The Religion In The Heian Period

The Religion In The Heian Period 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.

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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 States 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 Saichos main antagonists belonged held such a view …

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