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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

DEATH OF SHOTOKU TAISHIPrince Shotoku died in the year 621


*In the Sankyo-ron.

**The order of this enumeration is significant.

DEATH OF SHOTOKU TAISHI

Prince Shotoku died in the year 621. The Records do not relate anything of his illness: they say merely that he foresaw the day and hour of his own death, and they say also that when the Buddhist priest, Hyecha of Koma, who had instructed the prince in the "inner doctrine," learned of his decease, he also announced his determination to die on the same day of the same month in the following year so as "to meet the prince in the Pure Land and, together with him, pass through the metempsychosis of all living creatures."

The last months of Shotoku's life were devoted to compiling, in concert with the o-omi Umako, "a history of the Emperors; a history of the country, and the original record of the omi, the muraji, the tomo no miyatsuko, the kuni no miyatsuko, the 180 be, and the free subjects." This, the first Japanese historical work, was completed in the year 620. It was known afterwards as the Kujihongi, and twenty-five years later (645) when--as will presently be seen--the execution of the Soga chief took place, the book was partially consumed by fire. Yet that it had not suffered beyond the possibility of reconstruction, and that it survived in the Ko-jiki was never doubted until the days (1730-1801) of "the prince of Japanese literati," Motoori Norinaga. The question of authenticity is still unsettled.

Shotoku's name is further connected with calendar making, though no particulars of his work in that line are on record. Japanese historians speak of him as the father of his country's civilization. They say that he breathed life into the nation; that he raised the status of the Empire; that he laid the foundations of Japanese learning; that he fixed the laws of decorum; that he imparted a new character to foreign relations, and that he was an incarnation of the Buddha, specially sent to convert Japan. The Chronicles say that at his death nobles and commoners alike, "the old, as if they had lost a dear child, the young, as if they had lost a beloved parent, filled the ways with the sound of their lamenting."

THE SPREAD OF BUDDHISM AND THE CONTROL OF ITS PRIESTS

The roots of Japanese Buddhism were watered with blood, as have been the roots of so many religions in so many countries. From the day of the destruction of the military party under the o-muraji Moriya, the foreign faith flourished. Then--as has been shown--were built the first two great temples, and then, for the first time, a Buddhist place of worship was endowed* with rich estates and an ample number of serfs to till them. Thenceforth the annals abound with references to the advent of Buddhist priests from Korea, bearing relics or images. The omi and the muraji vied with each other in erecting shrines, and in 605, we find the Empress Suiko commanding all high dignitaries of State to make 16-foot images of copper** and of embroidery. Buddhist festivals were instituted in 606, and their magnificence, as compared with the extreme simplicity of the Shinto rites, must have deeply impressed the people. In a few decades Buddhism became a great social power, and since its priests and nuns were outside the sphere of ordinary administration, the question of their control soon presented itself. It became pressing in 623 when a priest killed his grandfather with an axe. The Empress Suiko, who was then on the throne, would have subjected the whole body of priests and nuns to judicial examination, a terrible ordeal in those days of torture; but at the instance of a Korean priest, officials corresponding to bishops (sojo), high priests (sozu) and abbots (hotto) were appointed from the ranks of Buddhism, and the duty of prescribing law and order was entrusted to them. This involved registration of all the priesthood, and it was thus found (623) that the temples numbered 46; the priests 816, and the nuns 569.


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