A Brief History of Japanese Religion

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A Brief History of Japanese Religion The Buddha is said to have been born in India around 500 BCE. During his life time, he preached the benefits of the Middle Path, the road between the two extremes of a decadent life style and severe austerities. Soon after the death of the founder, Buddhist missionaries began to travel through out Asia, finding their way along the Silk Roads to China, first arriving around 100 CE. The climate there was hospitable to the teaching of the Buddha, and soon Buddhism was counted along with Taoism and Confucianism as one of the major religions of the period. The Chinese interpreted the Buddhist texts in a new light, and Chinese Buddhism began to take on its own distinctive character. Around 600 CE, Chinese Buddhist missionaries made their way through Korea to Japan. Thus, around one millennium after the founding of Buddhism, the Japanese were first exposed to its teachings and philosophies. The Japanese, who were eagerly assimilating the high culture of the T'ang dynasty into their own, adopted the Buddhist schools that had grown in both power and prestige in China. However, coexisting with this new foreign religion was the native Japanese religion of Shinto ("The Way of the Kami"). Both religions influenced the thoughts and actions of the Japanese people, and both remain active in Japan to this day, coexisting peacefully. SHINTO "In their world myriad spirits shone like fireflies and every tree and bush could speak." At first, it is difficult for a Westerner to comprehend the religion known as Shinto. Shinto has no founding father, no all powerful deity, no holy scriptures, no moral code, no single practice or goal. In its beginnings there was not a unified priesthood or community, but in... ... middle of paper ... ... With the dawn of the Modern Period there came a new regime of rulers. These rulers attacked Buddhism and pushed Shinto as the true religion of the Japanese people. It became illegal for Buddhists to teach that the kami were manifestation of the buddhas (they were to be seen as far superior to the buddhas), and Buddhism in general was blamed for the problems that faced Japan. Many temples were destroyed. Shinto (often called State Shinto) was declared non-religious, but rather the "duty" of every loyal Japanese person. This nationalistic movement helped push Japan into WWII, and defeat by the Allies was crushing. State Shinto was outlawed, and the related shrines were made independent. Yet, to this day, both Buddhism and Shinto play an active role in the lives of the Japanese people. The two have come into equilibrium, serving the Japanese people's needs together.

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