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History of Buddhism in Japan

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Nara period, Heian period and the post Heian period are the three distinct periodic stages that can be used to tell the history of the Japanese Buddhism.  During the 2nd century BC, when the Silk Road was opened, there was contact between the Chinese people and the Central Asia. This led to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan by the year 67 BC. However Japanese historians argue that five monks from Japan travelled to China where they were introduced to Buddhism and later came back and propagated the doctrine by circulating writings and scriptures and advising people to shun the world attachments.

It is dated that in 552BC is the year when Buddhism was introduced in Japan by Buddhist monks and nuns sent by Seong of Baeke with the images of the Gautama of Buddha, the father of Buddhism. However the initiation of the doctrines was slow at the beginning but later it took roots wherein it got open support from the political leaders. This was during the Nara period. With time, there was the introduction of the Buddhist clergy in Japan with the office of the archbishop and bishop with over 816 priests and 569 nuns in Japan . Various schools were set up and introduced in Japan but major of these were the six sects and the temples. During this period, Buddhism was not a practical religion; moreover the schools they set up, the scholars saw them as study groups because the temples were to have scholars widely read from many schools.

Sanron School

This school talks hard on the philosophies of Buddhism on apparent emphasis of either absolute existence of Buddhism or absolute inexistence of the religion. It came into Japan in the period of about 7th century from China where it was developed. It is based on the plots of Nagarjuna and Aryadeya. It is referred to as a three discourse school with the characters of impermanence or insubstantiality .

Jujitsu school

It means the ends of the Sutras. This school can be talked of as the child of the Sautrantika School as one of the Nikaya schools of the Indian Buddhist schools. The school refers to the traditional orders of the Vinaya sutra and Abidharma. To note is that this school was known and highly distinguished by heir strong stand and rejection of Abidharma being the word for the Buddha

Hosso schools

This school taught the idealism of the mind. It was founded by Xuanzang from china in 654 AD with the discourse on the theory of consciousness only. They mainly based their teachings on the early Indian masters of the Buddhism thoughtssuch as Vasubandhu.

Kusha schools

It was introduced in Japan during the period of 710-784 taking its name from the stern and strict text; Sanskrit: Abhidharma-Kosa of the 5th century philosopher Vasabandhu. It is an immediate child of the Sarvastivada School. It was first based on the Nikaya schools although it was never considered an independent school. It was said to be an adjunct of the Hosso sect due to the similarity of their works .

Ritsu schools

This school was introduced in china in 650 AD and later in Japan in the year 753 AD. It used the version of the Vinaya rules of the Tripakata. It was however one of the six Buddhist schools in Japan . It was founded in Japan by one blind Chinese priest following a request by other priests. During the Kamakura period, this school had many divisions. This school has resisted the influence by the Japanese government to incorporate it into other sects and up to date it remains and holds its identity as the Ritsu temple.

Kegon School

An Indian monk, Bodhisena in 736 BC introduced this school in Japan after it had been founded in Japan in the year 600bc by a Chinese called Huayen. The central text of the Kegon School is Avatamsaka. It has an early Japanese annotation of Sutra. It has Todaj-ji is the head temple of this school . Kegon is a Japanese name meaning the transmission of the Huayan School of the Chinese Buddhism founded by a scholar-priest in Japan during the year 736BC who was earlier on a monk. He introduced Kegon as an area of study when the Todaj-ji was completed and he used to give lectures on this school of thought. He had several disciples and one of his disciples called Jitchu moved on with the administration of Todaj-ji expanding its territories and prestige with imported rituals. It was later popularized by the Myoe combining the doctrines of Vajrayana and Gyonen and he is accredited with the establishment of the Todaj-ji Kegon lineage. It has several rituals from the Shingon Buddhism shared on mutual relationship. Up to date the practice is in progress in many temple s around the world.

The Heian schools of Buddhism

Tendai schools

This school of thought was introduced by a priest from Japan. It has a big name in the world as one of the most open schools in Japan’s history of Buddhism. It has a religious framework adapting many cultural practices in order to universalize Buddhism. However it did not deviate from the beliefs created by the Tiantai School in China but later in the years it begun sub schools in the Tendai Buddhism. This sect grew under the patronage of the family of nobility in Japan and later moved to Kyoto in 794 BC. This made it gain respect due to the classical and the political society in its support and even the military power it had.

The philosophy behind this school of thought was reconciliation for the Buddhists doctrines with the aspects of the Japanese culture. The Mahayana idea of Buddhism based a strong philosophy of absolute enlightenment fundamentally expressed in the Buddhist laws. They however it insisted on the doctrine of aesthetics or beauty. They believe that sense experience is a form of enlightenment that whatever one experiences you get through the senses, it impacts knowledge to you. This mainly is through the interactions with the environment around us. They shared and taught the Buddha’s middle way and the noble truths. They talked of the 8 rights among them right thinking, right ideas. However they also laid strong emphasis on the 4 truths of the teachings of Buddha.  They also taught that life is full of sorrow and suffering and to avoid this, man’s main roles in the world should be to avoid sorrow and suffering and seek happiness.

The Shingon School

This makes one of the major schools of the Buddhists in Japan started in the 3rd and 4th BC and spread to Korea and china. Shingon, in China means meaning Kanji or true words. This doctrine arose during the period of Heian with e the propagation of the Dharma. This school of thought with the doctrine of the esotericism drove classes in china, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. During the Kamakura period, the Shingon sect split into two schools of Pureland School and the Nicherean School. This split came about due to political differences between Kukubamn and the Kongobuji.

The teachings of the Shingon centered on the traditional Buddhists like Tantras. They had four texts they followed strictly. In their temples, they had Mandalas  which they mounted on alters. Their doctrines basically taught enlightenment and foreign reality to approach real possibility within life. They believed that nature manifest innate wisdom. They also believed that with the help of a genuine teacher and training of the body, speech and mind we can reclaim and liberate our enlightenment capacity for the benefit of ourselves and the society. They referred to the human body, the speech and the mind as the three mysteries in human body.

For one to become a Shingon Buddhist monarch, you had to take formal teachings and instructions for a long time and also examinations. This required high levels of discipline and also undergo the initiation in Sankrit. They laid strong emphasis on oratory prowess because all teachings were passed on through the word of mouth. This religion has had its publications kept in secret because of its secret ways and the mystical rituals that could summon rain, improve harvest, exorcise demons, avert natural disasters  heal the sick and protect the state.

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