This is a brief introduction to Buddhism in Japan focusing on the main schools in Japan and terms the student is likely to encounter in the course of readings for HUM 310 Japan. It is not intended as a comprehensive look at Buddhism but is selective of material to assist the student in understanding the role of Buddhism in Japanese culture and society.
Buddhism was brought to Japan from China at different periods by various individuals whose studies and practice differ widely. Buddhism as practiced in Japan has been shaped by Japanese cultural practices and values and has developed differently from Buddhism practiced elsewhere in Asia. In Japan, Zen Buddhism has become one of the major forms of Buddhist practice and is the most well-known form of Japanese Buddhism outside of Japan.
Buddhism was first introduced into Japan from Korea in the year 522. As a foreign religion, it first met with resistence but it was recognized in 585 by emperor Yomei. During the period of government of Prince Shotoku (593-621) it was the official religion of Japan. Shotoku fostered the study of Buddhist scriptures and founded Horyu-ji in Nara among other temples. During this period it was primarily the Sanron school that spread.
During the Nara period (710-794) there were already six schools of Buddhism in Japan: Kosha, Hosso, Sanron, Jojitsu, Ritsu and Kegon. It was firmly established in the imperial house which expecially took the teachings of the Kegon school as the basis of its government. The "Sutra of Golden Light "was of particular importance.
During the Heian period (794-1184) the Tendai and Shingon schools gained influence and became the dominant forms of Buddhism in Japan and became the de facto tate religion.
Around the middle of the 10th century Amidism began to spread and in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) it was organized into the Jodo-shu and Jodo-shinshu. In 1191 Zen came to Japan and has remained until today the most vital form of Japanese Buddhism, two main schools are Soto and Rinzai.
In the 13th century the Nichiren school emerged. In the 19th century Shintoism was elevated to the state religion. After the Second World War there was a renaissance of Buddhism in Japan and a whole series of popular movements have arisen: Soka Gakkai, Rissho Koseikai and Nipponzan Myohoji, to name a few, which have adapted Buddhism to modern times.
Buddhism began with the experiences of a man who is known mainly as the Buddha (Butsu - the enlightened one, Shakyamuni — the sage of the Shakya clan, Siddhartha Gautama —personal name) (b 563 B. C. died at age 84). The philosophy/religion is based on his teachings after his experience of being enlightened (satori — (kenshô jobutsu "seeing one’s own true nature") enlightenment — awakening — an understanding of the entire universe, emptiness and phenomena are one. satoru — to know.] It is often not considered a religion because there is no god. There are powerful beings who are petitioned for assistance in reaching this goal but they are not identified as gods.
The term butsuor buddha is used to refer to anyone who is aware or enlightened as to the true nature of existence. All people are hotoke — buddhas.Shakyamuni is the historical buddha for this age. Kâshyapa — buddha of past ages (there are 6 buddhas of earlier epochs). Maitreya (Miroku) — future buddha, associated with the attribute of wisdom.
The main ideas of the philosophy are to be found in the Taishô issaikyô (Tripitaka, three baskets). The Japanese is a modern version of the Buddhist canon which consists of 1) Vinaya — pitaka accounts of origins of Buddhism, 2) sutra-pitaka — teachings of the Buddha, 3) abhidharma-pitaka — compendium of buddhist psychology and philosophy
Three main sutras:
Lotus sutra — transcendental nature of Buddha and possibility of universal liberation. Discourse of the Buddha at Vulture Peak.
Heart Sutra — "form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form" Maka hanya haramita shingyo. Essential teaching of non-duality.
Diamond Sutra - all phenomena are not ultimate reality but rather illusions, projections of one’s own mind.
Two main branches of Buddhism developed over time through the transmission of Buddhist teachings to other cultures. They are similar in many respects in understanding of Buddha’s teaching and differ mainly with respect to the goal of Buddhist practice. Mahayana defines the goal as the liberation of all beings and Hinayana focuses on one’s own liberation. As a result, Mahayana has identified individuals (bodhisattva and rakan) who have delayed their own liberation from samsara and assist others in their practice.
Hinayaya, sometimes referred to as Theravada after the remaining school in this branch, is found in Burma, Thailand, Vietnam.
Mahayana is found in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan.
rakan (lohan, arhat) individual who has attained enlightenment by own effort.
bosatsu (bodhisattva) — a being who seeks buddhahood through special practice of perfect virtues but renounces complete entry into nirvana until all beings are saved — exhibits compassion (karuna) and insight or wisdom (prajna). There are 6 transcendental perfections (parmitas) that identify a boddhisattva:: generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation, wisdom. Latter four additional ones were added: right method or means, vow, manifestation of 10 powers, knowledge of the true definition of all dharmas (laws).
Four Great Bodhisattva:
Kannon (Avolokitesvara, Kuan-yin) embodies one of the two fundamental aspects of buddhahood, compassion. Originally male but became depicted as female in China and Japan. Frequently depicted with a thousand arms, a thousand eyes and eleven faces.
Jizo (Kshitigarbha) "womb of the earth" venerated as a savior from the torments of hell, especially for children and as a protector of travelers. Currently identified as a protector of aborted fetuses. The only bodhisattva depicted as a monk.
Fugen (Samantabhadra) Represents the power of wisdom to overcome all obstructions. He is depicted riding on an elephant. He is the protector of all those who teach the dharma and is an embodiment of the wisdom of essential sameness.
Monju (Manjushri) "He who is noble and gentle" He is the embodiment of wisdom.
There are some basic ideas of Buddhism found in all schools.
The goal of spiritual practice is nirvana — ‘extinction’ the goal of spiritual practice, release for the cycle of rebirths and entry into a new mode of existence. Overcoming desire, hatred and delusion, freedom from the determining effect of karma. In Mahayana this also means a oneness with the absolute, freedom from attachment to delusion, and the affects of desires. It is the cessation of suffering. In Hinayana, there are two types: 1) can be attained before death, 2) attained at death.
Three attributes of everything existing:
1. Non-self (anatman) no self exists in the sense of a permanent eternal integral and independent substance with individual existence. (In Hinduism, this non-self is the real immortal self of human beings which is part of the larger realism of the universe. The ego is transitory, changeable and prone to suffering.)
2. Impermanence (anitya) fundamental property of everything. It is the basis of life.
3. Suffering (duhkha) suffering characterizes all things. It arises because of desire, craving.
gôKarma — the universal law of cause and effect. The effect of actions is necessarily one or more rebirths that together constitute the cycle of existence. The effect of an action, which can be of the nature of body, speech or mind, is not primarily determined by the act itself but rather particularly by the intention of the action. It is the intention of actions that cause a karmic effect. When a deed cannot be carried out but the intention toward it exists, this alone produces an effect. Only a deed that is free from desire, hate and delusion is without karmic effects. In order to be liberated from the cycle of rebirth, one must refrain from both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deeds. It is not deterministic and you cannot predict the future based on actions.
shôji (samsara) the world in which we live governed by the cycle of rebirth, journeying, the phenomenal world, the chain of existence.
hô (dharma) — law of karmically determined rebirth.
mayoi (maya, delusion) — deception, illusion, appearance, belief in something that contradicts reality
Sambô - Three Jewels (Refuges) 1. Buddha, 2. Dharma 3) Sangha. These are the way a person can become free of the effect or karma.
Amida (Amitâbha) another way of referring to Buddha.
mara — murder, destruction, death.
chakra body energy system points where soul and body connect, centers of consciousness.
dana — gift, alms, donation, voluntary giving material energy or wisdom to others.
swastika — a Buddhist symbol.
mantra — a technique for concentration and meditation, involving the repetition of syllables such as the nembutsu..
Schools of Buddhism in Japan
Kegon (School of the Flower Garden) established at Todaiji in Nara brought to Japan from China by Shen-hsiang (Shinshô)around 740. Established the relationship of Buddhism to the state.
Shingon (School of the True Word) founded in Japan by KûKai (Kôbô Daishi) (774-835) settled on Mt Koya. Truth is passed secretly from teacher to student. The three secrets: body, speech and mind, are the ways in which the student can come to understand the truth. KûKai introduced the Shinto deities into Buddhism. Ryobu-shintô: Shintô gods were shown to be manifestations of Buddhist saints.
Tendai (Celestial Platform) Chinese T’ien-Tai brought to Japan by Saichô, established at Mt Hiei in 8th century. No difference between the Chinese and Japanese forms of Buddhism which is based on the Lotus Sutra. The temple on Mt. Hiei founded by Ennin in Kyoto is the main location for this school.
Nichiren Shu "School of the Lotsu of the Sun" founded by Nichiren (1222-1282) Teaching is based on the Lotus sutra. The recitation of "namu myoho renge kyô" if said with complete devotion can realize buddhahood. The school venerates the three mysteries: the mandala (go-honzon), daimoku the title of the sutra itself and third the kaidan, a sacred shelf. Numerous schools have developed in Japan based on Nichiren’s teaching. One of the most important of these in modern Japan is Sôka Gakkai — founded in 1930 by Makiguchi Tsunesaburo (1871-1944) a follower of Nichren Buddhism. An aggressive form of Buddhism that actively seeks converts (shokubutsu). The leader was arrested for refusal to participate in Shintô rites. It is known as NSA (Nichiren Shoshu America) and founded but later separated from the political party Kômeito.
Jôdô (Pure Land) established by Honen (1133-1212) one of the schools of the "easy path" or tariki (outside assistance, as compared to Zen and other schools which rely on jiriki or one’s own efforts) based on faith and reliance on the Buddha through recitation of the nembutsu: "namu amida butsu" There are 5 pure lands which correspond to the 5 directions. The pure land is a stage before entering nirvana, after which it is not possible to retrogress. These are states of mind not places.
Jôdô Shin Shu (New School of Pure Land) founded by Shinran (1173-1262) Honganji and Otani temples are the main branches of this school. This school has dropped monasticism. Its followers may marry. Liberation is to be attained exclusively through the help and grace of Buddha Amida.
Zen — no ritual, no texts. Zen practices meditation as a means to enlightenment.
Daruma (Bodhidharma) First Chinese Ch’an (Zen) patriarch, 28th after Shakyamuni Founded the school in China in the 6th century and is considered an important person in the development of Japanese practice.
In Japan there are two main schools Rinzai and Soto. They are similar in teachings but differ slightly in practice. Rinzai zen uses the kôan as a major teaching technique but Soto zen emphasizes mokushô (no reliance on words) and the practice of dokusan (meeting of a zen student with the master) has died out.
Rinzai Enni Ben’in (Shoichi Kokushi 1202-1280) founder. He went to China to study and returned in 1241, established Tofukji in 1255, Kenninji in Kyoto. This school has two main lineages Yôgi and Oryo
Musô Soseki — (1275-1351) wandering monk, aboot of Tenryu-ji most known for garden design.
Daito Kokushi —(Myôcho Shûhô) founder of Daitokuji in Kyoto in 1319.
Sôtô Dôgen Zenji (1200-1253) Eiheiji (1243) brought the practice to Japan.
Obaku — this school is a subsidiary of Rinzai and has one temple, Manpuku-ji in Uji. Founded in the 17th century, mainly known for its relationship to osencha (style of tea ceremony).
Three Pillars of Zen:
dai gidan — ‘great doubt’ - state of perplexity, inquiry, self-questioning.
dai funshi — inflexible determination to dispel ‘great doubt’
dai shinkon — ‘great root of faith’
Terms for important concepts in Zen:
zazen- meditative practice, a state of thought-free, alertly wakeful attention. Sitting in this manner brings the mind f the sitter to a state of totally contentless wakefulness from which in a sudden breakthrough of enlightenment the sitter can realize his/her own true nature. All delusions are eliminated.
seiza — sitting in silence, sitting on one’s heels on the floor.
sanmai — non-dualistic consciousness, the experiencing ‘subject’ becomes one with the experienced person who has requested admittance to a monastery after initial rejection is left standing at the gate.
U.S. teachers of Zen
Zen is probably the best known form of Buddhism in the United States and this is due to the work of two teachers: Suzuki Daisetsu Teitaro (1876-1966) a lay follower fo shaku Sôen of Enjaku-ji in Kamakura. He received zen training but was not confirmed as a Zen master. His books published in English did much to spread interest in Zen in the U.S. and Suzuki Shunryû ( 1905-1971) Sôtô school He came to the U.s. in 1958 and founded several Zen Centers including the center in San Francisco and at Tassajara, California.