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The Religion In The Heian Period Essay

, Research Paper The Main Religion of the Heian Period Two Buddhist sects, Tendai and Shingon, dominated religion in the Heian period. The word tendai means heavenly platform, and the word shingon means true word. Both

, Research Paper

The Main Religion of the Heian Period

Two Buddhist sects, Tendai and Shingon, dominated religion in the Heian period.

The word tendai means heavenly platform, and the word shingon means true word. Both

of them belonged to the Mahayana, Great Vehicle, branch of Buddhism originating in

India, and both of them were imported from China by the Japanese court at the beginning

of the ninth century. In their new surroundings, the sects came to terms with the change

from the centralized monarchy of early Heian times to aristocratic familism. Together the

spread throughout the countryside, absorbing Shinto in the process, and became a fruitful

source of artistic inspiration. In those years, two prominent scholar-monks, Saicho and

Kukai, each at the height of his powers, returned to Japan from a period of study in China.

Tendai Buddhism

Saicho, the founder of Tendai Buddhism, was born in 767 in the province of Omi

into Mitsuomi family, who were originally immigrants from China. His father was such a

devout Buddhist that their house was turned into a temple. At the age of 12, Saicho

entered the Kokubunji monastery of Omi and became a disciple of Gyohyo where he

received his first ordination at the age of 14 (in 785 C.E.) His life was relatively

uneventful up until this point, until he received his complete ordination at the age of 19.

Then, three months after his ordination he went to live in a small hermitage on Mountain

Hiei.

In 788, Saicho established the Hienzanji temple where the carved image of

Yakushi the healing Buddha is a central image. It was sometime during this period that he

began studying Ti’en-t’ai scriptures. As a devoutly religious idealist, Saicho was very

impressed by the undiscriminating and universal aspects of Ti’en T’ai and thought the

Teachings would be a welcome change to the somewhat sterile theology of the Six Nara

Sects of the day.

The mood of the Nara sects was scholastic rather than devotional, and the major

Nara practices were magical rites to improve memory or to expand the mind for study,

and on occasion to impress the aristocracy. These were far from the daily devotional

exercises found in the writings of Chih-i, the founder of Chinese Ti’en-t’ai.

In 802, in favoring monks like Saicho, Emperor Kammu doubtless intended to

strengthen the State?s control over ecclesiastical affairs. Apart from any immediate

checks to the political power of the Nara Monks, the move to a new capital marked a fresh

start in religion as well as politics. In Nara, the monks had taught the higher arts of

civilization and government to the dynasty and its ruling elite. In Kyoto, the imperial

house and bureaucracy were to be the sponsors rather than pupils of Buddhism.

Saicho himself enthusiastically argued that religion should not only submit to the

political authorities but also actively help them in their task of administration. A patriot at

heart, he held that monks should be ready to put their learning and special skills at the

disposal of the national community. Partly to enable them to do this, he insisted that his

followers study, as he himself had done, all the variously teaching of Buddhism. As a

result, Tendai came to be the most scholarly of the sects and Hieizan the seat of Japanese

higher learning.

These two principles, of partnership with the state, and stress on education, are

illustrated by some of the rules Saicho framed for his pupils.

Students shall be appointed to positions in keeping with their achievements after

twelve years training and study. Those who are capable in both action and speech

shall remain permanently on the mountain as leaders of the nation, and those capable in

action but not in speech shall be the functionaries of the nation.

Teachers and functionaries of the nation shall be appointed with official licenses as

Transmitters of Doctrine and National Lecturers. They shall also serve in such

undertakings which benefit the nation and people as the repair of ponds and canals, the

reclamation of uncultivated land, the reparation of landslides, the construction of

bridges and ships, the planting of trees, the sowing of hemp and grasses, and the

digging of wells and irrigation ditches. They shall also study the Sutras, and cultivate

their minds, but shall not engage in private agriculture or trading. Two lay intendants

will be appointed to this Tendai monastery to supervise it alternately, and to keep out

robbers, liquor and women. Thus the Buddhist Law will be upheld and the nation

safeguarded.

However, Tendai was never simply a branch of the public service that happened to

be organized as a religion. The document quoted makes it clear that while its monks had a

duty to the world, they were not to be of the world. Neither Saicho nor the later leaders of

the sect doubted that a monk? fundamental business remained what it always had been:

self-guidance through study and moral discipline to a state of spiritual enlightenment

where he would cease to be reborn (nirvana). They also agreed with the older sects in

thinking that this individualistic vocation could best be fulfilled in a monastery. There, the

seeker after truth would find books and instructions as well as the bare necessities of food,

shelter and clothing.

Where Tendai did differ from the Nara sects was in its actual doctrine. It was the

first fully Mahayana (Great Vehicle) teaching in Japan and with Shingon, eclipse the older

Hinayana (Small Vehicle) teaching found at Nara. In other words, since about the end of

the tenth century, Japanese Buddhism has been very largely one or other school of

Mahayana.

Mahayana Buddhism developed in India and China over the period 100-600 A.D.

Having many branches and much subtle philosophy, it is a vast and complicated field of

study. However, one can say that both Tendai and Shingon retained the Hinayana

concepts of rebirth (karma), monasticism, and self-effort. Man was fated to suffer in

existence for so long as he remained attached to an illusory, sinful world and to his own

selfish desires. The only way he could escape was to listen to the Buddhist message, enter

a monastery, and once there learn to rid himself of any sense of attachment. To this stock

of basic ideas the Mahayana Buddhists added some equally important dogmas of their

own.

One of these was the bodhisattva ideal. Bodhisattvas were a class of exceptional

beings who had acquired sufficient merit to enter nirvana, but had given up this reward in

the interests of help9ing others along the path to enlightenment. The role of bodhisattvas

in Mahayana Buddhism is similar to that of saints in Christianity. It was believed that a

bodhisattva would increase the spiritual purity and welfare of those who prayed to him.

This idea is known technically as the doctrine of the transfer of merit, and was quite

contrary to the strict Hinayana insistence on the monk? achieving nirvana through his own

determination and without any outside help. As a religious ideal, the bodhisattva stood for

compassion and service to others rather than for self.

Tendai Buddhism incorporated this theory of bodhisattvas in its general

philosophical system. Illustrious figures like Saicho came to be regarded as bodhisattvas

after their deaths, and the sect? emphasis on ecclesiastical participation through personal

discipline.

For Tendai Buddhism’s philosophy, there are ten major realms (or destinies):

. Buddhas (Buddha-like)

. Bodhisattvas (bodhisattva-like)

. Private Buddhas (pratyekabuddha-like)

. Direct disciples of the Buddha (sravaka-like)

. Heavenly beings (divine)

6. Fighting demons (combative)

7. Human beings (human)

8. Hungry ghosts (to be full of insatiable appetite)

9. Beasts (brutish)

10. Beings in hell (hellish)

Each of these ten realms shares in the characteristics of the others, which makes

100 realms.

Then there are ten such-likenesses:

. Such-like character

. Such-like nature

. Such-like substance

. Such-like power

. Such-like activity

. Such-like causes

. Such-like conditions

. Such-like effects

. Such-like retributions

. Such-like ultimate-identity-of-beginning-and-end

Each of the 100 realms shares in the 10 such-likenesses, making 1000 realms.

Each of these 1000 realms has three aspects: Living Beings, Space, and the aggregates

(skandhas) which constitute the dharmas, so there are 3000 total realms. Each of the 3000

realms is involved in every single moment, and necessarily so, because the reams are all

mutually inclusive.

Of far greater importance to religion in the Heian period was the Mahayana teaching about

the eternal and universal Buddha. It taught that the historical Buddha (Gautama) was a

temporary and relatively unimportant manifestation of the cosmic (i.e. eternal and

universal) Buddha. The relationship between the historical and cosmic Buddhas is rather

similar to that in Christian thought between God the historical Jesus Christ and God the

everlasting and invisible father. It was this concentration on the Buddha as an abstract

force, above or behind all things and at the same time in all things, that allowed Mahayana

to develop many of its special characteristics.

Not only Gautama but also all other deities and sages could be considered

manifestations of the cosmic Buddha, even if until then they had been associated with

non-Buddhist systems such as Shinto or Confucianism. This comprehensive point of view

obviously helped Buddhism to fuse with Shinto, and it its recorded that Saicho sought the

blessing of the local Shinto god (or called the King of the Mountain) as well as of the

Buddha, when he first took up residence on Hieizan.

The idea behind the threefold truth lies in the desire to transcend the dichotomy of

tradition Mahayana twofold truth (absolute and relative), thus the distinction between

Emptiness, Conventional Existence (Temporary ness), and The Middle Path. The doctrine

of the cosmic Buddha meant that everybody and everything contained an element of him,

however small. In other words, all mankind and other forms of life would eventually

develop their inherent Buddha-nature. Nobody was too bad to be saved. This idea of the

essential unity of existence weakened the rigid Hinayana distinction between monks and

laity, and ran classes of humans were completely beyond redemption. The powerful

Hosso sect in Nara to which Saicho?s main antagonists belonged held such a view.

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.

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.

Kukai?s 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.

52a

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 Hawai?i Press,

2000

http://perso.club-internet.fr/thmodin/English/boddhisattva3.html

http://www.koyasan.org/nckoyasan/introduction.html

http://www.compsoc.net/~gemini/simons/historyweb/tendai.html

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