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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Known now to all the world as the Nara Daibutsu


*Thus, Kofukuji, built by Kamatari and Fuhito was called O-Nakatomi no uji-tera; Onjo-ji, erected by Otomo Suguri, was known as Otomo no uji-tera, and so forth.

The Nara epoch has not bequeathed to posterity many relics of the great religious edifices that came into existence under Imperial patronage during its seventy-five years. Built almost wholly of wood, these temples were gradually destroyed by fire. One object, however, defied the agent of destruction. It is a bronze Buddha of huge proportions, known now to all the world as the "Nara Daibutsu." On the fifteenth day of the tenth month of the fifteenth year of Tembyo--7th of November, 743--the Emperor Shomu proclaimed his intention of undertaking this work. The rescript making the announcement is extant. It sets out by declaring that "through the influence and authority of Buddha the country enjoys tranquillity," and while warning the provincial and district governors against in any way constraining the people to take part in the project, it promises that every contributor shall be welcome, even though he bring no more than a twig to feed the furnace or a handful of clay for the mould. The actual work of casting began in 747 and was completed in three years, after seven failures. The image was not cast in its entirety; it was built up with bronze plates soldered together. A sitting presentment of the Buddha, it had a height of fifty-three and a half feet and the face was sixteen feet long, while on either side was an attendant bosatsu standing thirty feet high. For the image, 986,030,000 lbs. of copper were needed, and on the gilding of its surface 870 lbs. of refined gold were used.

These figures represented a vast fortune in the eighth century. Indeed it seemed likely that a sufficiency of gold would not be procurable, but fortunately in the year 749 the yellow metal was found in the province of Mutsu, and people regarded the timely discovery as a special dispensation of Buddha. The great hall in which the image stood had a height of 120 feet and a width of 290 feet from east to west, and beside it two pagodas rose to a height of 230 feet each. Throughout the ten years occupied in the task of collecting materials and casting this Daibutsu, the Emperor solemnly worshipped Rushana Buddha three times daily, and on its completion he took the tonsure. It was not until the year 752, however, that the final ceremony of unveiling took place technically called "opening the eyes" (kaigan). On that occasion the Empress Koken, attended by all the great civil and military dignitaries, held a magnificent fete, and in the following year the temple--Todai-ji--was endowed with the taxes of five thousand households and the revenue from twenty-five thousand acres of rice-fields.

PROVINCIAL TEMPLES

While all this religious fervour was finding costly expression among the aristocrats in Nara, the propagandists and patrons of Buddhism did not neglect the masses. In the year 741, provincial temples were officially declared essential to the State's well-being. These edifices had their origin at an earlier date. During the reign of Temmu (673-686) an Imperial rescript ordered that throughout the whole country every household should provide itself with a Buddhist shrine and place therein a sacred image. When the pious Empress Jito occupied the throne (690-696), the first proselytizing mission was despatched to the Ezo, among whom many converts were won; and, later in the same reign, another rescript directed that a certain Sutra--the Konkwo myo-kyo, or Sutra of Golden Effulgence--should be read during the first month of every year in each province, the fees of the officiating priests and other expenses being defrayed out of the local official exchequers.


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