Buddhism Buddhism Origins by vivi07

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									Buddhism Origins Reaction and Intellectual Revolution From the seventh to the fifth centuries BC, India witnessed its most creative intellectual period in its history. It was a time of immense innovation and intellectual ferment equal to similar periods in Greece from the sixth to the fifth centuries BC in China from the sixth to the second centuries BC. However, Indian philosophers and religious sages were reacting to the increasingly restrictive and empty formalism of Vedic sacrifices and rituals. The priestly classes had become the most powerful class in ancient India, theoretically placed above kings and nobles. For the priests controlled the forces of the universe through the power inherent in their hymns, charms, and elaborate rituals. Against this ritualistic focus and concentration of social power, a small revolution occurred in the development of intellectual Hinduism. Admitting that the rituals might have some relative value, these thinkers focussed instead on the inspiration contained in the hymns that formed the backbone of Hinduism. Their teachings, called the Upanishadic after the central form of their dissemination, the Upanishads, were largely secret teachings and their religious focus was on the ability of human beings to understand the mysteries of the universe and their own relationship to the divine. They introduced several new elements into Vedic thought: the doctrine of transmigration, that is, that the soul goes from life to life; the unity of the human soul with the universal soul, or Atman; the doctrine that self-discovery is also the discovery of the one god; and finally, a focus on spirituality rather than material reality. The most important of these innovations, however, was the doctrine of transmigration. Attached to endless return of the soul was a moral order of the universe, rita; the type of life and the type of moral disposition each soul is born into is determined by the nature and quality of its actions in previous lives. Moral actions take on a larger pattern in the infinite life of the soul. Not only did the Upanishadic thinkers introduce the notion of samsara , but they also began to discuss how the soul might be released from this cycle: this is called moksha, or "liberation." Although the teachers of the Upanishads were heterodox thinkers, they still at some level admitted that Hindu tradition and rituals had some effectiveness. But the reaction against orthodox Hinduism would breed even more radical rebellions, particularly in northern India in the states of Brihar and Uttar Pradesh. We don't know precisely why this region spawned such dynamic intellectual revolt against the prevailing religion. Perhaps it was because these regions had only recently been settled by the Aryans, those Indo-Europeans that brought Vedic religion and rituals to India. Perhaps it was because the class system so vital to Vedism and to the Aryans was only loosely structured. Perhaps it was because the political system involved only a very loose confederacy. From an intellectual standpoint, the doctrine of transmigration, which was introduced by the Upanishadic teachers, was the focal point of the heterodox, in fact, heretical religious movements of northern India. For the two most radical challenges to Vedism, Buddhism and Jainism, centered their entire philosophy around this single doctrine. The heretical schools of Vedism, Buddhists and Jainists, all had as the central goal the release of the soul from this infinite cycle of birth and rebirth, or samsara. So the idea that the soul passes from life to life infinitely was the intellectual crucible in which Buddhism was forged. The mainstream reaction to these new ways of thinking were to classify them as "non-Vedic" or heresies; the formal term was nastika darsanas, or "atheists" (as opposed to "Vedic" philosophies, astika darsanas, or "believers"). Buddhism and Jainism, however, did not appear overnight; there was a natural evolution leading up to them. The Buddhists acknowledge that there were six heretical schools that preceded them. Like Buddhism and Jainism, these heretical schools focussed entirely on the problem of transmigration. The most important of these heretics was Ajita Kesakambala who founded the "materialist" school, or Cakvara. He believed that the soul was only a material phenomenon, an temporary colocation of matter in a living body. When the body died, the temporary collection of matter dissolved and with it dissolved the soul. This meant that the soul was never punished for evil nor was it ever rewarded for good. Jainism Aside from Buddhism, the most important school to arise in this period was Jainism. Unlike the other heretical schools, Jainism has survived to the present day as a major religion in India; unlike

Buddhism, however, it has not spread outside of India. The great teacher of Jainism, Vardhamana Mahavira, lived at the same time as Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. It appears to Western historians that Jainism actually begins with Vardhamana, although the Jains believe that the religion is far older, extending in fact to the remotest antiquity. Mahavira, they believe, was the twenty-fourth and last of the teachers. He was born in 599 BC, the son of a daughter of the king of Vaisali. At the age of thirty, he learned the ephemerality of the world and devoted himself to an ascetic lifestyle. Over a period of twelve years, he suffered the most self-denying hardships until he finally reached enlightenment and began to teach others. Jainism is based on a single idea, that the transmigration of souls is caused by the union of the living with the non-living which then sets up energies, or tapas , which then drive the cycle of birth and rebirth. This endless process can be stopped if the energies are used up in a life of discipline. At the end of the process, the soul, freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth, then exists in a state of infinite bliss, knowledge, power, and perception—the soul which has achieved this state is siddha-paramesthin . There is a slightly lower stage of the soul, called the arhat-paramesthin , and the arhat is the one who teaches the rest of humanity. This teacher is called the tirthankara , or "ford crosser," and serves as a vehicle of revelation for the rest of humanity. Like the Islamic rasul , each tirthankara is more or less a founder of a new religion. The Jains believe that the world was uncreated and lasts for eternity; the only quality that reality has is the fact of change. Things are born, they decay, the pass away. Each physical object is held together by its own internal forces. In the face of this constant change only a few things remain permanent; of these, the most important is jiva , or the soul. The jiva can do two things: it can perceive and it can know. It also controls its own actions when it is part of a concrete body; so also it enjoys all the rewards and punishments of its own actions. There are four categories of souls: gods, humans, demons, and animals; each soul in the infinite cycle of birth and rebirth can enter any of these categories. Moksha occurs only when the soul becomes freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The path to moksha, moksha-marga , is the central teaching of Jainism. This path has three "jewels": right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct. This path involves a high degree of ascetism; quite literally the best lived life is one of total ascetism: no food or material involvement at all. Since this is an impossible idea, Mahavira developed a second path for normal human beings to follow. This involved five abstinences: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (abstinence from stealing), brahmacarya (chaste living), and aparigraha (abstinence from greed). This, perhaps, is the most important aspect of Jainism. It is overwhelmingly a moral religion. It promises an eventual release if an individual begins now, in this life, to live under a high moral code. These are then two of the major nastika darsanas , the materialism of the Ajita Kesakambalin and the moral religion of Vardhamana Mahavira. The third, and the most influential, was founded by a prince of the Shakyas at the foot of the Himalayans: Buddhism. The Historical Siddhartha The other major challenge to orthodox Vedism was founded by the son of a chief of a region called the Shakyas. This region lay among the foothills of the Himalayas in the farthest northern regions of the plains of India. This founder, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, has many legends and stories that have accreted around his life. While we can't be certain which of these stories and legends are true and which of the thousands of sayings attributed to him were actually said by him, we do know that the basic historical outlines of his life are accurate. He was the chief's son of a tribal group, the Shakyas, so he was born a Kshatriya around 566 BC. At the age of twenty-nine, he left his family in order to lead an ascetic life. A few years later he reappears with a number of followers; he and his followers devote their lives to "The Middle Way," a lifestyle that is midway between a completely ascetic lifestyle and one that is world-devoted. At some point he gained "enlightenment" and began to preach this new philosophy in the region of Bihar and Uttar Kadesh. His teaching lasted for several decades and he perished at a very old age, somewhere in his eighties. Following his death, only a small group of followers continued in his footsteps. Calling themselves

bhikkus , or "disciples," they wandered the countryside in yellow robes (in order to indicate their bhakti , or "devotion" to the master). For almost two hundred years, these followers of Buddha were a small, relatively inconsequential group among an infinite variety of Hindu sects. But when the great Mauryan emperor, Asoka, converted to Buddhism in the third century BC, the young, inconsequential religion spread like wildfire throughout India and beyond. Most significantly, the religion was carried across the Indian Ocean (a short distance, actually) to Sri Lanka. The Buddhists of Sri Lanka maintained the original form of Siddhartha's teachings, or at least, they maintained a form that was most similar to the original. While in the rest of India, and later the world, Buddhism fragmented into a million sects, the original form, called Theravada Buddhism, held its ground in Sri Lanka. That's all we know about the historical life of Siddhartha, his mission, and the fate of his teachings. When we move into the Buddhist histories, the record becomes much more uncertain, particularly since the events of the Buddha's life vary from sect to sect. What follows, however, is the most common outline of the nature of Siddhartha's life and philosophy. When Siddhartha Gautama was born, a seer predicted that he would either become a great king or he would save humanity. Fearing that his son would not follow in his footsteps, his father raised Siddhartha in a wealthy and pleasure-filled palace in order to shield his son from any experience of human misery or suffering. This, however, was a futile project, and when Siddhartha saw four sights: a sick man, a poor man, a beggar, and a corpse, he was filled with infinite sorrow for the suffering that humanity has to undergo. After seeing these four things, Siddhartha then dedicated himself to finding a way to end human suffering. He abandoned his former way of life, including his wife and family, and dedicated himself to a life of extreme asceticism. So harsh was this way of life that he grew thin enough that he could feel his hands if he placed one on the small of his back and the other on his stomach. In this state of wretched concentration, in heroic but futile self-denial, he overheard a teacher speaking of music. If the strings on the instrument are set too tight, then the instrument will not play harmoniously. If the strings are set too loose, the instrument will not produce music. Only the middle way, not too tight and not too loose, will produce harmonious music. This chance conversation changed his life overnight. The goal was not to live a completely worldly life, nor was it to live a life in complete denial of the physical body, but to live in a Middle Way. The way out of suffering was through concentration, and since the mind was connected to the body, denying the body would hamper concentration, just as overindulgence would distract one from concentration. With this insight, Siddhartha began a program of intense yogic meditation beneath a pipal tree in Benares. At the end of this program, in a single night, Siddhartha came to understand all his previous lives and the entirety of the cycle of birth and rebirth, or samsara, and most importantly, figured out how to end the cycle of infinite sorrow. At this point, Siddhartha became the Buddha, or "Awakened One." Instead, however, of passing out of this cycle himself, he returned to the world of humanity in order to teach his new insights and help free humanity of their suffering. His first teaching took place at the Deer Park in Benares. It was there that he expounded his "Four Noble Truths," which are the foundation of all Buddhist belief: 1.) All human life is suffering (dhukka ). 2.) All suffering is caused by human desire, particularly the desire that impermanent things be permanent. 3.) Human suffering can be ended by ending human desire. 4.) Desire can be ended by following the "Eightfold Noble Path": right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. From a metaphysical standpoint, these Noble Truths make up and derive from a single fundamental Truth (in Sanskrit, Dharma , and in Pali, Dhamma ). The Buddhist Dharma is based on the idea that everything in the universe is causally linked. All things are composite things, that is, they are composed of several elements. Because all things are composite, they are all transitory, for the elements come together and then fall apart. It is this transience that causes human beings to sorrow and to suffer.

We live in a body, which is a composite thing, but that body decays, sickens, and eventually dies, though we wish it to do otherwise. Since everything is transient, that means that there can be no eternal soul either in the self or in the universe. This, then, is the eternal truth of the world: everything is transitory, sorrowful, and soulless–the three-fold character of the world. As pessimistic as this sounds, the philosophy of Siddhartha Gautama is a kind of therapy. In fact, classifying it in Western terms is impossible. We think of Buddhism as a religion, which it unquestionably became, but Siddhartha was less concerned with theology or ritual or prayer as he was with providing a tool for individuals to use to escape suffering. The goal of this method, the Eightfold Noble Path, is the elimination of one's desires and one's attachment to one's self. Once one has understood correctly the nature of the universe (Right Understanding) and devoted one's life to selfless and altruistic actions (Right Action) and, finally, by losing all sense of one's self and by losing all one's desires, one then passes into a state called Nirvana (in Pali, Nibbana ). The word means "snuffed out" in the way a fire is snuffed out or extinguished. At this point, the self no longer exists. It is not folded into a higher reality nor is it transported to a land of bliss, it simply ceases to exist. This is the state that the Buddha passed into at his death. Like Jainism, then, Buddhism centrally concerns the problem of the eternal birth and rebirth of the human soul. Unlike Jainism, Buddhism in its original form does not posit some transcendent alternative as a goal. In fact, Buddhism in its original form held that the soul actually died when the body died. How, then, could a soul pass from body to body? What passed from body to body was a chain of causes set in motion by each soul; the Buddhist philosopher Nagsena said it was like a flame passing from candle to candle. The individual, in snuffing out the self, brings those chain of causes to an end. A large part of the program prescribed by Buddha involved selflessness in the world. Buddhism represents one of the most humane and advanced moral systems in the ancient world. The first steps on the road to Nirvana were to focus one's actions on doing good to others. In this way one could lose the illusion that one is a unique self. The Buddhist scriptures disapprove of violence, meat-eating, animal sacrifice, and war. Buddha enjoined on his followers four moral imperatives: friendliness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, the "Four Cardinal Virtues." This is the philosophy that Buddha left the world. In the years following his death, the teachings began to slowly develop into various sects. Buddhism became so fragmented that barely one hundred years after the death of Siddhartha, a council of Buddhists was called to straighten out the differences. The earliest forms of Buddhism, which are now only practiced by a small minority, are called Theravada, or "The Teachings of the Elders." Theravada Buddhism The Theravada Buddhists believe that they practice the original form of Buddhism as it was handed down to them by Buddha. Theravada Buddhism dominates the culture of Sri Lanka, but is also very prominent in Thailand and Burma. While Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, spent several decades teaching, none of his teachings were written down until several hundred years later. In the third century, Asoka, the great Mauryan emperor, converted to Buddhism and began to sponsor several monasteries throughout the country. He even sent missionaries out to various countries both east and west. During his reign, the teachings of Buddha spread all across India and Sri Lanka. Disturbed by the prolific growth of Buddhist heresies, a council of Buddhist monks was convened at the Mauryan capital of Patna during the third century BC to purify the doctrine. What arose from that council, more or less, were the definitive teachings of Theravada Buddhism; from this point onwards, Theravada Buddhism undergoes little if any change. When the teachings of Buddha were finally written into a canon, they were written not in Sanskrit, but in a language derived from Sanskrit, called Pali. This language was spoken in the western regions of the Indian peninsula, but from Sri Lanka (which is off the eastern coast of India) to Burma, the Pali scriptures would become the definitive canon. We can' determine precisely when they were written

down, but tradition records that the canon was first written down somewhere between 89 and 77 BC, that is, over four hundred years after the death of Buddha. This canon is called the Tripitaka, or "Three Baskets," for it is divided into three parts, the Vinaya , or "Conduct," the Sutta , or "Discourses," and the Abhidhamma , or "Supplementary Doctrines." The second part, the "Discourses," are the most important in Buddhism. These are discourses by the Buddha and contain the whole of Buddhist philosophy and morality. The basic doctrines of Theravada Buddhism correspond fairly exactly with the teachings of Buddha. Theravada Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths and the idea that all of physical reality is a chain of causation; this includes the cycle of birth and rebirth. Through the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path and the Four Cardinal Virtues, an individual can eventually attain Nirvana . Theravada Buddhism, however, focussed primarily on meditation and concentration, the eighth of the Eightfold Noble Path; as a result, it emphasized a monastic life removed from the hustle and bustle of society and required an extreme expenditure of time in meditating. This left little room for the bulk of humanity to join in; Theravada Buddhism was, by and large, an esoteric religion. A new schism then erupted within the ranks of Buddhism, one that would attempt to reformulate the teachings of Buddha to accommodate a greater number of people: the "Greater Vehicle," or Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism result, it was emphasized monastic life and an extreme expenditure of time in meditating. This left little room for the bulk of humanity to join in, so a new schism erupted within the ranks of Buddhism in the first century AD, one that would attempt to reformulate the teachings of Buddha to accommodate a greater number of people. They called their new Buddhism, the "Greater Vehicle" (literally, "The Greater Ox-Cart") or Mahayana, since it could accomodate more people and more believers from all walks of life. They distinguished themselves from mainstream Theravada Buddhism by contemptuously referring to Theravada as Hinayana, or "The Lesser Vehicle." The Mahayanists, however, did not see themselves as creating a new start for Buddhism, rather they claimed to be recovering the original teachings of Buddha, in much the same way that the Protestant reformers of sixteenth century Europe claimed that they were not creating a new Christianity but recovering the original form. The Mahayanists argued that their canon of scriptures represented the final teachings of Buddha; they accounted for the non-presence of these teachings in over five hundred years by claiming that these were secret teachings entrusted only to the most faithful followers. Whatever the origins of Mahayan doctrines, they represent a significant departure in the philosophy. Like the Protestant Reformation, the overall goal of Mahayana was to extend religious authority to a greater number of people rather than concentrating it in the hands of a few. The Mahayanists managed to turn Buddhism into a more exoteric religion by developing a theory of gradations of Buddhahood. At the top was Buddhahood itself which was preceded by a series of lives, the bodhisattvas. This idea of the bodhisattva was one of the most important innovations of Mahayana Buddhism. The boddhisattva , or "being of wisdom," was originally invented to explain the nature of Buddha's earlier lives. Before Buddha entered his final life as Siddhartha Gautama, he had spent many lives working towards Buddhahood. In these previous lives he was a bodhisattva , a kind of "Buddha-in-waiting," that performed acts of incredible generosity, joy, and compassion towards his fellow human beings. An entire group of literature grew up around these previous lives of Buddha, called the Jataka or "Birth Stories." While we don't know much about the earliest forms of Buddhism, there is some evidence that the earliest followers believed that there was only the one Buddha and that no more would follow. Soon, however, a doctrine of the Maitreya , or "Future Buddha," began to assert itself. According to this doctrine, Buddhists believed that a second Buddha would come and purify the world; they also believed that the first Buddha prophesied this future Buddha. If a future Buddha was coming, that meant that the second Buddha is already on earth passing through life after life. So someone on earth was the Maitreya . It could be the person serving you food. It could be a child playing in the street. It could be you. What if

there was more than one Maitreya? Five? Ten? A billion? That certainly raises the odds that you or someone you know is a future Buddha. The goal of Theravada Buddhism is practically unattainable. In order to make Buddhism a more exoteric religion, the Mahayanists invented two grades of Buddhist attainment below becoming a Buddha. While the Buddha was the highest goal, one could become a pratyeka-buddha , that is, one who has awakened to the truth but keeps it secret. Below the pratyeka-buddha is the arhant , or "worthy," who has learned the truth from others and has realized it as truth. Mahayana Buddhism establishes the arhant as the goal for all believers. The believer hears the truth, comes to realize it as truth, and then passes into Nirvana . This doctrine of arhanthood is the basis for calling Mahayan the "Greater Vehicle," for it is meant to include everyone. Finally, the Mahayanists completed the conversion of Buddhism from a philosophy to religion. Therevada Buddhism holds that Buddha was a historical person who, on his death, ceased to exist. There were, however, strong tendencies for Buddhists to worship Buddha as a god of some sort; these tendencies probably began as early as Buddha's lifetime. The Mahayanists developed a theology of Buddha called the doctrine of "The Three Bodies," or Trikaya. The Buddha wasn't a human being, as he was in Theravada Buddhism, but the manifestation of a universal, spiritual being. This being had three bodies. When it occupied the earth in the form of Siddhartha Gautama, it took on the Body of Magical Transformation (nirmanakaya ). This Body of Magical Transformation was an emanation of the Body of Bliss (sambhogakaya ), which occupies the heavens in the form of a ruling and governing god of the universe. There are many forms of the Body of Bliss, but the one that rules over our world is Amithaba who lives in a paradise in the western heavens called Sukhavati, or "Land of Pure Bliss." Finally, the Body of Bliss is an emanation of the Body of Essence (dharmakaya ), which is the principle underlying the whole of the universe. This Body of Essence, the principle and rule of the universe, became synonymous with Nirvana . It was a kind of universal soul, and Nirvana became the transcendent joining with this universal soul. Tantrism and the Vehicle of the Thunderbolt The final developments of Buddhism in India involve the growth of Tantric thought in both Buddhism and Hinduism. Vedism had always based itself on magic and ritualistic magic; in the fourth and fifth centuries BC, a new form of Hinduism, Tantrism, focussed primarily on magic. As applied Buddhism, Tantrism focussed on the the use of the physical world. Mahayana Buddhism divided into two central schools, the Madhyamika, or "Doctrine of the Middle Position," and the Vijnanavada, or "Doctrine of Consciousness." Each of these schools believed that all of physical reality was an illusion. The only thing that existed was Void or Emptiness. The Vijnavadans believed that everything we perceived was self-generated and that all our perceptions were caused by previous perceptions in an elaborate chain of causation. This would explain why our perceptions tend to be uniform throughout our lives and why we tend to share our perceptions with others. But, in the end, it's all illusion. The world needs to be rejected as a world of illusion. The Tantric Buddhists, on the other hand, developed a different methodology from this insight that the world is unreal. Just because the physical world doesn't exist doesn't mean that one should reject it. On the one hand, if the physical world doesn't exist, that means that one cannot commit right or wrong. As a way of proving that one is enlightened, all sorts of forbidden acts should be engaged in: fornication, thieving, eating dung, and so forth. A similar movement occurred in England in the seventeenth century. A group of radical Protestants, called the "Ranters," took the Protestant notion of divine election to its farthest extreme. If one is saved and one knows it, that means that one can't sin no matter what one does. In fact, committing all sorts of heinous acts can serve to demonstrate one's salvation. So the ranters would fornicate in the streets and curse and do all sorts of obnoxious things in order to demonstrate their salvation. One form of Tantric Buddhism was similar to this. On the other hand, if the physical world was unreal, one could still use the physical world and one's perceptions of it as a means towards enlightenment. All activities, including sex, can be used as a meditative technique. This was called Vajrayana, or "The Vehicle of the Thunder-Bolt."

The Vajrayanans believed that each bodhisattva had consorts or wives, called taras . These female counterparts embodied the active aspects of the bodhisattva , and so were worshipped. One learned the teachings of Tantrism from a master, and then one joined a group of others who had been trained. There one would practice the rituals learned from the master. For the Tantrists, the physical world was identical with the Void and human perception was identical with Nirvana . Buddhism, however, was slowly fading off of the Indian landscape; Tantrism came on the scene just as Buddhism began to slowly lose its vitality. The Decline of Buddhism in India We don't know why Buddhism declined in the last half of the first millenium AD. By the time the Muslims began conquering India in the twelfth century, the number of monasteries had severely declined. Buddhism, which once had spread across the face of India, was a vital force only in the areas of its origins. Scholars believe that the monasteries became detached from everyday life in India. After centuries of patronage, the monasteries had amassed a wealth of endowments. Life inside the monasteries was very good. So the monasteries became very selective in admitting monks to the brotherhood. For the everyday Indian, Buddhism increasingly became indistinguishable from Hinduism, which had undergone a transformation itself. The average Hindu thought of Buddha as a god among their gods; we find numerous indications that Buddha was worshipped by Hindus as any other god. In fact, Hinduism eventually construed Buddha as a manifestation, or avatar , of the god Vishnu (Krishna is another avatar of Vishnu). Finally, the Buddhists lived in separate communities; Buddhism wasn't an integral part of everyday life in India, such as the rituals associated with Hinduism. When the Muslims began their conquest of India in 1192, they energetically set about trying to convert the regions to Islam. Part of this conversion process involved suppressing indigenous religions. Since Hinduism was so fundamentally a part of Indian life, they didn't succeed in suppressing it. But when they destroyed the Buddhist monasteries and either executed or drove out the Buddhist monks, there was no-one left to take up the religion. From 1192 to the present day, Buddhism ceased to be an organized religion in India, the fertile soil from which the religion grew. Japanese Buddhism Nara Buddhism In 552, the emperor of the Korean Paekche sent to Japan an image of Buddha along with some Buddhist scriptures. The Emperor of Japan, Kimmei, was pleased with the gift and the head of the most powerful clan in Japan, the Soga, urged that Buddhism be embraced as the new religion of Japan. For Buddhism was the religion of the civilized west and Japan had just begun actively importing the culture of China and Korea. Outside of the Emperor and the Soga, the reception given Buddhism was less than enthusiastic. Each of the clans worshipped their own kami, or gods; the chief of these gods, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, was the creator of the world. Japan was the center of creation and the Japanese a select people. Buddha, on the other hand, was a foreign god, one that did not create the universe or have any central role in the pantheon of gods. Was it worth angering one's native gods? What did Buddha have to offer that the powerful gods of the native Japanese religion couldn't? The conservative reaction against Buddhism was overwhelming. The Soga set up a shrine for the image of Buddha and began to venerate it, but when an epidemic spread across Japan, the conservative aristocracy demanded that the Emperor destroy the image. The Buddha image was cast into a moat and the Soga were forced to burn their shrine. A few decades later, Buddhism made its way back to Japan in 584. Again, the Soga clan was instrumental in its arrival. When a member of the Soga clan was given two images of Buddha, he then set up a temple for them and had a girl ordained as a Buddhist nun in order to attend to the shrine. As before, an epidemic swept through Japan and the images were destroyed. But Korea had begun to send Buddhist monks and priests and managed to convince Prince Shotoku, the regent who composed the Japanese

Constitution, to convert to the religion. Shotoku, in fact, became a fervent Buddhist; the establishment of Buddhism in the royal court certified its permanence. Mahayana Buddhism The Nara period (709-795 AD) saw the flowering of Buddhism in Japan; it was limited, however, to the capital and the royal court. For the bulk of Japan was culturally unaffected by the adoption of Chinese urban culture and Chinese Buddhism. Nevertheless, the earliest stages of Nara Buddhism were dominated by Korean and Chinese monks and priests. They brought with them Buddhist rituals, clothing, architecture, art, and books; the Nara period represents the most active period of cultural imports into Japan. Not only did the Buddhist priests and monks flooding Japan bring cultural artifacts, they also brought non-Buddhist ideas, such as the Chinese schools of Taoism, Confucianism, and the Yin-Yang physical theories. Because the bulk of Japanese Buddhists in the Nara period were Korean and Chinese, Nara Buddhism was essentially identical with Chinese Buddhism of the same period (T'ang China). Three main schools dominated Chinese and Japanese Buddhism at the time: the "Three Treatises" school (in Japanese, Sanron ), the Dharma Character school (in Japanese, Hosso), and the "Flower Wreath" school (in Japanese, Kegon). Each of these schools, like all Chinese Buddhism, were branches of Mahayana Buddhism which had arisen in India in the second century AD. All three schools believed that the universe was in constant flux and constant change. All external reality and all perceptions change as well, so there is no certainty in things. The goal is to attain the Ultimate Truth, which is equivalent to the overall principle of the universe; this Ultimate Truth can only be attained if one frees oneself from the external world and deceptive sense perception. At the same time, all three schools were overwhelmingly moral in their outlook. Like most forms of Mahayana Buddhism, they did not expect full participation by everyone. For those who could not dedicate themselves to the monastic life, there still remained the possibility of starting down the road towards enlightenment by behaving in an altruistic manner in the current life. The Kegon school, for instance, taught that all beings are interrelated as if they were part of a large wreath of flowers; they emphasized communion and friendliness. The ultimate Buddhist ideal, however, was rule by a priest of Buddha; such a sovereign would create a Buddha-Land here on earth. In 766, Japan came very close to realizing this ideal when the Empress Shotoku tried to abdicate her throne in favor of the master of the Hosso, Dokyo. The conservative aristocracy, however, rebelled and Japan failed to become the first Buddha-Land. Mount Hiei and The Tendai School Chinese Buddhist priest named Saicho (767-822) founded an unpretentious, tiny Buddhist temple on the slopes of Mount Hiei near Kyoto. As small as its beginnings were, Mount Hiei would quickly become the cultural, religious, and artistic center of Japan until it was destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in 1571. At the time Saicho founded his monastery, the area around the mountain was unproductive marsh-lands. All this changed in six years when the Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to the area around Mount Hiei. It was one of those strange practical jokes of history: Kammu, a devoted Confucian, originally moved the capital in order to get away from the Buddhists. The move, however, would make the Buddhists of Mount Hiei the most powerful political force in early and medieval Japanese history. Nara and Heian Japan Kammu took a liking to the young priest, though, and sent him to China in 804 to further his training as a Buddhist priest. While in China, Saicho became a follower of the T'ien T'ai school; on his return, he converted the Hiei temple to Tendai, the Japanese name for T'ien T'ai. The Tendai school was based on the Lotus Sutra, which was the foundational text of all Mahayana Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra claims to be the last definitive teaching of Buddha. In it, the Buddha reveals the "Greater Vehicle" (in Sanskrit, Mahayana) which allows for salvation for a larger number of people. Buddhahood is open to all people rather than to a few; the teaching of Buddhist law, then, is of paramount importance. This law was taught by bodhisattvas, or "beings in Truth."

The monastery that Saicho set up on Mount Hiei, then, was dedicated to the production of bodhisattvas. Each monk had to live in the monastery for twelve years where he learned the Mahayana scriptures and also learned "Concentration," or shikan Unlike the Nara Buddhists, however, the Hiei Buddhists did not exercise control over its followers in the court. In particular, while the best students remained in the monastery, the others would graduate into positions in the government or in the court. As a result, the Hiei monastery, which was officially titled, "Center for the Protection of the Nation," became the most influential institution in the country. By the time it was burned to the ground by Oda Nobunaga in 1571, it was a sprawling complex and university of over three thousand buildings. Kukai and Shingon Although Mount Hiei was the most significant Buddhist monastery in early Japanese history, Kukai (774-835) is perhaps the most significant individual in the history of Heian Buddhism. Unlike Saicho, Kukai was native Japanese; he came from an aristocratic family. He was a brilliant and creative man, and as a young man he began by studying Confucianism, but soon mastered Taoism and Buddhism as well. The Emperor Kammu sent Kukai to China along with Saicho in 804. At the great T'ang capital of Chang-an, he became the disciple of Hui-kuo (746-805), one of the most significant Buddhist teachers in China at the time. When he returned to Japan, he established a monastery on Mount Koya and thus began the history of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Shingon in Japanese means "True Words," a translation of the Sanskrit Mantrayana. The "True Words" school believed that there were three mysteries of Buddhism: the body, speech, and mind. Each and every human being possesses these three faculties. Each of these faculties contain all the secrets of the universe, so that one can attain Buddhahood through the use of any one of these three. Mysteries of the body apply to various ways of positioning the body in meditation; mysteries of the mind apply to ways of apprehending truth; finally, the mysteries of speech are the true words which were secretly spoken by Buddha. In Shingon, these mysteries are passed on in the form of speech (true words) from teacher to student; none of these true words are written down or available to anyone outside this line of transmission (hence the term Esoteric Buddhism). Despite this extraordinarily rigid esotericism, the Shingon Buddhism of Mt. Hiei became a vital force in Japanese culture. Kukai believed that the True Words transcended speech, so he encouraged the cultivation of artistic skills: painting, music, and gesture. Anything that had beauty revealed the truth of the Buddha; as a result, the art of the Hiei monks made the religion profoundly popular at the Heian court and deeply influenced the development of Japanese culture that was being forged at that court. For this reason, although the monks of Mount Hiei became the most powerful Buddhists at court, esoteric Shingon Buddhism was the most important religion of the Heian period and the early feudal period. Amida Buddhism In part as a response to the esotericism of Heian Buddhism, and in part as a response to the collapse of the emperor's court at Kyoto and the subsequent rise of individual, feudal powers in Japan, medieval Japanese Buddhism moved towards more democratic and inclusive forms, of which the most important was Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land or Amida Buddhism was oriented around the figure of Amida Buddha. Amida, the Buddha of Everlasting Light, was a previous incarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. In the previous incarnation, as a bodhisattva, he refused to accept Buddhahood unless he could grant eternal happiness in the Pure Land to whoever called on him1; this compassionate promise was called the "Original Vow." Anyone who calls his name, "Namu Amida Butsu," 2 with sincere faith, trust, and devotion, will be granted by Amida an eternal life of happiness in the Pure Land which has been set aside specifically for those who call on Amida. Amidism was not a Japanese invention; Pure Land develops out of Mahayana Buddhism in India and became wildly popular in China, where the invocation of Amida (in Chinese, A-mi-t'o-fo) became the most common of all religious practices. But the spread of Pure Land through Japan signals a profound change in Japanese thought; above all else, the shift to Amidism represents a shift from a religion which stresses individual effort aimed at enlightenment to an exclusive reliance on salvation by the Amida; this

opened up Buddhism to all classes, including women, who had previously been excluded from the various Buddhist priesthoods. Because of its democratic nature, the priesthood became evangelical rather than retiring; Buddhism began to become, in late Heian Japan and medieval Japan, a religion of the streets. Because of Pure Land, Japanese art also profoundly changed; the art of Heian Japan is placid and rigid; the Amidists began to produce more involved and animated artworks which portrayed such subjects as the tortures of all ten levels of hell, the pleasures of Paradise, and the transcendent and resplendent beauty of the Amida Buddha. Endnotes 1. This Buddha is, of course, Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha; the scriptural authority comes from a sutra which narrates this story about this Shakyamuni, whose name was Dharmakara. He made forty-eight vows which were instrumental to his attainment of Buddhahood; the "Original Vow" is number eighteen. 2. This invocation is known in Japanese as the nembutsu. Zen Zen Buddhism is based on a single, esoteric idea: all humans have a Buddha nature inside them and to realize this nature all a human being has to do is search his or her inner self. The key to Buddhahood in Zen is simply self-knowledge. The way to gain self-knowledge is through meditation (which is what the word "zen" means). Now, "meditation" is one of the cornerstones of Buddhism, where, under the name dhyana, it forms the final and most important aspect of gaining enlightenment. But Zen (in Chinese, Ch'an) or Meditation Buddhism granted meditation an exclusive importance not ascribed to it in other Buddhist schools. This is indicated by its very name: all other Buddhist schools either take their names from important Scriptures (such as the Lotus sect, which takes its name from the Lotus sutra) or from a philosophical position (such as the Consciousness-only sect) or an individual philosopher (such as Nichiren), whereas Zen takes its name from the practice of meditation. Meditation, which was a means to an end in other Buddhist schools, became the end in itself in Zen: meditation was Truth realized in action. As a result, Zen readily dispenses with the Buddhist scriptures and philosophical discussion in favor of a more intuitive and individual approach to enlightenment. Meditation, however, is a strict religious discipline: the mind must be made sharp and attentive in order to intuit from itself the Truth of Buddhahood. Part of this discipline involves waking up the mind of the disciple, making it aware of the things around it. There are several ways of doing this: motorcycle maintenance, hard labor, travel, and, in Japan, the koan, which is a question and answer session between disciple and master which involves sudden beatings and illogical answers all in an attempt to wake or stimulate the disciple's mind to make it ready for the discovery of the Truth inside. Nichiren Nichiren Buddhism was one of the key sects in medieval Japan. Nichiren (1222-1282) was a Tendai Buddhist monk who left the monastery and invented what was truly a Japanese version of Buddhism; rather than focus on the saving power of the Amida, Nichiren stressed that the Lotus Sutra, upon which Tendai doctrine was based, was the key to all enlightenment and fully embodied the truth of the Buddha Trinity (Vairochana, the Eternal Buddha (in Japanese: Dainichi); Amitabha, the Body of Bliss or Eternal Buddha (which is what the Amidists worshipped); Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha). Nichiren required that all bodhisattvas (those striving to become a Buddha) recite the Lotus sutra rather than the name of Amida; unlike Amidism, Nichiren Buddhism laid emphasis on individual effort rather than salvation through the action of the Buddha. Japanese Buddhism

Nara Buddhism In 552, the emperor of the Korean Paekche sent to Japan an image of Buddha along with some Buddhist scriptures. The Emperor of Japan, Kimmei, was pleased with the gift and the head of the most powerful clan in Japan, the Soga, urged that Buddhism be embraced as the new religion of Japan. For Buddhism was the religion of the civilized west and Japan had just begun actively importing the culture of China and Korea. Outside of the Emperor and the Soga, the reception given Buddhism was less than enthusiastic. Each of the clans worshipped their own kami, or gods; the chief of these gods, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, was the creator of the world. Japan was the center of creation and the Japanese a select people. Buddha, on the other hand, was a foreign god, one that did not create the universe or have any central role in the pantheon of gods. Was it worth angering one's native gods? What did Buddha have to offer that the powerful gods of the native Japanese religion couldn't? The conservative reaction against Buddhism was overwhelming. The Soga set up a shrine for the image of Buddha and began to venerate it, but when an epidemic spread across Japan, the conservative aristocracy demanded that the Emperor destroy the image. The Buddha image was cast into a moat and the Soga were forced to burn their shrine. A few decades later, Buddhism made its way back to Japan in 584. Again, the Soga clan was instrumental in its arrival. When a member of the Soga clan was given two images of Buddha, he then set up a temple for them and had a girl ordained as a Buddhist nun in order to attend to the shrine. As before, an epidemic swept through Japan and the images were destroyed. But Korea had begun to send Buddhist monks and priests and managed to convince Prince Shotoku, the regent who composed the Japanese Constitution, to convert to the religion. Shotoku, in fact, became a fervent Buddhist; the establishment of Buddhism in the royal court certified its permanence. Mahayana Buddhism The Nara period (709-795 AD) saw the flowering of Buddhism in Japan; it was limited, however, to the capital and the royal court. For the bulk of Japan was culturally unaffected by the adoption of Chinese urban culture and Chinese Buddhism. Nevertheless, the earliest stages of Nara Buddhism were dominated by Korean and Chinese monks and priests. They brought with them Buddhist rituals, clothing, architecture, art, and books; the Nara period represents the most active period of cultural imports into Japan. Not only did the Buddhist priests and monks flooding Japan bring cultural artifacts, they also brought non-Buddhist ideas, such as the Chinese schools of Taoism, Confucianism, and the Yin-Yang physical theories. Because the bulk of Japanese Buddhists in the Nara period were Korean and Chinese, Nara Buddhism was essentially identical with Chinese Buddhism of the same period (T'ang China). Three main schools dominated Chinese and Japanese Buddhism at the time: the "Three Treatises" school (in Japanese, Sanron ), the Dharma Character school (in Japanese, Hosso), and the "Flower Wreath" school (in Japanese, Kegon). Each of these schools, like all Chinese Buddhism, were branches of Mahayana Buddhism which had arisen in India in the second century AD. All three schools believed that the universe was in constant flux and constant change. All external reality and all perceptions change as well, so there is no certainty in things. The goal is to attain the Ultimate Truth, which is equivalent to the overall principle of the universe; this Ultimate Truth can only be attained if one frees oneself from the external world and deceptive sense perception. At the same time, all three schools were overwhelmingly moral in their outlook. Like most forms of Mahayana Buddhism, they did not expect full participation by everyone. For those who could not dedicate themselves to the monastic life, there still remained the possibility of starting down the road towards enlightenment by behaving in an altruistic manner in the current life. The Kegon school, for instance, taught that all beings are interrelated as if they were part of a large wreath of flowers; they emphasized communion and friendliness. The ultimate Buddhist ideal, however, was rule by a priest of Buddha; such a sovereign would create a Buddha-Land here on earth. In 766, Japan came very close to realizing this ideal when the Empress

Shotoku tried to abdicate her throne in favor of the master of the Hosso, Dokyo. The conservative aristocracy, however, rebelled and Japan failed to become the first Buddha-Land. Mount Hiei and The Tendai School Chinese Buddhist priest named Saicho (767-822) founded an unpretentious, tiny Buddhist temple on the slopes of Mount Hiei near Kyoto. As small as its beginnings were, Mount Hiei would quickly become the cultural, religious, and artistic center of Japan until it was destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in 1571. At the time Saicho founded his monastery, the area around the mountain was unproductive marsh-lands. All this changed in six years when the Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to the area around Mount Hiei. It was one of those strange practical jokes of history: Kammu, a devoted Confucian, originally moved the capital in order to get away from the Buddhists. The move, however, would make the Buddhists of Mount Hiei the most powerful political force in early and medieval Japanese history. Nara and Heian Japan Kammu took a liking to the young priest, though, and sent him to China in 804 to further his training as a Buddhist priest. While in China, Saicho became a follower of the T'ien T'ai school; on his return, he converted the Hiei temple to Tendai, the Japanese name for T'ien T'ai. The Tendai school was based on the Lotus Sutra, which was the foundational text of all Mahayana Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra claims to be the last definitive teaching of Buddha. In it, the Buddha reveals the "Greater Vehicle" (in Sanskrit, Mahayana) which allows for salvation for a larger number of people. Buddhahood is open to all people rather than to a few; the teaching of Buddhist law, then, is of paramount importance. This law was taught by bodhisattvas, or "beings in Truth." The monastery that Saicho set up on Mount Hiei, then, was dedicated to the production of bodhisattvas. Each monk had to live in the monastery for twelve years where he learned the Mahayana scriptures and also learned "Concentration," or shikan Unlike the Nara Buddhists, however, the Hiei Buddhists did not exercise control over its followers in the court. In particular, while the best students remained in the monastery, the others would graduate into positions in the government or in the court. As a result, the Hiei monastery, which was officially titled, "Center for the Protection of the Nation," became the most influential institution in the country. By the time it was burned to the ground by Oda Nobunaga in 1571, it was a sprawling complex and university of over three thousand buildings.

Kukai and Shingon Although Mount Hiei was the most significant Buddhist monastery in early Japanese history, Kukai (774-835) is perhaps the most significant individual in the history of Heian Buddhism. Unlike Saicho, Kukai was native Japanese; he came from an aristocratic family. He was a brilliant and creative man, and as a young man he began by studying Confucianism, but soon mastered Taoism and Buddhism as well. The Emperor Kammu sent Kukai to China along with Saicho in 804. At the great T'ang capital of Chang-an, he became the disciple of Hui-kuo (746-805), one of the most significant Buddhist teachers in China at the time. When he returned to Japan, he established a monastery on Mount Koya and thus began the history of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Shingon in Japanese means "True Words," a translation of the Sanskrit Mantrayana. The "True Words" school believed that there were three mysteries of Buddhism: the body, speech, and mind. Each and every human being possesses these three faculties. Each of these faculties contain all the secrets of the universe, so that one can attain Buddhahood through the use of any one of these three. Mysteries of the body apply to various ways of positioning the body in meditation; mysteries of the mind apply to ways of apprehending truth; finally, the mysteries of speech are the true words which were secretly spoken by Buddha. In Shingon, these mysteries are passed on in the form of speech (true words) from teacher to student; none of these true words are written down or available to anyone outside this line of transmission (hence the term Esoteric Buddhism). Despite this extraordinarily rigid esotericism, the Shingon Buddhism of Mt. Hiei became a vital force in Japanese culture. Kukai believed that the True Words transcended speech, so he encouraged the cultivation of artistic skills: painting, music, and gesture. Anything that had beauty revealed the truth of the Buddha; as a result, the art of the Hiei monks made the religion profoundly popular at the Heian court and deeply influenced the development of Japanese culture that was being forged at that court. For this reason, although the monks of Mount Hiei became the most powerful Buddhists at court, esoteric Shingon Buddhism was the most important religion of the Heian period and the early feudal period. Amida Buddhism In part as a response to the esotericism of Heian Buddhism, and in part as a response to the collapse of the emperor's court at Kyoto and the subsequent rise of individual, feudal powers in Japan, medieval Japanese Buddhism moved towards more democratic and inclusive forms, of which the most important was Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land or Amida Buddhism was oriented around the figure of Amida Buddha. Amida, the Buddha of Everlasting Light, was a previous incarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. In the previous incarnation, as a bodhisattva, he refused to accept Buddhahood unless he could grant eternal happiness in the Pure Land to whoever called on him1; this compassionate promise was called the "Original Vow." Anyone who calls his name, "Namu Amida Butsu," 2 with sincere faith, trust, and devotion, will be granted by Amida an eternal life of happiness in the Pure Land which has been set aside specifically for those who call on Amida. Amidism was not a Japanese invention; Pure Land develops out of Mahayana Buddhism in India and became wildly popular in China, where the invocation of Amida (in Chinese, A-mi-t'o-fo) became the most common of all religious practices. But the spread of Pure Land through Japan signals a profound change in Japanese thought; above all else, the shift to Amidism represents a shift from a religion which stresses individual effort aimed at enlightenment to an exclusive reliance on salvation by the Amida; this opened up Buddhism to all classes, including women, who had previously been excluded from the various Buddhist priesthoods. Because of its democratic nature, the priesthood became evangelical rather than retiring; Buddhism began to become, in late Heian Japan and medieval Japan, a religion of the streets. Because of Pure Land, Japanese art also profoundly changed; the art of Heian Japan is placid and rigid; the Amidists began to produce more involved and animated artworks which portrayed such subjects as the tortures of all ten levels of hell, the pleasures of Paradise, and the transcendent and resplendent beauty of the Amida Buddha.

Endnotes 1. This Buddha is, of course, Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha; the scriptural authority comes from a sutra which narrates this story about this Shakyamuni, whose name was Dharmakara. He made forty-eight vows which were instrumental to his attainment of Buddhahood; the "Original Vow" is number eighteen. 2. This invocation is known in Japanese as the nembutsu. Zen Zen Buddhism is based on a single, esoteric idea: all humans have a Buddha nature inside them and to realize this nature all a human being has to do is search his or her inner self. The key to Buddhahood in Zen is simply self-knowledge. The way to gain self-knowledge is through meditation (which is what the word "zen" means). Now, "meditation" is one of the cornerstones of Buddhism, where, under the name dhyana, it forms the final and most important aspect of gaining enlightenment. But Zen (in Chinese, Ch'an) or Meditation Buddhism granted meditation an exclusive importance not ascribed to it in other Buddhist schools. This is indicated by its very name: all other Buddhist schools either take their names from important Scriptures (such as the Lotus sect, which takes its name from the Lotus sutra) or from a philosophical position (such as the Consciousness-only sect) or an individual philosopher (such as Nichiren), whereas Zen takes its name from the practice of meditation. Meditation, which was a means to an end in other Buddhist schools, became the end in itself in Zen: meditation was Truth realized in action. As a result, Zen readily dispenses with the Buddhist scriptures and philosophical discussion in favor of a more intuitive and individual approach to enlightenment. Meditation, however, is a strict religious discipline: the mind must be made sharp and attentive in order to intuit from itself the Truth of Buddhahood. Part of this discipline involves waking up the mind of the disciple, making it aware of the things around it. There are several ways of doing this: motorcycle maintenance, hard labor, travel, and, in Japan, the koan, which is a question and answer session between disciple and master which involves sudden beatings and illogical answers all in an attempt to wake or stimulate the disciple's mind to make it ready for the discovery of the Truth inside. Nichiren Nichiren Buddhism was one of the key sects in medieval Japan. Nichiren (1222-1282) was a Tendai Buddhist monk who left the monastery and invented what was truly a Japanese version of Buddhism; rather than focus on the saving power of the Amida, Nichiren stressed that the Lotus Sutra, upon which Tendai doctrine was based, was the key to all enlightenment and fully embodied the truth of the Buddha Trinity (Vairochana, the Eternal Buddha (in Japanese: Dainichi); Amitabha, the Body of Bliss or Eternal Buddha (which is what the Amidists worshipped); Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha). Nichiren required that all bodhisattvas (those striving to become a Buddha) recite the Lotus sutra rather than the name of Amida; unlike Amidism, Nichiren Buddhism laid emphasis on individual effort rather than salvation through the action of the Buddha.


								
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