Arrival of Buddhism to Japan
According to the Nihongi (written 720), a golden Buddha statue was presented to the
ruler of Japan by a Korean ruler:
o Two rival Japanese clans disagree on whether to accept the foreign deity. When
famine and disaster follow the installation of the Buddha image in the palace, the
Mononobe clan blames it on the anger ot the native Japanese kami.
Historically, by the beginning of the 7th c. the Buddha was being worshipped by priests
at court, largely for funerals and prayers for the longevity of the ruling family.
Buddhism and the Early State: Nara Period
Priests and nuns at officially designated temples had to recite sutras for their state-
o Most commonly used were the Sutra of Golden Radiant Wisdom (J. Konkyomyo-
kyo) and the Sutra of Human Kings (J. Ninno-kyo).
The 4 Dharma kings are often placed at the entrance to Buddhist temples.
According to the Sutra of Humane Kings:
o The king can protect his state through the worship of the sutra.
o A bond is created between king and sangha. The state will flourish if the king
supports the sangha and promotes Buddhism.
o Does the king support the sangha or does the sangha support the king?
In Japanese culture, the emperor or ruler has the final say
Eventually, the law of the Buddha and the Law of Kings are seen to be symbiotic, each
supporting the other. (Like two wings of a bird).
The capital is moved to Nara in 710, and the city and its architecture are patterned after
Tang Dynasty Chinese models.
Emperor Shomu orders the construction of state temples in the provinces of Japan, and
the building of pagodas housing copies of the Lotus Sutra.
These small provincial temples (Kokubunci) allowed the emperor to extend his influence
Opening ceremonies held in 752. Monks invited from all over the Buddhist world.
Became the centre for state Buddhism and a powerful statement of the rulers power over
all of Japan.
Todai-ji houses a massive image of Vairocana Buddha, identified in the Avatamsaka
Sutra as the cosmos itself.
Just as Vairocana unified all Buddhas in himself, so the emperor unifies all political and
spiritual powers in Japan.
Little remains of the original building or statue. It was burned down several times in
political and sectarian disputes. These engraved bodhisattvas on a lotus leaf of the statue are original.
Todai-ji and Honji-suijaku
Emperor Shomu took care to ask for the assistance of native kami during the construction
Hachiman, the kami or metal-work and war, was installed as a protector of the temple
and was worshipped as a protecting deity of Buddhism
In the Nara and Heian periods, there was a proliferation of jingu-ji “shrine-temples” in
which sutras were chanted for the benefit of a local kami.
Here, Hachiman is portrayed as a Buddhist monk.
Time of great social and political upheaval:
o Military rulers, or shogun, take power from the emperor.
o Widespread famine, death, earthquakes, drought. Many Buddhists feel that they
are living in the Age of Degenerate Dharma.
New Buddhist sects focus on a single, simple method to gain enlightenment:
For Shinran and Pure Land, it is reciting the Buddha’s name or nembutsu. “Namu Amida
For Dogen and Japanese Soto Zen, it is seated meditation or zazen.
Spends 20 years in a traditional monastery on Mt. Hiei, but feels his practice is getting
Meets a Pure Land monk named Honen, who advises him that recitation of the nembutsu
(“Namu Amida butsu”) is the only path to salvation in this age of mappo
Shinran stresses faith in Amida Buddha (J. shinjin) over practice.
Shinran stresses impossibility of self-power (J. jiriki) practice, and argues that we need
only rely on the Other-power (J. tariki) of Amida to ensure our birth in the Pure Land
Even faith (shinjin) and the ability to recite the nembutsu is granted by Amida.
One receives an assurance of salvation in this life. A type of “birth” before birth in the
Pure Land. Afterwards, religious life is merely an expression of gratitude for salvation
If one has faith, one need only recite the nembutsu once. Nothing else is required.
Faith and recitation of nembutsu are the mind of Amida operating in sentient beings, not
a means of making merit:
o All sentient beings “burdened by karmic evil” have no means of making merit,
All merit is transferred by Amida.
o Shinran declares “I have never once recited the nembustsu for my parents,” and
critiques reliance on kami and other Buddhas.
Zen Buddhism Goes to China, looking for an answer to the question “If all beings have Buddha-nature,
what is the need for practice?”
Moves to remote, mountainous region and establishes Eihei-ji as a centre for rigorous
Writes The Treasury of the true Dharma Eye (J. Shobogenzo), a philosophical
masterpiece and an attempt to prove that his lineage of Soto Zen is the only true form of
Practice (i.e. zazen) IS enlightenment. Not a means to an end.
We cannot create enlightenment through zazen. Rather, enlightenment is an ever-present
reality that is “actualized” or embodied in zazen.
Along these lines, Dogen recommends “just sitting” (shikan-taza).
Practice is a lifelong unfolding of enlightenment.
Dogen says “Shakyamuni Buddha is only half-way there.”
From Dogen’s instructions on zazen, the Fukanzazengi:
o “To practice the way single-heartedly is, in itself enlightenment. There is no gap
between practice and enlightenment, or zazen and daily life.”
o “…having stopped the various functions of your mind, give up even the idea of
becoming Buddha. This holds true not only for zazen but for all your daily
Like many of his Chinese forbears, Dogen saw Buddha-nature in all things, including the
insentient and impermanent:
o “Thus mountains, rivers, and the great earth are all the ocean of Buddha-nature.
Grass, trees, and forests are impermanent; they are the Buddha-nature. Human,
things, body and mind are impermanent; they are Buddha-nature.”
Mahayana Buddhism and Peace
Along with mainstream Buddhism, the Mahayana stressed the importance of ethics (Skt.
Both lay people and monastics vow to uphold the precept against killing. Based on the
“golden rule” of not causing suffering to others that I would not like to experience.
In the Mahayana bodhisattva path, bodhisattvaas are to embody great wisdom (prajna)
and compassion (karuna):
o The Sutra of Brahma’s Net, a source for the bodhisattva precepts, says:
A disciple of the Buddha shall not himself hill, encourage others to kill,
kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill
through incantation or deviant mantras. He must not create the causes,
condition methods or karma of killing
Some sutras justify killing if it is motivated by compassion. Using skilful means (upaya),
the bodhisattva h