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Characteristics of the Aesthetic Movement of Buddhism

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Buddhism wasn’t relevant to the day to day life of the commoners until the twelfth century, as it focused on enlightenment and what happened after one’s death. When Buddhism first came to Japan, only ones who could hope to comprehend the full nature of Buddhism were initiates, since the teachings were so lofty in nature they could only be taught by a teacher to their pupils. Shinto, on the other hand, was much more relevant to the common people, as it dealt with various deities that had a part in almost every part of their daily life. However, the twelfth century saw much wartime and was plagued by many natural disasters such as earthquakes.

This led to the appearance of Pure Land Buddhism, which taught “the world had entered its last degenerate days and that men could no longer achieve salvation through their own efforts.” All that was necessary was to call on Amida with a single phrase: “Namu Amida Butsu.” Pure Land Buddhism didn’t interfere or contradict with Shinto and offered relief to the anxieties of death which Shinto didn’t offer. Thus, (Pure Land) Buddhism was practiced alongside Shintoism by the commoners starting in the twelfth century. Although Pure Land Buddhism reached the common people of Japan, they still had difficulty incorporating it into their lives. Pure Land Buddhism required one to have complete faith beyond oneself.

Conversely, Zen Buddhism opposed that idea and required one to search within while promoting self-understanding and self-reliance. The Monk Eisai of Mt. Hiei, in his goal of further understanding Buddhism, traveled to China. After studying in T’ien T’ung shan and becoming a Zen Master of Rinzai School, Eisai returned to Japan in 1191 C.E. and brought tea back with him. He then set out to try to spread Zen Buddhism and tea houses across Japan. However, he faced resistance from the traditional Buddhist sects due to the conflicting teaching of Zen. Eisai would pass away before he could fully see the fruits of his labor, but his successor Dogen would continue Eisai’s will of spreading Zen in Japan. Zen’s biggest two influences on Japan were on the Japanese warrior class and the Japanese tea ceremony.

During the Tokugawa Period, Zen swordsmanship became a peaceful art rather than a brutal contest and could be seen as “an art for protecting life rather than a means of killing others.” Tea ceremonies, during the same time, became a prominent aspect of the practice of Zen, the training of young women in the concept of li , and were adopted into the etiquette in the exchanges of some government officials. The tea ceremony is still a prominent part of Japanese culture today. Influence of Daoism Unlike Buddhism and Shinto, Daoism never took root as a major religion, and therefore elements of Daoism were absorbed into Japanese versions of Buddhism, Shinto, and folk practices. Daoism is associated with practices such as astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mantic and occult arts. These practices can be seen in various aspects of Japanese culture.

For example, a tapestry woven in 622 C.E. for Prince Shotoku and his mother, while a visual representation of Pure Land Buddhism, contains multiple references to Daoism (Ooms 37-38). With the adoption of Chinese script in Japan, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) were written in 710 C.E. and 720 C.E. respectively. These are the earliest official records of Japanese history. The content is written in Chinese but using Japanese pronunciation, due to Japan not having their own written language yet. Both are heavily influenced by Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. The Kojiki makes reference to the Twenty-Eight Lunar Mansions of Daoism.

The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki cover the creation myth of Japan and the Age of Gods, which are greatly representative of yin and yang principles. They continue with the stories from the Age of Gods to lead into the reign of Empress Suiko and beyond. These records were used to connect the lineage of the Imperial Family to the gods to legitimize their rule. This answered the two questions of “How was the Japanese archipelago created?” and “Who has a rightful claim to occupy and rule of this land?”. The Bureau of Yin and Yang was established in the late seventh century by the Imperial House due to “growing anxiety” concerning Daoist practices.

They forbade the practices among clergy and established a monopoly on developing those practices. Only officials of the Bureau possessed training in Daoist skills such as mathematical astronomy and divination (Smith 14-15). One of the theories of the origins of Shinto is that the framework is of Daoist nature, and therefore, an evolved form of Daoism. Daoism also influenced the evolution of Japanese versions of Buddhism. Shinran’s (117-1262) school of Pure Land Buddhism taught that one who had attained “shinjin” would be naturally protected from unseen forces that were part of Daoism. Shinran also criticized monks who practiced those so-called “non-Buddhist paths.”  Conclusion China had an indelible impact on the evolution of Japan through the influences of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

With their importation, Japan gained the writing system which they used to write their first “official” history books to legitimize their rule, as well as adopt their own version of the Chinese Mandate of Heaven, the lineage of the Son of Heaven. And through the Seventeen-Articles Constitution, Taiko Reform, Taiko Code, and various other importation of Chinese bureaucratic systems justified that claim of Son of Heaven (Tsunoda, De Bary and Keene 58-59). These influences had long lasting effects that kept evolving up until the Meiji Restoration. Not only did these influences affect the structure of government, they also had a great impact on what is now the representative classic literature and art of Japan. These influences have reached all the way down to the core of day to day life in Japan for centuries through their religious practices, ceremonial presence, and superstitions.

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