The teaching of Buddha has originally appeared in ancient India. It has travelled a long way through the mountains of Himalaya, the lands of China, hills and valleys of Korea. The whole century has passed until it finally reached the shores of Japan. It is considered that Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century. In fact, Japanese chronicles note that Buddhism has appeared there much earlier together with Chinese and Korean settlers in the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century. However, the new teaching was not popular among the people with Shinto beliefs. For this reason, according to Tamura, the teaching of Buddha has strengthened and was officially recognized in Asuka capital only in the 6th century after the long period of bloodshed (54). Shotoku Prince was the one who aided the popularity of Buddhism.
Shotoku Taishi, the founder of Japanese Buddhism
According to Japanese chronicles, in 552 AD the ambassadors of Paekche, one of the Korean states, have arrived to the court of Yamato emperor. They brought sutras, images of Buddha, and the message from Paekche emperor. That is how the teaching of Buddha has come to the islands of Japan. Shutoku Taishi Prince was known as a devoted follower and an active promoter of the new teaching. He is considered a founder of Japanese Buddhism. Unfortunately, reputable information about him has not reached our days. After the death of his father, his aunt Shuiko became an empress, and Shotoku received the post of regent. In this role Shotoku spend 30 years of his life and showed himself as an outstanding statesman. Together they proclaimed Buddhism as a state religion of Japan. At first Japanese people perceived Buddha as a foreign omnipotent Shinto deity. Much time had to pass until Buddhist temple organization has been developed, and educated monks would have started systematic study of foreign sutras in order to develop their own salvation concepts (Tamura 55).
As Hastings wrote, Shotoku became a zealous admirer of Buddhism not only with words, but with his actions, and started the entire period in the history of spiritual life of Japanese people. He wrote comments to the three Buddhist sutras, took active part in the spread of the teaching, and greatly contributed to the construction of the first Buddhist temples. By the end of his life a total of 46 temples were built. Shotoku’s silk curtain with embroidered “Kingdom of Heaven” painting has survived the decay of time and reached our days. They say that embroidery belongs to the prince’s wife, and the words on it belong to the prince himself: “Our world is a lie. Only Buddha is the truth” (500).
Price Shotoku and later Gyoki (670-749 AD) were the first to teach the doctrine of Divine Incarnation, which claims that Shinto deities are the incarnations of Buddhas and Indian Devas. Gyoki was a high priest who devoted himself to the teaching of Buddha. After his death, Saicho and Kukai have developed and broadened his ideas. After the years these two men have founded Tendai and Shingon sects in Japan, which inevitably led to the absorption of Shintoism by Buddhism. Shotoku Taishi has always been trying to nationalize the teaching of Buddha in Japan, and designed the work of the Buddhists in the best interests of Japanese welfare and peace (Hastings 500). In 607 AD Shotoku moved to the village of Ikaruga, where he built one of the treasures of the world’s architecture – the famous Horyuji monastery.
Hastings, James. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 10. Ed. Selbie, John A. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2003.
Tamura, Yoshiro. Japanese Buddhism: A Cultural History. 1st ed. Tokyo, Japan: Kosei Publishing Company, 2001.