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Gembo, during a
sojourn of two years at the Tang Court, studied the tenets of the
Hosso sect, which, like the Sanron, constituted one of the five sects
originally introduced into Japan. Returning in 736, he presented to
the Emperor Shomu five thousand volumes of the Sutras, together with
a number of Buddhist images, and he was appointed abbot of the
celebrated temple, Kofuku-ji. The third of the above three religious
celebrities was a Chinese missionary named Kanshin. He went to Japan
accompanied by fourteen priests, three nuns, and twenty-four laymen,
and the mission carried with it many Buddhist relics, images, and
Sutras. Summoned to Nara in 754, he was treated with profound
reverence, and on a platform specially erected before the temple
Todai-ji, where stood the colossal image of Buddha--to be presently
spoken of--the sovereign and many illustrious personages performed
the most solemn rite of Buddhism under the ministration of Kanshin.
He established a further claim on the gratitude of the Empress by
curing her of an obstinate malady, and her Majesty would fain have
raised him to the highest rank (dai-sojo) of the Buddhist priesthood.
But he declined the honour. Subsequently, the former palace of Prince
Nittabe was given to him as a residence and he built there the temple
of Shodai-ji, which still exists.

RELIGION AND POLITICS

The great Confucianist, Makibi, and the Buddhist prelate, Gembo, met
with misfortune and became the victims of an unjust accusation
because they attempted to assert the Imperial authority as superior
to the growing influence of the Fujiwara. Makibi held the post of
chamberlain of the Empress' household, and Gembo officiated at the
"Interior monastery" (Nai-dojo) where the members of the Imperial
family worshipped Buddha. The Emperor's mother, Higami, who on her
son's accession had received the title of "Imperial Great Lady" (vide
sup.), fell into a state of melancholia and invited Gembo to
prescribe for her, which he did successfully. Thus, his influence in
the palace became very great, and was augmented by the piety of the
Empress, who frequently listened to discourses by the learned
prelate. Makibi naturally worked in union with Gembo in consideration
of their similar antecedents. Fujiwara Hirotsugu was then governor of
Yamato. Witnessing this state of affairs with uneasiness, he
impeached Gembo. But the Emperor credited the priest's assertions,
and removed Hirotsugu to the remote post of Dazai-fu in Chikuzen.
There he raised the standard of revolt and was with some difficulty
captured and executed. The Fujiwara did not tamely endure this check.
They exerted their influence to procure the removal of Makibi and
Gembo from the capital, both being sent to Tsukushi (Kyushu), Makibi
in the capacity of governor, and Gembo to build the temple
Kwannon-ji. Gembo died a year later, and it was commonly reported
that the spirit of Hirotsugu had compassed his destruction, while
more than one book, professing to be historical, alleged that his
prime offence was immoral relations with the "Imperial Great Lady,"
who was then some sixty years of age! There can be little doubt that
the two illustrious scholars suffered for their fame rather than for
their faults, and that their chief offences were overshadowing renown
and independence of Fujiwara patronage.

BUDDHISM IN THE NARA EPOCH

From what has been related above of the priests Kanshin and Gembo, it
will have been observed that the Emperor Shomu was an earnest
disciple of Buddhism. The heritage of administrative reforms
bequeathed to him by Tenchi and Temmu should have engrossed his
attention, but he subserved everything to religion, and thus the
great national work, begun in the Daika era and carried nearly to
completion in the Daiho, suffered its first check. Some annalists
have pleaded in Shomu's behalf that he trusted religious influence to
consolidate the system introduced by his predecessors. However that
may be, history records as the most memorable event of his reign his
abdication of the throne in order to enter religion, thus
inaugurating a practice which was followed by several subsequent
sovereigns and which materially helped the Fujiwara family to usurp
the reality of administrative power. Shomu, on receiving the tonsure,
changed his name to Shoman, and thenceforth took no part in secular
affairs.

In all this, however, his procedure marked a climax rather than a
departure. In fact, never did any foreign creed receive a warmer
welcome than that accorded to Buddhism by the Japanese after its
first struggle for tolerance. Emperor after Emperor worshipped the
Buddha. Even Tenchi, who profoundly admired the Confucian philosophy
and whose experience of the Soga nobles' treason might well have
prejudiced him against the faith they championed; and even Temmu,
whose ideals took the forms of frugality and militarism, were lavish
in their offerings at Buddhist ceremonials. The Emperor Mommu enacted
a law for the better control of priests and nuns, yet he erected the
temple Kwannon-ji. The great Fujiwara statesmen, as Kamatari, Fuhito,
and the rest, though they belonged to a family (the Nakatomi) closely
associated with Shinto worship, were reverent followers of the Indian
faith. Kamatari approved of his eldest son, Joye, entering the
priesthood, and sent him to China to study the Sutras. He also gave
up his residence at Yamashina for conversion into a monastery.
Fujiwara Fuhito built the Kofuku-ji, and his son, Muchimaro, when
governor of Omi, repaired temples in the provinces, protected their
domains, and erected the Jingu-ji.

That among the occupants of the throne during 165 years, from 593 to
758, no less than seven were females could not but contribute to the
spread of a religion which owed so much to spectacular effect. Every
one of these sovereigns lent earnest aid to the propagation of
Buddhism, and the tendency of the age culminated in the fanaticism of
Shomu, re-enforced as it was by the devotion of his consort, Komyo.
Tradition has woven into a beautiful legend the nation's impression
of this lady's piety. In an access of humility she vowed to wash the
bodies of a thousand beggars. Nine hundred and ninety-nine had been
completed when the last presented himself in the form of a loathsome
leper. Without a sign of repugnance the Empress continued her task,
and no sooner was the ablution concluded than the mendicant ascended
heavenwards, a glory of light radiating from his body. It is also
told of her that, having received in a dream a miniature golden image
of the goddess of Mercy (Kwannon) holding a baby in her arms, she
conceived a daughter who ultimately reigned as the Empress Koken.*

*The resemblance between the legend and the Buddhist account of the
Incarnation is plain. It has to be remembered that Nestorians had
carried Christianity to the Tang Court long before the days of Komyo.

In spite, however, of all this zeal for Buddhism, the nation did not
entirely abandon its traditional faith. The original cult had been
ancestor worship. Each great family had its uji no Kami, to whom it
made offerings and presented supplications. These deities were now
supplemented, not supplanted. They were grafted upon a Buddhist stem,
and shrines of the uji no Kami became uji-tera, or "uji temples."*
Thenceforth the temple (tera) took precedence of the shrine
(yashiro). When spoken of together they became ji-sha. This was the
beginning of Ryobu Shinto, or mixed Shinto, which found full
expression when Buddhist teachers, obedient to a spirit of toleration
born of their belief in the doctrines of metempsychosis and universal
perfectibility, asserted the creed that the Shinto Kami were avatars
(incarnations) of the numerous Buddhas.

*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.



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