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The Religion In The Heian Period

.. . Tendai was broadly founded on the teachings of the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle school of Buddhism. Its basic scripture, the Lotus Sutra, purportedly contained Gautama’s last sermon, in which he revealed to his disciples the universality of the Buddha potential. The Buddha asserted that until this time he had allowed individuals to practice Hinayana, the Lesser Vehicle, and to seek their own enlightenments.

Now mankind was prepared for the final truth that everyone could attain buddhahood. In the Buddha’s words as found in the sutra: Those harassed by all the sufferings To them I at first preached Nirvana Attainable by one’s own efforts. Such were the expedient means I employed To lead them to Buddha-wisdom. Not then could I say to them, you all shall attain to Buddhahood. For the time had not yet arrived.

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But now the very time has come And I must preach the Great Vehicle. Shingon Buddhism Shingon Buddhism came to Japan from China in the 9th century by the monk Kukai whose teachings have been little changed since. Earlier Buddhist sects had been very esoteric and secretive, but Shingon proved considerably more popular. It placed great emphasis on chants, magical rituals, and ceremonies for the dead, much to the delight of the average worshipper. The sect was responsible for spreading the Chinese religion far beyond the ruling class and continues to be a major faith today.

Shingon Buddhism resembled Tendai in the general circumstances of its foundation and development. It was introduced into Japan by Kukai (774-835, alias Kobo Daishi). In his youth, Kukai had received the Confucian training suitable for an official career but, growing disenchanted with such a prospect, became a Buddhist monk and studied assiduously. He was also sent by Emperor Kammu in 804, and returned to Japan in 806, a convert to the Shingon school of Buddhism. It is possible that he did not spend all his time overseas in the Chinese capital of Ch’ang-an, but traveled to the far south of China where it borders on India.

Shingon is a form of Japanese esoteric Buddhism, it is also called Shingon Mikkyo. This school was founded in 804 AD by Kukai (Kobo Daishi) in Japan. The teachings of Shingon are based on the Mahayana Sutra and the Vairochana Sutra, the fundamental sutras of shingon. Through the cultivation of three secrets, the actions of body, speech and mind, we are able to attain enlightenment in this very body. When we can sustain this sate of mind, we can become on with the life force of the Universe, known as Mahavairocana Buddha.

The symbolic activities are present anywhere in the universe. Natural phenomena such as mountains and oceans and even humans express the truth described in the sutras. The universe itself embodies and cannot be separated from the teaching. In the Shingon tradition, the practitioner uses the same techniques that were used over 1200 years ago by Kukai, and have been transmitted orally generation after generation to the present. As Shingon Buddhists, there are three vows to observe in their lives: . May we realize Buddhahood in this very life.

. May we dedicate ourselves to the well-being of people . May we establish the World of Buddha on this earth. Within Kukai’s monastery the Shingon initiate spent much time reciting mantras (sacred words or incantations), and practicing mudras (sacred gestures). He also studied mandalas (sacred pictures) which represented in diagrammatic form the boundless power and presence of the cosmic Buddha.

The object of these pious exercises, like that of the Indian yoga they resembled, was to bring the monk into a state of ecstatic union with the cosmic Buddha. In other words, Shingon held out the promise of full realization of one? Buddha-nature in this lifetime. Shingon is centered on belief in the cosmic Buddha Vairochana. All things including the historical Buddha, Gautama, and such transcendent beings as Yakushi are merely manifestations of this universal entity. Shingon relied its idea just as much as Tendai, but went even further than Tendai in affirming the value of this present life.

Tendai taught that full enlightenment would come only after all earthly existences were completed. Shingon, on the other hand, claimed that a person with proper insight and training could achieve his spiritual aim of enlightenment in this present life. Whereas Tendai considered the material world a partial reflection of an ideal world, Shingon held that the world of things was completely identical with the spiritual world. In other words, the cosmic Buddha was just as perfectly within the universe as he was outside it. This development marked an important transition from the idea of escape from existence (nirvana) to the idea of enlightenment while still in existence (satori) as the supreme objective of religious endeavor.

Kukai at one point argued for instantaneous Buddhahood in these vigorous terms: According to exoteric doctrines, enlightenment occurs only after three existences; the esoteric doctrines declare that there are sixteen chances of enlightenment in this life. In speed and excellence the two doctrines differ as much as Buddha with his supernatural powers and a lame donkey. You who reverence the good let this fact be clear in your minds. Kukais outstanding talent as an artist, and his idea of satori or union with the cosmic Buddha in this life, help to explain the great importance that Japanese Shingon placed on sacred art. It was the business of such art to portray both the awesome and the genial sides of experience, because good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant were all equally important as attributes of the cosmic Buddha.

Shingon art is made memorable by this inspiration. Moreover, it identified satori with the elation or heightened awareness imparted by a masterpiece of art. Shingon enjoyed immense popularity in Heian Japan. Its emphasis on art appealed to the well-developed aesthetic sense of the nobles, who also enjoyed the lavish rituals associated with its sacred words and gestures. Even the Tendai communities on Hieizan were deeply influenced, taking over its images and ceremonial. For most of the Heian period the two sects were intermingled. Despite this, Tendai always retained a distinctive bias towards scholarship and an intellectual, rather than emotional, approach; it also continued to have somewhat closer links than Shingon with the court as an administrative body.

Moreover, in judging the relative spiritual progress of people who were not monks, Tendai relied on the existing class structure. Those born in fortunate circumstances were reaping the rewards of special merit in previous lives and could look forward to even greater blessings in lives to come. In short, though all beings were destined to be saved eventually, aristocrats were superior to the common people in religion as in everything else. It is easy to see that such teaching would flourish in Heian Japan, which was a predominantly aristocratic society. As religions of the aristocracy and this government, the two sects were thought of protectors of court and State. They performed special rituals at times of political uncertainty arising from such things as the accession of a new emperor, provincial rebellion or natural disaster. Buddhism had had this protective role since Nara times, but the Heian sects links with the court led them to full participation in society and government quite apart from abnormal occasions.

For Buddhists as well as everybody else, direct contact with china dwindled though it never lapsed. This was an extraordinary change from the time when Japanese Buddhism had been little more than a branch of mainland mature, and took on a distinctively Japanese or national character. Religion, like politics and literature, was increasingly domesticated. This meant that Heian Buddhism conformed to the prevailing pattern of group privilege and local independence within a broad framework of national unity. The sects were deeply involved in the development of Shoen, and, as elements in the metropolitan elite; they ranked with the great aristocratic families.

Like the latter, they remained separate and to some extent competing units, deriving their ultimate authority from close association with the court. At the same time, they gained greatly from the weakening of centralized government, which enabled them to amass huge incomes from shiki rights, and to enjoy a large measure of political independence. However, Buddhism did not just passively accommodate itself to prevailing secular trends; it was a positive influence in its own right. Japanese politics under the Fujiwara and cloistered emperors were remarkably free from bloodshed and cruelty, and this was at least partly due to Buddhist emphasis on the sanctity of life. During the Heian period Buddhism also ceased to be an exclusively aristocratic religion. Spreading among the common people, it carried with it – as always – arts, crafts and opportunities for learning. So, in the long run, Heian Buddhism helped enormously to close the great technological and cultural gap that had divided the provinces from the court since the days of the Taika Reform. Buddhism in any form had always been a missionary religion. Mahayana Buddhism was not only anxiously to make converts, but was eager to absorb local religions.

In Heian times, Shinto shrines throughout the country were taken over by Buddhist priests. The deities for whom the shrines had originally been built were now esteemed as minor manifestations of the cosmic Buddha, and time-honored village festivals and other community rites continued under Buddhist sponsorship. This amalgamation of Buddhism and Shinto was the dominant form of religion in Japan from the eleventh century to the mid-nineteenth century. Even after the forcible separation of the two faiths for political reasons in the 1870s, the amalgam has lived on among the people. Works cited Morton, W. Scott.

JAPAN, Its History and Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984 Morton, W. Scott. CHINA, Its History and Culture. United States: McGraw-Hill, 1980 Varley, H. Paul. Japanese Culture.

Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2000 hisattva3.html endai.html Religion Essays.


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