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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.

ENGRAVING: PAGODA OF YAKUSHI-JI, NARA

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.

GYOGI

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.

Thus was originated a theory which enabled Buddhism and Shinto to
walk hand in hand for a thousand years, the theory that the Shinto
Kami are avatars of the Buddha. Some historians contend that this
idea must have been evolved and accepted before the maturity of the
project for casting the colossal image at Nara, and that the credit
probably belongs to Gembo; others attribute it to the immortal priest
Kukai (Kobo Daishi), who is said to have elaborated the doctrine in
the early years of the ninth century. Both seem wrong.

SUPERSTITIONS

Side by side with the vigorous Buddhism of the Nara epoch, strange
superstitions obtained currency and credence. Two may be mentioned as
illustrating the mood of the age. One related to an ascetic, En no
Ubasoku, who was worshipped by the people of Kinai under the name of
En no Gyoja (En the anchorite). He lived in a cave on Katsuragi Mount
for forty years, wore garments made of wistaria bark, and ate only
pine leaves steeped in spring water. During the night he compelled
demons to draw water and gather firewood, and during the day he rode
upon clouds of five colours. The Kami Hitokotonushi, having been
threatened by him for neglecting his orders, inspired a man to accuse
him of treasonable designs, and the Emperor Mommu sent soldiers to
arrest him. But as he was able to evade them by recourse to his art
of flying, they apprehended his mother in his stead, whereupon he at
once gave himself up. In consideration of his filial piety his
punishment was commuted to exile on an island off the Izu coast, and
in deference to the Imperial orders he remained there quietly
throughout the day, but devoted the night to flying to the summit of
Mount Fuji or gliding over the sea. This En no Gyoja was the founder
of a sect of priests calling themselves Yamabushi.

The second superstition relates to one of the genii named Kume. By
the practice of asceticism he obtained supernatural power, and while
riding one day upon a cloud, he passed above a beautiful girl washing
clothes in a river, and became so enamoured of her that he lost his
superhuman capacities and fell at her feet. She became his wife.
Years afterwards it chanced that he was called out for forced labour,
and, being taunted by the officials as a pseudo-genius, he fasted and
prayed for seven days and seven nights. On the eighth morning a
thunder-storm visited the scene, and after it, a quantity of heavy
timber was found to have been moved, without any human effort, from
the forest to the site of the projected building. The Emperor,
hearing of this, granted him forty-five acres, on which he built the
temple of Kume-dera.

Such tales found credence in the Nara epoch, and indeed all through
the annals of early Japan there runs a well-marked thread of
superstition which owed something of its obtrusiveness to intercourse
with Korea and China, whence came professors of the arts of
invisibility and magic. A thunder deity making his occasional abode
in lofty trees is gravely spoken of in the context of a campaign, and
if at one moment a river is inhabited by a semi-human monster, at
another a fish formed like a child is caught in the sea. There is, of
course, an herb of longevity--"a plant resembling coral in shape,
with clustering leaves and branches; some red, others purple, others
black, others golden coloured, and some changing their colours in the
four seasons." In the reign of the Empress Kogyoku, witches and
wizards betray the people into all sorts of extravagances; and a
Korean acolyte has for friend a tiger which teaches him all manner of
wonderful arts, among others that of healing any disease with a magic
needle. Later on, these and cognate creations of credulity take their
appropriate places in the realm of folk-lore, but they rank with
sober history in the ancient annals. In this respect Japan did not
differ from other early peoples.

THE FORTY-SIXTH SOVEREIGN, THE EMPRESS KOKEN (A.D. 749-758)

In July, 749, the Emperor Shomu abdicated in favour of his daughter,
Princess Abe, known in history as Koken. Her mother was the
celebrated Princess Asuka, who, in spite of the Shimbetsu lineage of
her Fujiwara family, had been made Shomu's Empress, and whose name
had been changed to Komyo (Refulgence) in token of her illustrious
piety. The daughter inherited all the mother's romance, but in her
case it often degenerated into a passion more elementary than
religious ecstasy. Shomu, having no son, made his daughter heir to
the throne.



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