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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Buddhist hierarchs kokushi were appointed to the provinces


During Mommu's time (697-707), Buddhist hierarchs (kokushi) were appointed to the provinces. Their chief functions were to expound the Sutra and to offer prayers. The devout Shomu not only distributed numerous copies of the Sutras, but also carried his zeal to the length of commanding that every province should erect a sixteen-foot image of Shaka with attendant bosatsu (Bodhisattva), and, a few years later, he issued another command that each province must provide itself with a pagoda seven storeys high. By this last rescript the provincial temples (kokubun-ji) were called into official existence, and presently their number was increased to two in each province, one for priests and one for nuns. The kokushi attached to these temples laboured in the cause of propagandism and religious education side by side with the provincial pundits (kunihakase), whose duty was to instruct the people in law and literature; but it is on record that the results of the former's labours were much more conspicuous than those of the latter.


It is said to have been mainly at the instance of the Empress Komyo that the great image of Todai-ji was constructed and the provincial temples were established. But undoubtedly the original impulse came from a priest, Gyogi. He was one of those men who seem to have been specially designed by fate for the work they undertake. Gyogi, said to have been of Korean extraction, had no learning like that which won respect for Kanshin and Gembo. But he was amply gifted with the personal magnetism which has always distinguished notably successful propagandists of religion. Wherever he preached and prayed, thousands of priests and laymen flocked to hear him, and so supreme was his influence that under his direction the people gladly undertook extensive works of bridge building and road making. Like Shotoku Taishi, his name is associated by tradition with achievements not properly assignable to him, as the invention of the potter's wheel--though it had been in use for centuries before his time--and the production of various works of art which can scarcely have occupied the attention of a religious zealot. By order of the Empress Gensho, Gyogi was thrown into prison for a time, such a disturbing effect did his propagandism produce on men's pursuit of ordinary bread winning; but he soon emerged from durance and was taken into reverent favour by the Emperor Shomu, who attached four hundred priests as his disciples and conferred on him the titles of Dai-Sojo (Great Hierarch) and Dai-Bosatsu (Great Bodhisattva).

The enigma of the people's patience under the stupendous burdens imposed on them by the fanatic piety of Shomu and his consort, Komyo, finds a solution in the co-operation of Gyogi, whose speech and presence exercised more influence than a hundred Imperial edicts. It is recorded that, by way of corollary to the task of reconciling the nation to the Nara Court's pious extravagance, Gyogi compassed the erection of no less than forty-nine temples. But perhaps the most memorable event in his career was the part he took in reconciling the indigenous faith and the imported. However fervent Shomu's belief in Buddhism, the country he ruled was the country of the Kami, and on descent from the Kami his own title to the throne rested. Thus, qualms of conscience may well have visited him when he remembered the comparatively neglected shrine of the Sun goddess at Ise. Gyogi undertook to consult the will of the goddess, and carried back a revelation which he interpreted in the sense that Amaterasu should be regarded as an incarnation of the Buddha. The Emperor then despatched to Ise a minister of State who obtained an oracle capable of similar interpretation, and, on the night after receipt of this utterance, the goddess, appearing to his Majesty in a vision, told him that the sun was Birushana (Vairotchana Tathagata); or Dainishi (Great Sun) Nyorai.

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