Great Buddha of Kamakura
The main Japanese Buddhist sects — Shingon, Tendai, Jodo, 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. They evolved in the Heian Period. Jodo and Zen were powerful forces in the Kamakura Period, when Buddhism spread and was embraced by a wide range of people and Japan experienced a great deal of political unrest and social chaos.

Kamakura was the age of the great popularization of Buddhism. In the time of disunity and violence, deepening pessimism increased the appeal of the search for salvation. Two new sects, Jodo (Pure Land) and Zen (Meditation), dominated the period. The old Heian sects had been quite esoteric and appealed more to the intellectuals than to the masses. The Mount Hiei monasteries had become politically powerful but appealed primarily to those capable of systematic study of the sect’s teachings. This situation gave rise to the Jodo sect, based on unconditional faith and devotion and prayer to Amida Buddha. Zen rejected all temporal and scriptural authority, stressing moral character rather than intellectual attainments, an emphasis that appealed to the military class. Growing numbers of the military class turned to Zen masters, regarded as embodiments of truth. [Source: Library of Congress]

In the Heian period Buddhist culture was primarily the property of the court and the aristocracy---a very small minority in Japan. Between 1150 and 1300 new sects and doctrines arose that were founded by reformers. They used simple ideas and lively language that appealed to ordinary farmers, fishermen and soldiers.

Lanxi Saolong, a Chinese Zen master known in Japanese as Rankei Doryu, is credited with making Zen a credible religion in Japan. He arrived from China in 1246 and was welcomed in Kamakura by a powerful feudal leader there. He purified the forms of Zen that were practiced, was involved in establishing the Rinzai school of Zen, and helped spread it throughout Japan. Eisai (1141-1215), the founder of the Rinzai school of Zen, gained strength and credibility after being supported by the Kamakura period shoguns. See Buddhism, Religion

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Mahayana Buddhism: Seon Zen Buddhism buddhism.org ; Readings in Zen Buddhism, Hakuin Ekaku (Ed: Monika Bincsik) terebess.hu/zen/hakuin ; How to do Zazen (Zen Buddhist Meditation) global.sotozen-net.or.jp ; Wikipedia article ; Comparison of Buddhist Traditions (Mahayana – Therevada – Tibetan) studybuddhism.com ; The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra: complete text and analysis nirvanasutra.net ; Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism cttbusa.org ; The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravāda Theory and Practice by Jeffrey Samuels info-buddhism.com ; Zen Buddhism zen-buddhism.net ; The Zen Site thezensite.com ; Wikipedia article on Zen Buddhism Wikipedia ; Buddhist Art: Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Buddhist Symbols viewonbuddhism.org/general_symbols_buddhism ; Wikipedia article on Buddhist Art Wikipedia ; Guimet Museum in Paris guimet.fr ; Buddhist Artwork buddhanet.net/budart/index ; Asian Art at the British Museum britishmuseum.org ; Buddhism and Buddhist Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Buddhist Art Huntington Archives Buddhist Art dsal.uchicago.edu/huntington ; Buddhist Art Resources academicinfo.net/buddhismart ; Buddhist Art, Smithsonian freersackler.si.edu;

Websites and Sources on the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods: Essay on the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Wikipedia article on the Kamakura Period Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives article on Minamoto Yoritomo samurai-archives.com ; Wikipedia article on Muromachi Period Wikipedia ; Tale of Heike site meijigakuin.ac.jp ; Kamakura City Websites: Kamakura Today kamakuratoday.com ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Kamakura Today kamakuratoday.com ; Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de

Websites and Sources on the Samurai Era in Japan: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ; Artelino Article on Samurai artelino.com ; Wikipedia article om Samurai Wikipedia Sengoku Daimyo sengokudaimyo.co ; List of Shoguns and Emperors of Japan friesian.com ; Samurai Women on About.com asianhistory.about.com ; Classical Martial Arts koryu.com ; Delphi Forums, Good Discussion Group on Japanese History forums.delphiforums.com/samuraihistory. Books: A good book on samurai culture is Miyamoto Murashi (1935), a novel by about a legendary swordsman by Eiji Yoshikawa. The film Last Samurai was based on Bushido-The Soul of Japan, written by Inazo Nitobe in 1899. The Lone Samurai by William Scott Wilson and Shogun by James Clavell are good reads. Vagabond is a popular 27-volume manga based on Miyamoto Musashi by the famous mangaka Takehiro Inoue. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com. Films: Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood by Akira Kurosawa; The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise; Twilight of a Samurai, nominated for an Academy Award in 2004. Samurai scholar: Karl Friday at the University of Georgia. Samurai Armor, Weapons, Swords and Castles Samurai Arms and Armor artsofthesamurai.com ; Armor from Clan Yama Kaminari yamakaminari.com ; Putting on Armor chiba-muse.or.jp ; Castles of Japan pages.ca.inter.net ; Enthusiasts for Visiting Japanese Castles (good photos but a lot of text in Japanese shirofan.com ; Good Photos of Thousand Warrior Procession at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Seppuku Wikipedia article on Seppuku Wikipedia ; Seppuku---A Practical Guide kyushu.com/gleaner ; Tale of 47 Loyal Samurai High School Student Project eonet.ne.jp/~chushingura and Columbia University site columbia.edu/~hds2/chushinguranew Sengakuji Temple is a modest temple dedicated to the 47 samurai who committed ritual suicide in 1702. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; 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

Nichiren Buddhism


Nichiren Buddhism — the largest of the early sects that remains active today — was founded in the 13th century by Nichiren (1222-82), a Japanese monk who promoted the Lotus sutra as the "right" teaching, and believed that violence was sometimes justifiable. His main claim to fame was predicting the Mongol invasions.

Nichiren Buddhism grew in influence over the centuries. It was based in an interpretation of the Lotus Sutra, the central text of text of Tendai and became linked with samurai and the unity of the state and religion. Many present-day Buddhist sects have their roots in Nichiren Buddhism.

Nicheren urged people to chant “Namu myo ho ren ge kyo”—“adoration to the scripture of Lotus Sutra." The Lotus Sutra affirms that all people, regardless of gender, capacity or social standing, inherently possess the qualities of a Buddha, and are therefore equally worthy of the utmost respect. The Nichiren central doctrine is Rissho Ankoku which means “spreading peace throughout the country by establishing the True Dharma and uniting society through the Lotus Sutra."

Based on his study of the sutra, Nichiren established the invocation (chant) of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a universal practice to enable people to manifest the Buddhahood inherent in their lives and gain the strength and wisdom to challenge and overcome any adverse circumstances. Nichiren saw the Lotus Sutra as a vehicle for people’s empowerment - stressing that everyone can attain enlightenment and enjoy happiness while they are alive. [Ibid]

Nichiren Shu is one of the larger modern Nichern sects. It has 3.8 million members and is led by Rev, Ryokou Koga. The group is currently trying to spread itself more overseas and has temples in 12 countries, including Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, India and the United States and has 16 aid projects going Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Vietnam.


The son of a fishermen, Nichiren entered a monastery as a boy and was kicked out at age 31 for his militant views. Although he played a role in preparing Japan for the Mongol invasion, he was exiled twice for getting people riled up with doomsday predictions. In his memorial Establishing Right and Making the Country More Secure he insisted that there must be a national religion and all other sects should be suppressed. He called the Pure Land sect the Everlasting Hell and claimed Zen Buddhists were devils. Although he was condemned by the government and the traditional sects he was popular among ordinary people.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Nichiren (1222-1282) was a reformer Buddhist monk in Kamakura era Japan who established his own sect (the Nichiren sect) based on devotion to the Lotus Sūtra and chanting the title of the sūtra Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. Nichiren was often controversial and criticized by government authorities because of his prophecies that social problems and natural disasters were based on a failure to adhere to his form of Buddhist practice. He considered himself a reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Jōgyō. His last sermon, Risshō ankoku ron (“On Establishing the Correct Teaching and Pacifying the State”), ca. 1250, is one of his most important treatises.” [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]

Nichiren’s Life

Nichiren going into exile on Sado Island

There are different takes on Nichiren as a historical figure.According to the Soka Gakkai website, “Nichiren was born in 1222 in Japan in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), a time of clan warfare, social unrest, natural disasters, famine and epidemics. The common people, especially, suffered enormously. Nichiren wondered why the Buddhist teachings had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives. While a young priest, he set out to find an answer to the suffering and chaos that surrounded him. His intensive study of the Buddhist sutras convinced him that the Lotus Sutra contained the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people’s suffering and enabling society to flourish." [Source: Soka Gakkai website */*]

“Nichiren was critical of the established schools of Buddhism that relied on state patronage and merely served the interests of the powerful while encouraging passivity in the suffering masses. He called the feudal authorities to task, insisting that the leaders bear responsibility for the suffering of the population and act to remedy it. His stance, that the state exists for the sake of the people, was revolutionary for its time. */*

“Nichiren’s claims invited an onslaught of often-violent persecutions from the military government and the established Buddhist schools. Throughout, he refused to compromise his principles to appease those in authority. Nichiren’s legacy lies in his unrelenting struggle for people’s happiness and the desire to transform society into one which respects the dignity and potential of each individual life." */*

Nichiren developed into a folk hero as well On the tale of Nichiren and the Smooth Horned Turban Shells, Kevin Short wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: One day Nichiren, who was born in Chiba Prefecture on the opposite side of the Uraga Straits, was crossing over to Kanagawa by boat. On that day, the tide was out, and the boat ran aground in the shallows before reaching the beach. A kind fisherman waded out into the water and carried the priest the remaining way on his shoulders. On the way in, however, he stepped on a spiny sazae and cut open the bottom of his foot. Back on shore, Nichiren not only healed the wound, but uttered an enchantment that removed the dangerous spines from all the turban shells living in the area. This story is typical of a very common folklore genre featuring not only Nichiren, but also many other famous priests, especially Kukai, the great eighth to ninth century monk and founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect. Most of these didactic stories share a similar structure--the hero performs a useful miracle in return for some small kindness or unselfish deed rendered by the common people. Many Christian stories involving local saints fall in the same genre. [Source: Kevin Short, Daily Yomiuri, July 27, 2012]

Nichiren: “Rectification for the Peace of the Nation”

Nichiren's Risshou Ankokuron

In “Rectification for the Peace of the Nation” (Risshō Ankoku Ron), Nichiren wrote: “The Sūtra of the Humane King (Ninnō kyō) states: “When a nation becomes disordered, it is the spirits which first show signs of rampancy. Because these spirits become rampant, all the people of the nation become disordered. Invaders come to plunder the country and the common people face annihilation. The ruler, the high ministers, the heir apparent, and the other princes and government officials all quarrel with each other over right and wrong. Heaven and earth manifest prodigies and strange occurrences; the twenty.eight constellations, the stars, the sun and the moon appear at irregular times and in irregular positions, and numerous outlaws rise up.” [Source: “Sources of Japanese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley, 2nded., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 296-298; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“But because of this book written by Hōnen, this Senchakushū, the Lord Buddha Shākyamuni is forgotten and all honor is paid to Amida, the Buddha of the Western Land. The Lord Buddha’s transmission of the Law is ignored and Yakushi, the Buddha of the Eastern Region, is neglected. All attention is paid to the three works in four volumes of the Pure Land scriptures, and all other wonderful teachings that Shākyamuni proclaimed throughout the five periods of his preaching life are cast aside.: <|>

“As a result, the halls of the Buddha fall into ruin, scarcely a wisp of smoke rises above their mossy tiles; and the monks’ quarters stand empty and dilapidated, the dew deep on the grasses in their courtyards. And in spite of such conditions, no one gives thought to protecting the Law or to restoring the temples. … If people favor perverse doctrines and forget what is correct, can the benevolent deities be anything but angry? If people cast aside doctrines that are all.encompassing and take up those that are incomplete, can the world escape the plots of demons? Rather than offering up ten thousand prayers for remedy, it would be better simply to outlaw this one evil doctrine that is the source of all the trouble!” <|>

Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism arrived in Japan in the Heian Period (794-1185) or earlier but didn’t really catch on until Kamakaru Period (1185-1333) and later. In the early days there were who two competing schools of Zen Buddhism: Soto, which emphasized mediating in the seated position under strict guidelines, and Rinzai, which emphasized lengthy question-and-answer drills and the contemplation of koan (metaphysical riddles that have no logical answer) such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Lanxi Daolong

The Rinzai sect, the oldest of the Japanese Zen sects, was founded in the 12th century by Myoan Eisai (See Below). The Soto Zen sect was founded by Dogen (1200-1253), a student of Eisai who also studied in China. It emphasizes shitan taza (literally "just sitting"). Sometimes trainees of the Soto Zen sect a make a vow of silence and spend their time meditating, studying and eating in silence. There are 15,000 Sato Zen temples in Japan today.

See Buddhist Schools, Chan Under Chinese Religion

Important Figures in Zen Buddhism in Japan

Three of the most important Japanese figures in Zen were Ikkyu, a hard-drinking womanizer who thumbed his nose at authority but demonstrated great incite into Zen through his poetry and calligraphy; Hakuin, who developed an influential theory of enlightenment and style of teaching; and Ryokan, a wandering poet who expressed Zen virtue through his simple and contemplative poetry and lifestyle.

Lanxi Daolong, a Chinese Zen master known in Japanese as Rankei Doryu, is credited with making Zen a credible religion in Japan. He arrived from China in 1246 and was welcomed in Kamakura by a powerful feudal leader there. He purified the forms of Zen that were practiced, was involved in establishing the Rinzai school of Zen, and helped spread it throughout Japan.

Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) founded the Soto Sect and Eiheji Temple in Fukui Prefecture. Born to noble parents that died when he was young, he traveled to China when he was 24 and underwent strict training with a famous Zen master. He returned to Japan in 1228 and lived at Kenneinji temple in Kyoto for three years before founding his first temple in Uji, near Kyoto. In 1244 he and his followers founded Eiheji in the mountains of Fukui Prefecture. Eiheji means “eternal peace."

Dôgen Zenji, 1200-1253 and the Soto Zen Sect

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253), the founder of the Sōtō Zen sect in Kamakura Japan, is often referred to as the leading classical philosopher in Japanese history. His essays on numerous Buddhist topics included in his main text, the Shōbōgenzō (Treasury of the True Dharma-Eye), reflect an approach to religious experience based on a more philosophical analysis than in the writings of Zen. (Zen is known as a “special transmission outside the scriptures, without reliance on words and letters.”) The single main element in Dōgen’s approach is his emphasis on the meaning of impermanence or the transiency of all aspects of human and natural existence.” [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]


In “How to Practice Buddhism (Bendōwa),” Dogen wrote: “Because the Fully Awakened Ones [Buddhas] provide mysterious assistance, when you practice sitting Zen, you will definitely slough off body.mind, eliminate habitually defiled thought patterns, and realize divinely genuine Buddha dharma. You will aid all Buddha activity in all Buddha wayfaring sites as infinite as atoms. You will encourage the aptitude for practicing beyond Buddha and promote the dharma beyond Buddha. At that moment all lands, plants, fences, and roof tiles throughout the dharma realms of the ten directions also engage in Buddha activity, causing everyone to obtain the Buddha’s inconceivable mysterious assistance in attaining awakening as easily as they receive natural blessings like wind and water. Just as everyone makes use of water and fire, so too you will circulate the innate realization of Buddha deliverance so that everyone living or talking with you will all embody inexhaustible Buddhavirtue. [Source: Nishio, “Shōbōgenzō,” vol. 1, pp. 101–102; WB; “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), 321-324 <|>]

“As it unfolds and widens without end, without break, the inconceivable, infinite Buddha dharma will flow throughout the entire cosmos and beyond. The fact that the one who practices sitting Zen is unaware of the Buddha’s mysterious assistance is because it is direct realization of nondeliberative quiescence. If, as ordinary people suppose, cultivation and realization are two separate processes, then it could be possible to be aware of each in isolation. But what interacts with our awareness cannot be fundamental realization because fundamental realization is beyond deluded human thoughts.” <|>

“Know that Buddhists must not engage in debates over the superiority or inferiority of the teachings and must not choose between profound and shallow doctrines. Just know whether the practice is authentic or not. Grass, flowers, the landscape itself, have brought some people into the Buddha Way. Merely grasping earth or sand has caused others to receive and preserve the Buddha.mind Seal. This means that the greatest words are the ones whose abundant meanings overflow from every existing thing. The Great Dharma Wheel of preaching turns in every speck of dust. In light of this, a phrase like “this very mind is Buddha” is just the moon reflected in water. “This very sitting becomes Buddha” is just a reflection in a mirror. Do not be misled by clever slogans. I now recommend the practice of direct realization of bodhi because I teach the marvelous Way directly transmitted by the Buddhas and Zen ancestors and because I want you to become a true man of the Way. <|>



Eisai (1141-1215) is also known as Minnan Yosai. Born into a samurai family from Okayama, he studied with the Tendai sect and made two visits to China and is well known among Japanese for introducing tea culture to Japan. His sect gained strength after being supported by the Kamakura period shoguns.

Eisai entered the priesthood at age 14. He studied ay Enryakuji temples, the headquarters of the Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei, but left after becoming disillusioned with the decadent behavior of the monks there. He embarked on his first trip to China in 1168 at the age of 28 to visit Mt. Tientai in what is now Zhejiang Province to study the Buddhism that was imported to Japan 350 years before. He found that the Buddhism at Mt. Tientai had been supplanted by Chinese-style Zen (Ch’an) Buddhism and returned home gravely disappointed.

Eisai embarked on his second visit in 1187 with the plan to visit the entire Buddhist world and absorb ideas on how to reform Buddhism in Japan. Authorities in China however would not let him venture beyond China so he returned to Mt. Tientai and talked to monks at Wannian Temple there and found out that the answers he was seeking could be found in Zen. The temple was surrounded by tea gardens so he learned about tea as well as religion.

During Eisai’s effort to spread the word of Zen, first in Kyushu and then in Honshu, monks at Mt. Hiei persecuted him and banned his Zen missionary work in 1194. After Eisai’s teachings were supported by the Kamakura shogunate a major Zen temple, Kenniniji temple, was founded in Kyoto.

Mappo: Buddhist Cosmic Cycles

Aizen Myoo

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: One of the characteristics of the Mahayana forms of Buddhism is a theory of cosmic cycles in which a Buddha appears to show others how to attain enlightenment. Then, as time goes on, this Buddha’s teachings deteriorate, leading eventually to a long period of general misery and social unrest. Then, a new Buddha appears to start another cycle. Thus, there has been a series of cosmically-ordained Buddhas in human history, with the Buddha Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha who founded Buddhism as we know it today) simply being the most recent, that is, the Buddha for the present cycle. Of course, it is possible that other other Buddhas have existed after Shakyamuni in the form of people who have attained enlightenment. The theory of cosmic cycles pertains only to the Buddhas that appear as part of the cosmic order of things. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

“The term mappo literally means something like "end of the dharma." It is the last of the three temporal stages Buddhism mentioned earlier: the true dharma, the semblance dharma, and the last dharma. Let us examine some of the details of this theory, which came into Japan along with the vast corpus of Buddhist texts from India, China, and Korea.*~*

“According to the theory of cosmic cycles, the age of the true dharma is characterized by three qualities: 1) theory or teachings, 2) the practice of those teachings, and 3) true insight capable of leading to enlightenment. In the age of the semblance dharma, Buddhists go through the motions of practice (2), but without benefiting from them owing to worldly corruption. Therefore, they will not attain true insight (3). So in the semblance age, 1 and 2 are present, but not 3. In the final age, 2 is also gone. Though some may claim to be practicing Buddhism, they do not even go through the motions correctly, and disputes between monks and religious factions become heated. The teachings themselves (1) remain (recall that they are the unchanging essence of the diamond world in esoteric Buddhism), but nobody really understands them, much less putts them into practice. *~*

Saicho and Mappo


According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “Among the first Japanese Buddhists to act on the implications of the theory of mappo was a prominent monk named Saicho, who was active at the start of the Heian period. At this time, the theory of cosmic cycles, while known to some monks, was not generally a concern among the Japanese aristocracy or clergy. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

“By Saicho’s calculations, the true dharma age lasted 500 years; the semblance dharma age 1000. Based on the traditionally accepted death of Shakyamuni, which was significantly earlier than the estimates of most scholars today, Saicho thought that he lived right at the start of mappo. Not everyone accepted Saicho’s timing. Recall that some regarded the true dharma age to last 1000 years, not 500. Also, there were two possibilities for the semblance dharma age, 500 or 1000 years. Why? The main reason seems to be the discussion of time periods found in a scripture called the Great Collection Sutra. *~*

According to it, there are five 500-year periods (go-gohyakusai) after the death of the Buddha during which teachings and practice decline. Each period is characterized by a particular feature: 1) firm attainment of liberation (gedatsu kengo), 2) steadfast practice of meditation (zenjo kengo), 3) steadfast hearing of Buddhist teaching (tamon kengo), 4) building of many temples (zoji kengo), and 5) steadfast engagement in doctrinal disputes (tojo kengo). For Saicho, the first of these five constituted the age of the true dharma, the second and third were the semblance dharma, and the final age began with the fourth, that is, the massive building of temples. *~*

“Notice that there is room here to make the true dharma last either 500 or 1000 years and the semblance dharma last either 500 or 1000 years. Another possible area of flexibility concerns the length of mappo itself. Might it last only 500 or 1000 years instead of the 10,000 years according to conventional belief? Another factor that added flexibility to the periodization was different dates for the Buddha’s death, some several decades apart.” *~*

Doomsday Aspects of Saicho and Mappo

Aizen Myoo

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “In any case, Saicho thought that he lived at the very start of mappo. He had other evidence to support this belief. For one thing, another Buddhist theory claimed that typical human life spans varied, from about 80,000 years at the longest to ten at the shortest, that is, during the depths of mappo. That typical life spans were well under 100 years in Saicho’s day further pointed to the conclusion that final age was at hand. The short life spans were part of a larger collection of symptoms of the approach of mappo. The full list is called the "Five Defilements" (gojoku), which are: 1) famines plagues, wars, etc.; 2) the arising of false views; 3) intensification of evil passions; 4) rejection of moral laws and the physical and mental degeneration resulting from that rejection; and 5) short life spans. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

“According to Buddhist theology, although these defilements began to appear when human life spans went below 20,000 years, they became especially obvious when life spans went below 100 years. Think of our own times right now. Does it not seem that the Five Defilements are abundantly present? Probably so. And the same impression would have prevailed at virtually any point in human history. In any case, for Saicho, all the evidence pointed to entry into mappo. Regarding this point, Nakano Masayuki argues convincingly that many of Saicho’s activities in establishing Tendai on Mt. Hiei reflect an active attempt on his part to protect both the state and Buddhist teachings during the impending last age. *~*

“There is one essential point in the above paragraphs about Saicho’s theory of mappo: nobody could be certain exactly when mappo would start. One reason was Saicho’s compressing a 5-stage cycle into three stages, thereby leaving room for debate over whether the true dharma stage lasts 500 or 1000 years and also whether the semblance dharma state lasts 500 or 1000 years. Add in some slack for different sets of dates for the Buddha’s death, and one could never be completely certain whether the world was about to enter the final stage or whether it had already entered that stage--an ideal condition for anxiety.

Doomsday Mappo Catches on Late Heian and Kamakura Periods

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “Few Japanese at the time of the early Heian period shared Saicho’s sense of doomsday. Using the variables in timing described above, other Buddhists in the ninth century said that mappo was over two centuries away and would not start until 1052. Furthermore, few Japanese outside of the elite members of the clergy knew much about the more sophisticated doctrines of Buddhism during the early Heian period. By the end of the period, however, many things had changed. First, nearly all monastic and aristocratic Japanese were familiar with the major doctrines of Buddhism. Second, it became increasingly difficult to theorize the start of mappo farther into the future, especially after 1052. Third, from the standpoint of the aristocracy especially, it seemed as if society was indeed entering a period of major decline. Problems collecting revenues, political strife between the emperor and retired emperor, the increasing power of warriors and the increasing frequency of warfare, the decline of the central civilian government’s authority, and the increasingly apparent *corruption of the Buddhist establishment* all contributed to anxiety concerning entry into mappo. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

Amida coming to earth

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “That this anxiety became acute is not to say that all learned Japanese understood mappo in the same way. Some rejected the theory entirely, and those who accepted it were not unanimously agreed about the timing. Furthermore, there was disagreement about how best to react to mappo. In other words, was there anything people could do about it? How could or should Buddhism be altered to suit the conditions of the time? Is it still possible to become enlightened, or at least to avoid rebirth in the lower realms of existence, while in the present, degenerate age? These were the sorts of questions on the minds of many elite Japanese in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and, to some extent, all the way up to the seventeenth century. Even those who rejected the theory of cosmic cycles had to discuss and deal with it. In short, mappo was the defining issue not only in theology, but also in the literary, dramatic, and *visual arts* of mid-medieval Japan. *~*

As William R, LaFleur points out: [I]t is important to realize that people in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Japan’s history were deeply absorbed in a debate as to whether the entire world had just entered a necessarily evil era called mappo, the final epoch of the current Buddhist cycle. Many of those who embraced this idea had calculated that as of the year 1052 . . . there had commenced a lengthy period during which the correct understanding and practice of Buddhism had been virtually nonexistent. . . . Some took the calculations to be correct and the current laxity of monastic discipline as proof that the theory was true. Others, especially the Zen master Dogen (1200-1253), argued against the mappo theory; they held that the possibility of understanding and practicing Buddhism was as good as it had ever been and that theories such as that of mappo were merely mental contrivances by which shallow understanding and loose practice were rationalized. [Source: William R. LaFleur, The Karma of Words: Buddhism and the Literary Arts in Medieval Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), p. 3.]

“So, in the realm of religion, the fear of either being on the verge of entering mappo or of having already entered it was very much on the minds of elite Japanese during the late Heain period, the Kamakura period, and, to some extent, the Muromachi period. Furthermore, these centuries were a time of fundamental social change as the warriors replaced the civilian aristocrats as the dominant members of society. But these warriors tended to fight among themselves for territory and power, especially during the Muromachi period, when central government was weak or powerless.” *~*

Culture in the Kamakura Period

The Yorimoto shogunate considered the pursuit of the arts by the Imperial family and Heian Period nobility to be wasteful and decadent. It encouraged austerity and the pursuit of the martial arts and used its strength to bring landlords under their control and restore control over Japan.

Amida coming over the mountain

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The Kamakura and Nanbokucho eras were remarkable for the shift that occurred in the Japanese aesthetic. The highly refined sensibilities of the superceded aristocracy did not interest the new patrons. Instead, the warrior class favored artists who treated their subjects with a direct honesty and virile energy that matched their own. What followed, then, was an age of realism unparalleled before the late eighteenth century. This renascence was not limited to art.[Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Asian Art. "Kamakura and Nanbokucho Periods (1185–1392)". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, 2000, metmuseum.org \^/]

Religious movements experienced a similar resurgence, and reform and counter-reform currents animated and transmuted Kamakura Buddhism. While the courtly and warrior elites perpetuated the Heian traditions of Amida worship and Esoteric Buddhism, for the first time in its history Buddhism was also actively proselytized among the Japanese masses. In the Kamakura period (1185 and 1333) and Muromachi period (1333-1576) Zen had a large impact on Japanese art and culture as manifested in the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy, ink paintings, haiku poetry, gardening, sculpture and textiles.

As might be expected, the literature of the time reflected the unsettled nature of the period. The Hojoki (An Account of My Hut) describes the turmoil of the period in terms of the Buddhist concepts of impermanence and the vanity of human projects. The Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike) narrated the rise and fall of the Taira (also known as the Heike), replete with tales of wars and samurai deeds. A second literary mainstream was the continuation of anthologies of poetry in the Shin kokinshu wakashu (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Times), of which twenty volumes were produced between 1201 and 1205. [Source: Library of Congress]

Some trace the tea ceremony and tea back to Eisai (1141-1215), an influential monk who introduced to Japan a new method for making powdered green tea. A member of the Rinzai school of Zen, he is said to have brought back tea seeds from tea bushes from China and planted them at his temple. At that time tea had a number of health benefits ascribed ti it in China and was used to harmonize different parts of the body.

Sculpture in the Kamakura Period

The golden age of Japanese sculpture was in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), when wooden statues of a wide range of subjects, including serene hermits, fierce warriors and omnipotent gods, were carved with wonderful detail and realism from blocks of woods fit together. Some the wooden figures feature realistic even humorous poses.

Famous sculptors include Kokei (active in the late 12th and early 13th century), and his son Unkei (died 1223). Unkei produced magnificent wooden sculptures with crystals inset in the eyes. His images of important figures in Japanese Buddhism and known for being expressive and austere.

Kokei worked during the Heian period (794-1192) and early Kamakura period. He made sculptures of Buddha from cypress wood. Experts determine works made by him based on pleats in clothing and the shape of the ears.

Unkei lived in the early Kamakura period. The years of his birth is unknown. He developed the Kamakura-style of carving and led the Nara-based Kei school of Buddhist sculpture. He played a major role in rebuilding large temples ruined by battles that took place in the Heian period.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Samurai websites, MIT visualizing history

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; Time; Newsweek, 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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