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Japanese Religion Report

Hanada Tattsu

12 Aug 2003

I have a report that I am going to do on Matsuo Basho, and I wanted to tie in how Buddhism affected his writing. Please check this over and make sure its correct, list corrections if any.

Buddhism first was introduced to Japan by the friendly South Korean kingdom of Paekche, which sent over a number of expeditions and books regarding the Buddhism (as well as a picture of the Buddhha) to the Yamato Court and the Japanese Emperor in Nara, the capital. Since the Kingdom thought that Buddhism was too hard to understand for the Japanese people, it was kept at court, and the traditional Shinto was the officially regarded religion.

However, thanks to Emperor Shotoku who reigned from 764 to 770, Buddhism was spread among the common people. The Buddhist sect that originated in Japan was not the Therevada Buddhist sect, which was common in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, and Southern Vietnam, but it was the Mahayana Buddhist sect, which had spread to Northern Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, and finally Japan.

However, as Mahayana Buddhism expanded throughout Japan, especially in the capital of Japan at that time, Nara, sects and branches arose. The first Mahayana Buddhist sects were given the ambigous name of Nara Buddhism, which was made of six sects. Today, many of these sects are praticed by a small minority, and some of them have completely dissapeared from the Japanese Buddhist scene, but they are given attention too because they were the first Japanese Buddhist sects. However, these sects did not have an impact on the common people, because of their hard to understand sutras and were popular at the court.

Even though they did not earn success among the majority, the Nara Buddhist sects were the common place in Nara until Emperor Kammu, the grandson of Emperor Shotoku, moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka in 784, and eleven years later to the city of Heian -kyo, now the seventh largest city in Japan, Kyoto .

About the time of this, the Nara sects started to fall apart, and as Japan started to increase trade with China and Korea, a new sect of Buddhism that had been spread from Northern Vietnam to China arose. This was the Shingon sect of Buddhism, or the True Word sect. The Shingon sect was taken in by the courtiers of Kyoto, but was too hard to understand for the common people.

At this time, there was no real "largest sect". It was pretty much equally distributed. Though the Nara sects had lost influence after the coming of Shingon, they still had much influence. But Shingon had a slight majority.

Soon, by the 800's, another form of Buddhism was introduced from China, Tien'tai, or Tendai, as it was called by the Japanese. By the mid-Heian Period, Tendai had surpassed the Nara and Shingon sects and had itself become the largest Mahayana Buddhist sect in Japan. The emperor and his family practiced Tendai, and the Buddhist temples in the area were also strictly Tendai. Likewise, the Tendai monks started to gain superior power, and Kyoto had become the capital of Tendai Buddhism.

In 1185, however, the Kamakura Shogunate overthrew the Emperor (though he was on the throne, he was powerless) and moved the capital to coastal Kamakura, which was south of Tokyo. Though the shogunate resided in Kamakura, the official capital was still in Kyoto, where the courtiers were stripped of power. Tendai Buddhism, however, was still the most influential form of Buddhism.

In the 12th century, a new form of Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China, the Pure Land teaching, or Jodo-kyo. This preached that the use of the nembutsu and the chanting of "Nama Amida Butsu" would mean sure Enlightenment. This made it much easier for the common people to reach Enlightenment and thus was the first Buddhist sect to be popular among the common people. This teaching was spread by Honen, who established Jodo-shu, or the Pure Land sect of the Pure Land teaching. Honen was a Tendai monk.

His disciple Shinran, even though meaning to reform Jodo-shu, managed to create another sect of Jodo-kyo, Jodo Shin-shu, or True Pure Land. This taught that no use of the nembutsu was neccessary, just one chant of "Nama Amida Butsu" would mean Enlightenment.

As the Pure Land teachings grew, however, the Tendai monks became enraged that there was a teaching that may surpass Tendai and both Honen and Shinran were exiled to Eastern Japan. However, Tendai Buddhism would soon be surpassed by other sects. Jodo-shu and Jodo Shin-shu established temples in Kyoto, on Tendai land, of course.

Zen Buddhism was introduced from China, where it was known as Ch'an Buddhism. This appealed to the new samurai class, where it stressed enlightenment through meditation. Thus, it was not embraced by the poor, who found it to be too hard to achieve enlightenment, and most stayed with Jodo Shin-shu.

By the 13th century, Jodo-kyo and Tendai-kyo were competing for power. The nobles (including the emperor and the shogunate) embraced Tendai, and the common people Pure Land, and the samurai's Zen.

However, with the Age of Civil Strife, and the fall of the Kamakura shogunate in the 13th century, a new form of Buddhism that was native to Japan developed, Nichiren. Nichiren stressed that the Lotus Sutra and not the Amida Buddha would be a path to enligthenment. Nichiren was thus embraced by the poor, and thus, the Nichiren and Pure Land teachings competed for the poor and farmers. However, the Tendai sect still exiled many Nichiren and Pure Land monks, even though Tendai itself was loosing influence.

By the time of the 15th century, Tendai had lost its influence. The Shingon and Tendai sects still were practiced by many, but their influence over Japanese Buddhism had ceased. Pure Land was largely become the largest. Pure Land had already had 9 sects, the most influential of which was Hongwanji, which had a head temple (named after it) in Kyoto.

Christianity did leave a mark on Buddhism, many Buddhists and Shintoists coverted to Christianity, but when Japan was isolated from Europe, this all changed, and Christianity was booted out.

By the time of the Tokugawa shogunate and the Edo Period, however, the Hongwanji sub-sect broke up in two. Supporters of Hideyori stayed with the head temple and the denomination, which was called Nishi Hongwanji-ha, and supporters of Ieyasu created the Higashi Hongwanji-ha denomination of Hongwanji, which built a head temple east of the Nishi Hongwanji-ha in Kyoto.

When Japan was opened to the West again in 1854, and the Tokugawa Shogunte yielded to the Emperor Meiji in 1868, a lot of change occured. The capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, the samurai class was destroyed, and Buddhism was not encouraged. State Shinto was the only Shinto sect that was practiced, and it was the official religion. Many Buddhists were persecuted, and after Japan's horrible defeat iN World War II in 1945, Buddhism was again allowed into the Japanese scene.

Today, Nishi Hongwanji-ha is the largest denomination of Jodo Shin-shu. Of course, one must not forget that Nishi Hongwanji-ha is itself a sub-sect of Hongwanji, which is a denomination of Jodo Shin-shu, but since the Nishi and Higashi Hongwanji's are not very different, many people who belong to one of the sects just call themselves Hongwanji. Many people also mistakenly say that Hongwanji is a synonym for Jodo Shin-shu, but this is also incorrect.

Hongwanji-ha is a sect of Jodo Shin-shu, and it is broken up into Nishi hongwanji-ha and Higashi Hongwanji-ha. Nishi Hongwanji-ha is not broken up into any other branches, sects, types, sub-sects, or denomiantions. Shinran-kai, a reform movement within Jodo Shin-shu is not affiliated with Nishi.

Today, the Soka Gakkai, a sub-sect of Nichiren Buddhism is also a large sect, it owns the Komeito ruling coalition political party, and Shingon, Tendai, and Zen are relatively large too. Nara Buddhism has risen again, and is practiced by many monks and residents in the ancient city of Nara.

So, it can be said that Nishi Hongwanji-ha is the largest sub-sect of Hongwanji and Jodo Shin-shu, and it cannot be broken down any longer.

Thanks, please read and reply with corrections or comments.
Yes, there was one in this section and there was also one in the "All Things Japanese" section. Anyway, that's okay.
Oh, sorry. You deleted/closed the other one, right? Sorry if it was spam, I used to mod a Pokemon message board so I know. Sorry.
If you want to be really correct, the six schools of Nara weren't all Mahayana. Kusha 倶舎、Joujitsu 成実、and Ritsu 律 were mainly Hinayana-influenced...
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