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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Yoshimitsu was in a position to dictate to the Emperor

It was in emulation of this system that Takauji erected the Tenryu-ji and planned a provincial net-work of Ankoku-ji. His zeal in the matter assumed striking dimensions. On the one hand, he levied heavy imposts to procure funds; on the other, he sent to China ships--hence called Tenryuji-bune--to obtain furniture and fittings. Thus, in the space of five years, the great edifice was completed (1345), and there remained a substantial sum in the Muromachi treasury. The monks of Enryaku-ji (Hiei-zan) fathomed Takauji's purpose. They flocked down to the capital, halberd in hand and sacred car on shoulder, and truculently demanded of the Emperor that Soseki, high priest of the new monastery, should be exiled and the edifice destroyed. But the Ashikaga leader stood firm. He announced that if the soldier-monks persisted, their lord-abbot should be banished and their property confiscated; before which evidently earnest menaces the mob of friars turned their faces homeward. Thereafter, Takauji, and his brother Tadayoshi celebrated with great pomp the ceremony of opening the new temple, and the Ashikaga leader addressed to the priest, Soseki, a document pledging his own reverence and the reverence of all his successors at Muromachi. But that part of his programme which related to the provincial branch temples was left incomplete. At no time, indeed, were the provinces sufficiently peaceful and sufficiently subservient for the carrying out of such a plan by the Ashikaga.


The priest Soseki--otherwise called "Muso Kokushi," or "Muso, the national teacher"--was one of the great bonzes in an age when many monasteries were repositories of literature and statesmanship. His pupils, Myoo and Chushin, enjoyed almost equal renown in the days of the third Ashikaga shogun, Yoshimitsu, whose piety rivalled that of Takauji. He assigned to them a residence in the Rokuon-ji, his own family temple, and there he visited them to hear discourses on Buddhist doctrine and to consult about administrative affairs. A still more illustrious bonze was Ryoken, of Nanzen-ji. It is related of him that he repaired, on one occasion, to the Kita-yama palace of the shogun Yosh mitsu, wearing a ragged garment. Yoshimitsu at once changed his own brocade surcoat for the abbot's torn vestment, and subsequently, when conducting his visitor on a boating excursion, the shogun carried the priest's footgear. It is not possible for a Japanese to perform a lowlier act of obeisance towards another than to be the bearer of the latter's sandals. Yoshimitsu was in a position to dictate to the Emperor, yet he voluntarily performed a menial office for a friar.

These four priests, Soseki, Myoo, Chushin, and Ryoken, all belonged to the Zen sect. The doctrines of that sect were absolutely paramount in Muromachi days, as they had been in the times of the Kamakura Bakufu. A galaxy of distinguished names confronts us on the pages of history--Myocho of Daitoku-ji; Gen-e of Myoshin-ji; Ikkyu Zenji of Daitoku-ji, a descendant of the Emperor Go-Komatsu; Tokuso of Nanzen-ji; Shiren of Tofuku-ji; Shushin of Nanzen-ji; Juo of Myoshin-ji; Tetsuo of Daitoku-ji, and Gazan of Soji-ji. All these were propagandists of Zen-shu doctrine. It has been well said that the torch of religion burns brightest among dark surroundings. In circumstances of tumultuous disorder and sanguinary ambition, these great divines preached a creed which taught that all worldly things are vain and valueless. Moreover, the priests themselves did not practise the virtues they inculcated. They openly disregarded their vow of chastity; bequeathed their temples and manors to their children; employed hosts of stoled soldiers; engaged freely in the fights of the era, and waxed rich on the spoils of their arms.

It is recorded of Kenju (called also Rennyo Shoniri), eighth successor of Shinran, that his eloquence brought him not only a crowd of disciples but also wealth comparable with that of a great territorial magnate; that he employed a large force of armed men, and that by dispensing with prohibitions he made his doctrine popular. This was at the close of the fifteenth century when Yoshimasa practised dilettanteism at Higashi-yama. It became in that age a common habit that a man should shave his head and wear priest's vestments while still taking part in worldly affairs. The distinction between bonze and layman disappeared. Some administrative officials became monks; some daimyo fought wearing sacerdotal vestments over their armour, and some priests led troops into battle. If a bonze earned a reputation for eloquence or piety, he often became the target of jealous violence at the hands of rival sectarians and had to fly for his life from the ruins of a burning temple. Not until the advent of Christianity, in the middle of the sixteenth century, did these outrages cease.

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