by Tendai monks. Pure Land, Zen and Nichiren all developed from the Tendai school.

Saicho


Saicho priesthood certificate

Saicho (762-822) is the founder of the Tendai (Tiantai) school of Buddhism. He studied meditation, tantric rituals and the Lotus sutra under the Tient-tai School in China — named after Mt. Tientai in what is now Zhejiang Province — for two years in 804 and 805. When he returned to Japan he found a receptive audience for his message that Buddhist salvation was something that could be achieved by anyone, regardless of class, social status or gender. Saicho is also known as Dengyo Daishi.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Saichō (767-822), posthumously titled Dengyō Daishi, was the founder of the Tendai School in Japan, which became the most prominent branch of Buddhism throughout the Heian period. Saichō learned of the Chinese Tiantai teachings during his trip to China in 804. After returning to Japan, he founded the Enryakuji temple on Mt. <|> At that point, the main Buddhist rituals were shifted from being performed at Todaiji in Nara, which followed the Vinaya (Hīnayāna) precepts, to Enryakuji, which adhered strictly to the Bodhisattva (Mahāyāna) precepts. Saichō also wrote important doctrinal commentaries on the Lotus Sūtra. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]

Writings of Saicho

The following are selected writings by Saicho entitled: "Prayer on Mount Hiei"; "On the Possibility of Enlightenment for All Men"; "Vow of the Uninterrupted Study of the Lotus Sutra"; and The Mahayana Precepts in Admonitions of the Fanwang Sutra". [Source: “Sources of Japanese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 125, 129, 140, 142-144; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]


Saicho

In “Prayer on Mount Hiei”, Saicho wrote:
Oh Buddhas
Of unexcelled complete enlightenment
Bestow your invisible aid
Upon this hut I open
On the mountain top.
[Source: Dengyō Daishi zenshū IV, p. 756 (1912 ed.)]<|>

In “On the Possibility of Enlightenment for All Men”, Saich wrote: “In the lotus.flower is implicit its emergence from the water. If it does not emerge, its blossoms will not open: in the emergence is implicit the blossoming. If the water is three feet deep, the stalk of the flower will be four or five feet; if the water is seven or eight feet deep, the stalk will be over ten feet tall. That is what is implied by the emergence from the water. The greater the amount of water, the taller the stalk will grow; the potential growth is limitless. Now, all human beings have the lotus of Buddhahood within them. It will rise above the mire and foul water of the Hīnayāna and Quasi.Mahāyāna, and then through the stage of the bodhisattvas to open, leaves and blossoms together, in full glory.” [Source: Dengyō Daishi zenshū, IV, p. 436 (1912 ed.)] <|>

In “Vow of the Uninterrupted Study of the Lotus Sūtra”, Saicho wrote: … I vow that, as long as heaven endures and earth lasts, to the most distant term of the future, this study will continue without the intermission of a single day, at the rate of one volume every two days. Thus the doctrine of universal enlightenment will be preserved forever and spreadthroughout Japan to the farthest confines. May all attain Buddhahood![Dengyō Daishi zenshū IV, p. 749 (1912 ed.)]

In “The Mahāyāna Precepts in Admonitions of the Fanwang Sūtra”, Saicho wrote: “At that time, the Buddha Shākyamuni, seated under the Bo tree after having attained supreme enlightenment, first set up the Precepts (Pratimoksa): to be filial to one’s parents, teacher(s), members of the Buddhist community, and the Three Treasures. Filial obedience is the way by which one attains the Way...In the case of a son of the Buddha lying, urging others to lie, or lying for expediency — whatever the cause … condition … method … or the act of lying — even if one says one sees something without actually seeing it or says one did not see something when one has seen it — a bodhisattva should always give rise to correct speech and [help] all sentient beings to give rise to correct speech and correct views. If, on the contrary, one prompts sentient beings to evil speech or evil views, one commits a most unpardonable offense for a bodhisattva. [Fanwang jing, TD 24, no 1484.24:1004a.5a, CHD] <|>

Shingon


Kukai (Kobo Daishi)

Shingon is an indigenous Japanese Buddhist sect with close affiliations to original Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese Buddhist thought founded by Kukai (also called Kobo Daishi). Kukai greatly impressed the emperors who succeeded Emperor Kammu (782-806), and also generations of Japanese, not only with his holiness but also with his poetry, calligraphy, painting, and sculpture. [Source: Library of Congress]

Shingon Buddhism (whose name was derived for the Sanskrit word for "magic formula" or "mantra") is centered at Kongobu-ji Temple at Mt. Koya and To-ji Temple in Kyoto. It is closely linked with the Tendai sect and is known for its ornate art and incorporation of Shinto elements.

F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “Shingon (or True Word) was centered on the worship of Maha-Vairocana (or Great Illuminator, otherwise known as the Dainichi Nyorai), believed to be the first and greatest of the Buddhas. Shingon held that the Dainichi Nyori was present in all things in the universe and by extension was all people. Essentially, Kukai taught that to understand the Great illuminator, one needed to unlock the mysteries of their own minds and spirits. This involved a large amount of ceremony and ritual - hence earning Shingon the label of 'esoteric Buddhism'. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com |~|]

Shingon Buddhism has Tantric elements and is known for it rich ceremonies and has many similarities with Tibetan Buddhism. A central idea is to find the "mystery at the heart of the uncovered” using rituals, symbols and mandalas representing the sphere of the indestructible and the womb of the world.

Shingon Buddhists practice takigyo — standing under freezing cold waterfalls at Hakuryu Bentenzan Shumpukuin temple in Mikumocho, Mie Prefecture and the Oiwasan Nissekiji Temple in Kamiichimachi in Toyama, Prefecture as part of an ascetic purification ceremony to mark the beginning of the coldest time of the year. Participants wear white gowns and headbands and chant as they stand under the waterfalls. Sometimes they chant as conch shells are blown. . Sometimes they for stand for over an hour in freezing water.

Kukai and Shingon Buddhism

Kukai (774-835), the founder of Shingon Buddhism, is one of Japan’s most beloved religious figures. Kukai established the teachings of Shingon esoteric Buddhism in Japan in the early Heian period (794-1192). Often referred to by his posthumous name, Kobo Daishi, he is considered a giant of the esoteric Buddhist school who had a great impact on Buddhist art in Japan.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Kūkai (774-835), posthumously titled Kōbō Daishi (The Great Master of the Extensive Dharma), was the founder of the Shingon or “True Word” Japanese school of Buddhism and is considered one of the most important intellectual and cultural figures in Japan. Kūkai traveled to China in 804 and went as far west as the Tang dynasty capital of Changan (today, Xian), where he was introduced to the esoteric Buddhist tradition. Upon returning to Japan two years later, he founded a Shingon temple on Mt. Kōya as well as Tōji temple in Kyoto. His main treatise is the Jūjū Shinron (Treatise of the Ten Stages of Mind). [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]


Events in the Life of Kobo Daishi


Kukai is revered as a scholar, Bodhisattva, artist, calligrapher and inventor of the 47-symbol Japanese Kana symbols and is credited with merging the deep spirituality of someone who meditating for long periods in a cave with rituals and discipline of Tang-era Chinese esoteric Buddhism. He remains a popular folk hero. In some stories he is merely sleeping in his tomb in Mt. Koya and will rise up again some day.

Kukai used Jingoji and Toji temples in Kyoto, as well as Kongobuji temple in Wakayama Prefecture, as bases for his Shingon teachings. He was very influential in court politics. He helped reconcile Buddhist sects with each other and with Shinto. After his death he was given the name Kobo Daishi.

Kukai’s Life

Kukai was born, depending on the source, in either Shikoku or the area known today as Kagawa Prefecture. He was a Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China in 804. During a two-year stay in China he studied esoteric Buddhism; upon returning to Japan, he devoted himself to systemizing and spreading its teachings. Kukai studied at the Imperial University and spent some time as a wandering monk and mountain ascetic and died at Mt. Koya.

Kukai was a friend of Saicho’s who traveled to China in 802, the same year Saicho did, but went not to Mt. Tientai but to Changan (Xian), the capital of China, where he was influenced by Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism) and the Chinese Chen-yan school. In China, it is said, Kukai learned Sanskrit and all the secret teachings and doctrines of Tantricism and Esoteric Buddhism in the amazingly short period of three months to two years, depending on the source.

Upon his return to Japan in 807, Kukai secluded himself in mountain ashrams at Mt. Misem on Miyashima Island near present-day Hiroshima and was forced to stay in Kyushu for breaking an agreement to stay in China for 20 years. During this time Kukai and Saicho exchanged infromation on what they had learned at their respective destinations in China. Kukai left Kyushu with Saicho’s help and was initiated into Esoteric Buddhism. Kukai and Saicho had a falling out when Kukai started propagating his own teachings. Each considering the other a disciple not an equal. After Saicho’s death in 822, Kukai’s influence grew.

Kukai decided to establish his headquarters at Koysan, the Buddhist priest Shodo Habukawa told the Daily Yomiuri, because it was a place where he could feel the connection between the sky and the earth...The basin is surrounded by two circles of mountains and the inner and outer circles have eight peaks each. The area resembles a lotus flower."


Kukai


Kukai: "Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings"

In “Indications of the Goals of the Three Teachings”, Kukair wrote: “My relatives and teachers opposed my entering the priesthood, saying that by doing so I would be unable to fulfill the Five Cardinal Virtues [1 The Five Confucian Virtues: humaneness, rightness, ritual decorum, wisdom, and trustworthiness] or accomplish the duties of loyalty and filial piety. [Source: “Sources of Japanese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 158, 171-172; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]

“I thought then: living beings are not of the same nature; there are birds which fly high in the sky and fish which sink low in the water. To guide different types of people, there are three teachings: Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. Although their profoundness varies, they are still the teachings of the sages. If an individual chooses one, he does not necessarily repudiate loyalty and filial piety by doing so. <|>

“Now I have a nephew who is depraved and indulges in hunting, wine, and women and whose usual way of life consists of gambling and dissipation. It is obvious that an unfavorable environment has caused him to lead this kind of life. What has induced me to write [this story] are the opposition of my relatives [to my becoming a Buddhist] and the behavior of this nephew.” <|>

Kukai: "A School of Arts and Sciences"

When asked his view on establishing a school of arts and sciences in Japan, Kukai said: “My reply is, “In the capital of China, a school is set up in each ward to teach the young boys. In each prefecture a school is maintained in order widely to educate promising young students. [Source: “Sources of Japanese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 158, 171-172; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]

“Because of this, the capital is filled with talented young men and the nation is crowded with masters of the arts. In the capital of our country, however, there is only one government college and no local schools. As a result, sons of the poor have no opportunity to seek knowledge. <|> Those who like to study but live a great distance from the college encounter great difficulty traveling to and fro. Would it not be good, then, to establish this school to assist the uneducated?”“ <|>


Japanese Pure Land mandala


Pure Land Buddhism

Pure Land Buddhism (also known as Jodo, Jodoshu, or Jodoshinshu) spread during the Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333) but was introduced by the Chinese to Japan much earlier. Founded by Honen and Shinran, it emphasizes faith in the saving grace of Amida, another enlightened being, rather than through meditation. The School of Pure Land emerged about A.D. 500 in China as a form of devotion to Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, and differs from the Ch'an school in that it encourages idolatry. The School of Pure Land is not nearly as strong in China as it once was but it remains one of the largest Buddhist sects in Japan.

Jodo in Japan emerged at the end of the Heian Period. F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “ Jodo popularized Amidism, a form of Buddhism the monk Genshin (942-1017) had written about and that centered on the worship of the Amida Buddha. The Amida resided in the Western Paradise and welcomed in all the faithful. No undo ceremony or spiritual honing was necessary for admittance to Paradise, only a honest belief in the Buddha and the reciting of his name in praise (the nembutsu). By the start of the Kamakura Period, Jôdo would have a strong following among the common people, for whom its straightforward approach appealed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the established schools of Buddhism did not take kindly to Jôdo, and made very effort to limit its spread. Yet by the 15th and 16th centuries, Jôdo was to prove an exceptionally powerful force. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ]

The School of Pure Land takes the Mahayana belief in Buddhas or Bodhisattvas a step further than Buddhist traditionalists want to go by giving Bodhisattvas the power to help people attain enlightenment that otherwise would be unable to attain it on their own. The emphasis on Bodhisattvas is manifested in the numerous depictions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Pure Land temples and caves.

Pure Land Buddhists reveres Amida (literally meaning “infinite light” or “infinite life”), the Buddha of the Western Paradise, and stress the universality of salvation. They believe that salvation is achieved through faith rather than good works and that Buddha and heaven are close at hand and everywhere rather in some far off place as Buddhists had been taught to believe.

Pure Land Buddhists believe that Buddhism has entered a Mappo (Later Age) in which Buddhism is in decline and individuals are no longer able to achieve enlightenment on their own and salvation can only be achieved by enlightenment through the mercy of Amida. This idea appealed to many ordinary Japanese who were not turned on by the usual process of mediating, chanting and denying oneself for long periods of time.


Honen Illustrated biography


Honen and Shinran

Honen (1133-1212) was the founder of the Jōdō (Pure Land) sect in Japan. He the Japanese man who made Pure Land Buddhism an independent sect, eschewed scholarly metaphysics and promoted the use of simple prayers and chants such as "Hail Amida Buddha," as a means to enlightenment. He once said "Even a bad man will be received in Buddha’s Land, but how much more a good man!" The idea of hell and judges is important in the Pure Land school of Buddhism.

Honen studied as a Tendai monk at Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei, beginning at age 13, and read the Chinese Tripitaka five times and was respected for his learning. He began teaching the Pure Land faith after realizing, at age 43, that the teachings of the Buddhist elite were lacking and that reliance on Amida was the only way to reach enlightenment and it was something that could be obtained by anyone not just pious monks. This message appealed to both the elite and ordinary people but was opposed by the old schools. Honen and his followers were persecuted. At the age of 75 Honen was banished to Shikoku. Some of his followers were executed.

Shinran (1173-1263) was one Honen’s favorite disciples. Regarded as the actual founder of the Pure Land sect in Japan, he broke free from his teacher and established the Jōdō Shinshū (The True Teaching of the Pure Land). Shinran renounced the monk’s life and married a young noblewoman, arguing that celibacy and dietary rules demonstrated reliance on self-power. He was banished and spent much of his life in the provinces. His grandson carried on his lineages, which remains alive among his descendants today.

Shinran’s Beliefs

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Hōnen and Shinran were both exiled in 1207 by the government, which objected to the practice of chanting the nembutsu. (“Nembutsu” means “I put my faith in Amida Buddha.” Practitioners believed that by chanting this they would attain salvation.) Shortly after this, Shinran abandoned the nembutsu practice, which he then considered self-centered and opposed to the teaching of salvation by Other Power. Shinran married and had children, thus also departing from the clerical life. His most significant treatise is the Kyōgyōshinshō (Teaching Practice, Faith, and Realization).” [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]


Shinran

In “Lamentation and Self-Reflection,” Shinran wrote :
Although I have entered the Pure Land path,
I remain incapable of true and genuine thoughts and feelings. <|>
My very existence is pervaded by vanity and falsehood;
There is nothing at all of any purity of mind. <|>

Being unrepentant and lacking in shame,
I have no mind of truth and sincerity.
And yet, because the Name has been given by Amida Buddha,
The universe is suffused with its virtues. <|>

Deeply saddening is it that in these times
Both the monks and laity in Japan,
While seeking to conform with Buddhist manner and deportment,
Worship gods and spirits of the heavens and earth. <|> [Source: “Sources of Japanese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 226-227]

Mt. Hiei and Enryaku-ji Temple

Mt. Hiei (on a ridge between northern Kyoto and Lake Biwa) is regarded as one of three holiest mountains in Japan along with Mt. Koya and Mt. Osorezan. More than 800 meters high, it has several beautiful temples scattered over a wide area in a pine forest. In the old days the mountainside was filled with temples and monks and is regarded as the mother mountain of Japanese Buddhism.

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building at Enryakuji Temple
Enryaku-ji Temple is a temple complex with halls, pagodas and other buildings on top of Mt. Hiei grouped into three main sections. Todo (Eastern Section), Saito (Western Section) and Yokawa. Todo contains the main temple. Saito features tall trees and stone pathways. Founded in 788 by Saicho, the priest who founded the Tendai school of Buddhism, it was established to protect Kyoto from demons traveling from the northeast and was the center of Buddhism in Japan for 800 years.

At its height Enryaku-ji Temple contained 3,000 buildings and the ruling monks that resided there had more power than the Imperial family and had armies of warrior monks to support them. In 1581, the ruling shogun saw the temple as threat and ordered nearly all of the temple buildings and the monks destroyed. Many famous monks are associated with Enryaku and Mt. Hiei: Honen, founder of the Jodo sect; Eisai, founder of the Zen sect; Dogen, founder of the Soto sect; Shinran, founder of the Jodoshin sect; and Nichiren, founder of the Nichiren sect.

Enryaku Power and Warrior Monks

F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “Enryakuji grew throughout the Heian period to include thousands of buildings and to hold considerable influence as the vanguard of Tendai Buddhism. As the monastic complex grew, so did the willingness of its inhabitants to actively involve themselves in temporal affairs, or rather, to deal with issues in a very temporal manner. The early rivals of the Enryakuji included the older Nara temples, and, after the 10th Century, the Mii-dera temple. The latter came about as a result of a schism with the Tendai sect of Buddhism that saw a fair number of monks driven from Mt. Hiei and forced to establish their own place of worship. Outright battles between the Enryakuji and Mii-dera were common during the later Heian Period, and saw the later burned to the ground numerous times. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com |~|]

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Enryakuji Temple
The famous warrior monks, or Sohei, of Mt. Hiei came about, it would seem, in an unexpected way. From its earliest times, the Enryakuji was held to be off limits to both women and law enforcement bodies. The latter prohibition attracted such a large criminal element to Mt. Hiei that Kakûjin (1012-81), the 35th abbot of the Enryakuji, called for his followers to form an army and drive away the undesirables. In fact, many of the men who took up arms may well have been those very same unwelcome fugitives they were intended to fight. From this time forward, Mt. Hiei would maintain a martial arm, one that it rarely hesitated to use. |~|

One frequent victim of the Enryakuji’s heavy-handed tactics was none other then the emperor himself. As emperor Shirakawa is alleged to have said, "There are three things that even I cannot control: the waters of the Kamo river, the roll of the dice, and the monks of the mountain." When the monks of Mt. Hiei found themselves at odds with court over some affair (perhaps a question of land rights or taxation), they would gather and march down at to the gates of Kyoto, bearing on their shoulders the sacred palanquin (mikoshi) of the Shinto deity Sanno. So revered was this artifact that no one dared block its passage and much more often then not the emperor would give in to the monk’s demands. The warrior monks of the Enryakuji would continue to play an important role in the Kyoto area for hundreds of years, until the advent of Oda Nobunaga. While evidently not the first monastic complex to take on a military aspect, the Enryakuji’s reputation was great indeed.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Guardian deity, Ray Kinnane.

Text Sources: Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Library of Congress; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO); New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Daily Yomiuri; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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