Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Prince Shotoku and His contribution towards the spread of Buddhim in Japan

It is clear that indigenous religion called Shinto has already existed in Japan before Buddhism. But According to a historical chronicle, Buddhism was officially introduced into Japan by a king of Paekche in 552 A.D during the time of emperor Kinmei. After Buddhism was introduced and sent Buddhist icons and ritual objects to Japanese court by Korean king Paekche, there were some conflict between those acceptors and rejecters of Buddhism in Japan. On other hand, there is some Buddhist believers had already existed before Buddhism was officially introduced; they were Korean and Chinese immigrants, they practiced Buddhism despite they did not claim themselves as Buddhists. The country was not politically stable which divided into many provinces and ruled by different clans. Around third century A.D, Yamato clan emerged as a powerful clan among them and Japan was gradually united but still not fully unified yet. There were three clans (Soga, Mononobe, and Nakatomi) who became powerful but lower rank to Yamato imperial family.
They were collaborated in order to govern the country which each undertook the responsibilities in different sectors. Each clan was responsible for the governing for the nation. Soga clan was responsible management of the imperial estate and finance, and Mononobe clan take on responsibility for the military affair of imperial family, likewise Nakatomi clan undertake the duty of rituals and ceremonies of imperial family. And the most important thing in the history of Japanese Buddhism was that Prince Shotoku played the most important role to spread of Buddhism in Japan. Buddhism flourished and under pious Prince Shotoku developed rapidly. Prince Shotoku played a very important role in government with culture, religion as well as diplomatic with China and Korea. 
The life of Prince Shotoku
According to the Nihon shoki (The Chronicle of Japan) Prince Shotoku was born in the doorway of horse stable (umaya) in 547 while his mother was looking around of palace by horse stable. This was the reason why he was named first as Umayado. He also had another names but later he became a famous one by the name of Prince Shotuko. His mother Princess Ahahobe saw gold-colored priest in her dream of a night before she gave birth to him in a horse stable. She dreamed about a gold priest entered her womb and said that “I have made a vow to save the world, and to lodge myself for a time in your highness‘s womb”. Then the Princess curiously asked the question to him about who he was, he responded that he was world-saving Bodhisattava, lives in the west. So that in the first day of new year, she gave birth him in the horse stable when she was sightseeing the palace’s garden. There is a description about how he had intellectual giant since he was born.
As early as the Nihonshoki, he is described as being able to speak the moment he was born and claims of proved to have such wisdom as an adult that he could attend to attend to the claims of ten men at once and decide them all without error.[1]
He could even predict with his a foreknowledge future event or what will happen in near future. When he was 19 year old in 592, he was appointed regent and he had received education concerning Buddhism as the son of Buddhist Emperor. He studied the doctrines of the San-ron and Jo-jitsu schools, under the instruction of the Korean priests E-ji, E-so and Kwas-roku[2].  So it is clear that he received Buddhist education since he was young age. For this reason he grown up and became a great contributor of Buddhism in Japan. He was one of the most important figures in Japanese history for both political and cultural development. He was a regent for his aunt, Empress Suiko, and also put his great effort for the development of Japan. And there were, at that time, two clans Soga and Mononobe fighting for the throne. After Soga clan defeated Mononobe clan in fighting, Empress Suiko was throned in 592 and Prince Shotoku was appointed heir apparent. Prince Shotoku married to Princess Udodonokaidako and performed as monarch of Japan until his death in 622, So that the Prince Shotuko ruled the country as head of state from 593 to 622.  And his contribution to spread of Buddhism in Japan was a great success that he supported entire of his life for Buddhism. And there was a famous theme that Prince Shotoku stated his wife was that “this world is illusion, the Buddha alone is true”, displays a knowledge of Buddhism far advanced beyond his contemporaries.[3]
He has been isolated for thirty years of his regency that he experienced and aware of the nature of the world from his personal experience which consisted of living amongst corrupt relatives and political competition.
The most important thing to be development of Japanese Buddhism was that Prince Shotoku sent a mission to China in 607. The mission played the most important role in order to flourish Japanese Buddhism and culture. Some Japanese monks and students went to China to study and brought back new knowledge and ideas for the centralized government. These important connection and contact of Japanese monks and students with Chinese Buddhism were to establish a great way for the flourishing of Buddhism in Japan.
Seventeen-Article Constitution
According to tradition, Shotoku Taishi composed a ‘Seventeen-article Constitution’ in 604 and akso wrote commentaries upon three important Buddhist sutras of the day; the Shomangyo (Srimala simhanada sutra), Yuimagyo (Vimalakirti nindesa sutra) and Hokekyo (Saddharma pundarika sutra).[4]
Before the end of six century, the ruler of Japan tried to reform the administration system and themselves from clan chieftain into fully monarch like the model of Chinese monarchy. The first step that achieved in the effort to reform of state based on the form of Chinese political model was Prince Shotoku’s constitution. Prince Shotoku himself prepared law for the first time in Japanese history. Prince Shotoku composed a Seventeen-Article Constitution in 604 which shaped morality and law in Japan. Some modern Japanese scholars criticized and thought that Prince Shotoku was not qualified enough to write constitution and did not have a good writing skill. This is why; the constitution has always been disputed amongst scholars or historians. And the constitution was not basic law to be governed the country but which more the concept derived from Confucianism and Buddhism  which emphasized on Buddhist ethic, moral and virtue. So that we can understand Buddhist ideals of harmony and equality were applied to the state administration. This constitution charted makes change in the government based on Confucian and Buddhist come towards statesmanship.
Prince Shotoku was a pupil or disciple of Eji and he received the Buddhist education from him. After studied and received Buddhist education from him, he wrote commentaries on three Buddhist studies, Hokke (Saddaharmapundarika sutra), Yuima (Vimalakirti nirdesa sutra), and Shoman (Srimala Simhanada sutra). Although there was a controversial case in term of writing commentaries amongst Buddhist scholars, it was a great contribution on Buddhism of Prince Shotoku. Buddhist scholars had highly doubt and could not accept on writing of such most important sutras by insufficient education.
Some important points in Seventeen-Article Constitution are as follow.
The first one highlighted that living harmonious way with each other and building mutual understand each other is the most important thing in order to have peaceful society. By doing so, no discrimination, no conflict, no quarrel, but living in peace and happiness.
The second one indicated that the tree treasures should be given sincere reverence. The triple gems are Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. This is the first time in Japan that prince Shotoku stated in the constitution. This is the reason why Buddhism became national religion of Japan at that time.
The sixth article described that punish the evil and reward the good. In this article, Prince Shotoku applied this article into his administration in order to build the country in peaceful way.
And the tenth article said that let us control ourselves and not be resentful when other disagrees with us. So we can realize that Buddhism teach us to control of our scattered mind which leads to be peaceful and harmonious society. This article highlight the most important point in order to build peaceful and harmonious society and each one of us should have self-control, respect each other and understand the view of others. Prince Shotoku tried to make administration for his nation in harmonious way.
A brief explanation of Prince Shotoku’s commentaries
1.      Saddharmapundrika sutra. It is one of the most important sutra in Japan which explained one vehicle concept. This sutra expounded that all sentient beings can attain enlightenment equally without any distinction between man and woman, even mankind and other sentient beings. it teach that finally all sentient beings whether mankind or other beings reach ultimate goal of Buddhism or enlightenment.
2.      Srimaladevisimhanada Sutra. This sutra is about queen Srimala and Prince Shotoku intended to honor Empress Suiko who had a devout on Buddhism. And queen Srimala discourse on the practice of one vehicle. Queen vowed to save all sentient beings through saving herself. As the same way, Prince Shotoku recognized himself by calling Buddha’s child. And he had the same idea with queen Srimala that Shotouku took vows in order to save sentient beings by perfecting himself.
3.      Vimalakirtinirdesa sutra. In Mahayana Buddhism, this sutra became famous amongst lay Buddhist practitioners and Prince Shotoku write this sutra in order to establish the standard for the Mahayana lay Buddhist. This sutra is about a sage layman, his name is Yuima or Vimalakirti from Vaisali. Prince Shotoku also appreciated and took the ideals from the sutra that everyone including rulers, and princes could be Buddha if they practice right way. And he wrote this sutra.
Prince Shotoku’s contribution to spread of Buddhism in Japan
Shotoku lived in the period where Buddhism became political tool in the strife between the progressive Sogas and the conservative Mononobes. It shared the triumph of the Sogas.[5]
The leader of Soga clan stated that there was no reason to refuse to accept Buddhism because people from many countries are following Buddhism, but the leader of Mononobe clan against and opposed acceptance of Buddhism in Japan. The leader had proclaimed that “the kami of our land will be offended if we worship a foreign kkami.”   This was the beginning of conflict between Soga clan and Mononobe clan over acceptance of Buddhism. Prince Shotoku was one of the most outstanding figures in Japan who promoted Buddhism entire of his life-time, although the country was politically unstable and conflict between Soga clan and Mononobe clan. When Prince Shotoku was contributing toward spread of Buddhism, on other hand, Mononobe Moriya and Nakatomi Katsumi gathered against the destroyed Buddha images and demolish Buddhist hall. But Buddhism had made a strong comeback at the end of the year.
Although Japanese people had followed indigenous faith Shinto tradition for long period of time as national religion, Buddhism rapidly flourished during Prince Shotoku ruling the country and Buddhism was even became state religion of Japan.
Prince Shotoku wanted his nation to enrich of spiritual life and enhance the quality or value of life his entire nation. And he believe that adoption of Buddhism would extend Japanese culture and which would help the Japanese people to be spiritual happy in life.
The prince also urged the adoption of Buddhism as a means of raising the level of Japanese culture and providing the people with the spiritual fulfillment.[6]
He brought back many Buddhist texts from China and also he tried to support Buddhism by giving lecture on the importance Buddhist texts.
Tradition also maintains that Prince Shotoku was responsible for building some of the great temples of the Asuka period such as the Horyuji and Shitennoji.[7]
Prince Shotoku built many temples as part of supporting establish of Buddhism in Japan so that he became well known as temple builder. He built many temples such as Shitennoji temple in Osaka which was built in 596 and it became famous because of the center of social activities, and Horyuji temple in Nara which was also built in 607. And this temple also famous because it is becomes the main center for Buddhist studies. Prince Shotoku invited Buddhist monks, Confucian scholars, writer, artists, and temple builders from abroad.
He also built a Buddhist sanctuary which dedicated to the Four Guardians of the world. And the temples built at the port of central Japan where foreign traders, envoys, and even immigrant landed and they thought like Japan was a strong Buddhist country by seeing those erected temples. And the temples in former time not only for religious activities but it also served social activities. Tenno-ji temple was comprised of four institutions. They are: (1) the kyoden-in, this is the place to worship and reverence for the Buddha. and the place also served training music and arts, (2) Seyaku- in, this is the place where medical herbs were collected and distributed, (3) The Hiden-in, the place for the helpless and trouble people, and the last one is (4) The Ryobyo –in, sanatorium and hospital.
Prince Shotoku built pagodas with Buddha’s relics during his ruling time in Japan. And he believed strongly that relics were important part of any pagodas. He also said that if there was not any relic of Buddha inside of pagoda whoever built it. It cannot be called as pagodas.
This is a receptacle for the Buddha’s relics, if one does not put relics inside it cannot a pagoda. After parinirvana of the Tathagata Sakyamuni, the relics of particles of his bones (saikotsu Shari) appeared to his will. This was the Ththagata’s gift to outsiders.[8]
The Prince Shotoku also understood that the diplomacy between neighboring countries such as Korea and China was the most important thing in order to develop culture, economic and even religion. This is the reason why he made an embassy in China to strengthen the link between Japan and China in 607.
One of the most crucial development in Japanese Buddhism that can be directly attributed to prince Shotoku was a beginning of official embassies to China in 607.[9]
Prince Shotoku studied and believed deeply in Buddhism. Before he passed away, he said to his followers that live accordance with Buddhism and believe it. he said his follower the essence of the teaching of the Buddha. Avoid evil, undertake good and purify the mind. This is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.
As we have been discussed above, Prince Shotoku was one of the most important regents in Japanese history who played most important role for the development of Japan. when Buddhism was introduced to Japan, there has been political disputed among the progressive clan and conservative clan over acceptance of Buddhism.We can see that prince Shotoku greatly contributed Japanese Buddhism, built many Buddhist temples, wrote three commentaries and created Japan’s first constitution, known as seventeen articles of constitutions and Buddhism even became a state religion of Japan during Prince Shotoku ruling the country. He devoted his great effort to flourish Buddhism in Japan, and he invited many Buddhist scholars, skilled Chinese workers to help Japanese society from China and he also sent Japanese students, artists to China to learn and brought back to Japan. Prince Shotoku opened first embassy in China to have better diplomacy between two countries. By putting his effort for the development of the country in all aspect, Buddhism flourished rapidly and majority of Japanese believed in both Buddhism and Shinto and living in harmonious way. So we can realize that Buddhism has been a great influenced in development of Japanese society and even today it is still influential aspect of Japanese culture.

Alicia Matsunaga and Daigan Matsunaga, Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, Vol 1, Los Angeles, Tokyo: Buddhist Books International,1996.
Tamura, Yoshiro, Japanese Buddhism: A Cultural History. Trans, Jeffrey Hunter. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co. 2000.
Shinsho, H., & Shoyu,H. The Birth of Japanese Buddhism, In T. Yoshinori (Ed), Buddhist Spirituality vol.II, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2003.
Prof.Endo, Toshiichi, Japanese Buddhism: history and doctrines, Lecture 1, 2016.
Soper. A.C. A Pictorial Biography of Prince Shotoku. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. 1967.
Harvey, P. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
George J., Jr. Religions of Japan in Practice, Edt, Tanabe, Princeton University Press, 1999.
Hajime Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples (Japan). University of Hawii Press, 1968.

[1]  Daigan & Alicia Matsunaga, (1974).Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, Vol 1, Tokyo: Buddhist Books International, P.12
[2] K. Krishna Murthy, (1989). Buddhism in Japan: Delhi, Sundeep Prakashan, P.20
[3] Daigan & Alicia Matsunaga, (1974).Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, Vol 1, Tokyo: Buddhist Books International, P.13
[4] Ibid, P.14
[5] Shinsho, H., & Shoyu,H. (2003). The Birth of Japanese Buddhism, In T. Yoshinori (Ed), Buddhist Spirituality vol.II, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
[6] Tamura, Yoshiro (2000). Japanese Buddhism: A Cultural History (tran. Jeffrey Hunter) Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co. P. 29.
[7] Daigan & Alicia Matsunaga, (1974).Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, Vol 1, Tokyo: Buddhist Books International, P.15

[8] Ibid, P.15
[9] Ibid, P.14
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