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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

And that the Buddhist faith had come


The fact that the metropolis at Changan was taken for model in building Kyoto prepares us to find that intercourse with the Middle Kingdom was frequent and intimate. But although China under the Tang dynasty in the ninth century presented many industrial, artistic, and social features of an inspiring and attractive nature, her administrative methods had begun to fall into disorder, which discredited them in Japanese eyes. We find, therefore, that although renowned religionists went from Japan during the reign of Kwammu and familiarized themselves thoroughly with the Tang civilization, they did not, on their return, attempt to popularize the political system of China, but praised only her art, her literature, and certain forms and conceptions of Buddhism which they found at Changan.


The most celebrated of these religionists were Saicho and Kukai--immortalized under their posthumous names of Dengyo Daishi and Kobo Daishi, respectively. The former went to Changan in the train of the ambassador, Sugawara Kiyokimi, in 802, and the latter accompanied Fujiwara Kuzunomaro, two years later. Saicho was specially sent to China by his sovereign to study Buddhism, in order that, on his return, he might become lord-abbot of a monastery which his Majesty had caused to be built on Hie-no-yama--subsequently known as Hiei-zan--a hill on the northeast of the new palace in Kyoto. A Japanese superstition regarded the northeast as the "Demon's Gate," where a barrier must be erected against the ingress of evil influences. Saicho also brought from China many religious books.

Down to that time the Buddhist doctrine preached in Japan had been of a very dispiriting nature. It taught that salvation could not be reached except by efforts continued through three immeasurable periods of time. But Saicho acquired a new doctrine in China. From the monastery of Tientai (Japanese, Tendai) he carried back to Hiei-zan a creed founded on the "Lotus of the Good Law"--a creed that salvation is at once attainable by a knowledge of the Buddha nature, and that such knowledge may be acquired by meditation and wisdom. That was the basic conception, but it underwent some modification at Japanese hands. It became "a system of Japanese eclecticism, fitting the disciplinary and meditative methods of the Chinese sage to the pre-existing foundations of earlier sects."* This is not the place to discuss details of religious doctrine, but the introduction of the Tendai belief has historical importance. In the first place, it illustrates a fact which may be read between the lines of all Japanese annals, namely, that the Japanese are never blind borrowers from foreign systems: their habit is "to adapt what they borrow so as to fit it to what they possess." In the second place, the Tendai system became the parent of nearly all the great sects subsequently born in Japan. In the third place, the Buddhas of Contemplation, by whose aid the meditation of absolute truth is rendered possible, suggested the idea that they had frequently been incarnated for the welfare of mankind, and from that theory it was but a short step to the conviction that "the ancient gods whom the Japanese worshipped are but manifestations of these same mystical beings, and that the Buddhist faith had come, not to destroy the native Shinto, but to embody It into a higher and more universal system. From that moment the triumph of Buddhism was secured."** It is thus seen that the visit of Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) to China at the beginning of the ninth century and the introduction of the Tendai creed into Japan constitute landmarks in Japanese history.

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