Saturday, February 5, 2011

Buddhism in Japan [Part l]

Herein the most frequently asked questions regarding manners Japan, as a distant archipelago, adopted Buddhism is noteworthy to discuss. Geographically Japan has four main islands – Hokkaido in the north, Honshu in center, Shikoku and Kyushu are down southward. Presumably there are two geographical paths Buddhism took its long journey and being introduced to this archipelago – the first and foremost, obviously, it was brought from China via Korea and then introduced to Japan by some prominent Buddhist monks. The second way, very doubtfully, is believed to be introduced through China via Russia and consecutively arrived Japan.

It is noteworthy to aware that prehistoric Japan adopted faith in filial piety and highly revered in mother of nature. The combination of those pieties brought a strong commitment and solid belief in Japanese society for millenniums. Geographically she is widely recognized as ‘Land of the rising sun’, as well as the creation of this archipelago is vividly described and depicted in the great mythology called ‘Kojiki’ [古事記] scripture. The well-known characters who play significant roles in this great process of creation are ‘Izanagi’ [伊弉諾尊・伊邪那岐命(いざなぎのみこと)] and ‘Izanami’ [伊弉冉尊・伊邪那美命(いざなみのみこと)] deities. They are accepted as gods of creation or supreme-being in Japanese tradition for centuries. However, many scholars interpret and compare this mythology to Chinese philosophical view on mental phenomenon. It is presumed that, perhaps, ‘Izanagi’ is a positive sided power or mental, Chinese ‘Yang’ [male], and ‘Izanami’ is inevitably a negative sided power or materialistic character as ‘Yin’ in Chinese tradition [female]. 

However, both ‘Izanagi’ and ‘Isanami’ are basically believed to be steered by philosophical combination of Japanese former belief in natural deities and Buddhist doctrine called ‘Honji Suijaku’ [本地垂迹(ほんじすいじゃく]. Later the idea of those deities as reincarnation of Buddha was also created to effectively fit and serve societies. Generally it is described in the myth that these coupled deities shared sensual desire and compassion which then they gave birth to their significant offspring for Japan, for instance; God of the Moon = Tsukuyomi [月読命(つくよみのみこと)], God of the Ocean = Susano-o[素戔嗚尊・須佐之男命(すさのおのみこと)], and God of the Sun = Amaterasu[天照大神・天照大御神(あまてらすおおみかみ)]

However, in returning to discuss manners Buddhism was introduced to Japan we should observe the relation of her predecessor- China. It is asserted that the relation of the two nations began and manifested since the first half of the 5th Century. The term ‘Japan’ [日本] is believed to derive from a Chinese word ‘Jih Pen’ literally means ‘The rise of the Sun’ [also the term ‘Jih Pen’ is used to describe the Kingdom eastern of China]. Nonetheless, Buddhism was introduced to China in 1st century, then, was introduced to Korea three centuries later by political relation between China. And from Korea, it was brought to Japan in the 5th Century. An account is described that a Japanese monk had traveled to China, learnt the doctrine then returned to propagate this philosophy in Japan. However, along the journey from China to Japan ones must take a short stay in Korea. Therefore, it is hypothetically asserted that Buddhism was introduced in Korea by a Japanese monk called ‘Edo’ [江戸] etc.

On the one hand, there is an implication that Buddhism might have been introduced to Japan by a Korean King named ‘Seong Meong’? [Spelling might be incorrect] who had high piety in the doctrine. It is believed that, while Korea was annexed under Japanese sovereignty, Korean royal court always pleased the Imperial Court by sending doctrinal scripture and Buddha image as royal tribute. Presumably it is asserted that in the reign of Emperor Kinmei [欽明(きんめい)] Japan firstly adopted Buddhism in the form of scripture and doctrinal idolatry. 

In 6th Century, in the reign of Empress Suiko [推古(すいこ)], relatively the royal aunt of prince Umayado [厩戸(うまやど)] or Shotoku [聖徳(しょうとく], Buddhism was well adopted and highly revered in Japan. It is believed that the Empress, with a sublime piety in the doctrine, went forth from home to homelessness [ordination] as a bhikkhuni [nun]. Prince Shotoku acted as an interim successor while the Kingdom was without leadership. However, in the latter half of that century, he reconstituted Japanese social structures, tradition, and customs based upon Buddhist ontology. Later he was named ‘Shotoku Daishi’ [聖徳太子(しょうとくたいし)] upon his demise.

Buddhism will be discussed more vividly in the next part.

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