Portion of a Japanese Buddhist Sutra

Portion of a Japanese Buddhist Sutra


This work has been used in a variety of countries. Some major traditional titles include the following:

    : Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra, "The Great Vaipulya Sutra of the Buddha's Flower Garland." Vaipulya ("extensive") refers to key sizable, inclusive sūtras. [3] "Flower garland/wreath/adornment" refers to a manifestation of the beauty of Buddha's virtues [4] or his inspiring glory. [N.B. 1] : Dàfāngguǎng Fóhuāyán JīngChinese: 大方廣佛華嚴經 , commonly known as the Huāyán Jīng (Chinese: 華嚴經 ), meaning "Flower-adorned (Splendid & Solemn) Sūtra." Vaipulya here is translated as "corrective and expansive", fāngguǎng (方廣). [7]Huā (華) means at once "flower" (archaic, namely 花) and "magnificence." Yán (嚴), short for zhuàngyán (莊嚴), means "to decorate (so that it is solemn, dignified)." : Daihōkō Butsu-kegon Kyō ( 大方広仏華厳経 ), usually known as the Kegon Kyō (華厳経). This title is identical to Chinese above, just in Shinjitai characters. : 대방광불화엄경 Daebanggwang Bulhwaeom Gyeong or Hwaeom Gyeong ( 화엄경 ), the Sino-Korean pronunciation of the Chinese name. : Đại phương quảng Phật hoa nghiêm kinh, shortened to the Hoa nghiêm kinh, the Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation of the Chinese name. : མདོ་ཕལ་པོ་ཆེ། , Wylie: mdo phal po che, Standard TibetanDo phalpoché

According to a Dunhuang manuscript, this text was also known as the Bodhisattvapiṭaka Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra. [6]

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was written in stages, beginning from at least 500 years after the death of the Buddha. One source claims that it is "a very long text composed of a number of originally independent scriptures of diverse provenance, all of which were combined, probably in Central Asia, in the late third or the fourth century CE." [8] Japanese scholars such as Akira Hirakawa and Otake Susumu meanwhile argue that the Sanskrit original was compiled in India from sutras already in circulation which also bore the name "Buddhavatamsaka". [9]

Two full Chinese translations of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra were made. Fragmentary translation probably began in the 2nd century CE, and the famous Ten Stages Sutra, often treated as an individual scripture, was first translated in the 3rd century. The first complete Chinese version was translated by Buddhabhadra around 420 in 60 scrolls with 34 chapters, [10] and the second by Śikṣānanda around 699 in 80 scrolls with 40 chapters. [11] [12] There is also a translation of the Gaṇḍavyūha section by Prajñā around 798. The second translation includes more sutras than the first, and the Tibetan translation, which is still later, includes many differences with the 80 scrolls version. Scholars conclude that sutras were being added to the collection.

The single extant Tibetan version was translated from the original Sanskrit by Jinamitra et al. at the end of ninth century. [13]

According to Paramārtha, a 6th-century monk from Ujjain in central India, the Avataṃsaka Sūtra is also called the "Bodhisattva Piṭaka." [6] In his translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgrahabhāṣya, there is a reference to the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, which Paramārtha notes is the same as the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in 100,000 lines. [6] Identification of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra as a "Bodhisattva Piṭaka" was also recorded in the colophon of a Chinese manuscript at the Mogao Caves: "Explication of the Ten Stages, entitled Creator of the Wisdom of an Omniscient Being by Degrees, a chapter of the Mahāyāna sūtra Bodhisattvapiṭaka Buddhāvataṃsaka, has ended." [6]

The sutra, among the longest Buddhist sutras, is a compilation of disparate texts on various topics such as the Bodhisattva path, the interpenetration of phenomena (dharmas), the visionary powers of meditation and the equality of things in emptiness. [14] According to Paul Demiéville, the collection is "characterized by overflowing visionary images, which multiply everything to infinity, by a type of monadology that teaches the interpenetration of the one whole and the particularized many, of spirit and matter" and by "the notion of a gradual progress towards liberation through successive stages and an obsessive preference for images of light and radiance." [15] Likewise, Alan Fox has described the sutra's worldview as "fractal", "holographic" and "psychedelic". [16]

The East Asian view of the text is that it expresses the universe as seen by a Buddha (the Dharmadhatu), who sees all phenomena as empty and thus infinitely interpenetrating, from the point of view of enlightenment. [15] This interpenetration is described in the Avatamsaka as the perception "that the fields full of assemblies, the beings and aeons which are as many as all the dust particles, are all present in every particle of dust." [17] Thus, a buddha's view of reality is also said to be "inconceivable no sentient being can fathom it". [17] Paul Williams notes that the sutra speaks of both Yogacara and Madhyamaka doctrines, stating that all things are empty of inherent existence and also of a "pure untainted awareness or consciousness (amalacitta) as the ground of all phenomena". [18] The Avatamsaka sutra also highlights the visionary and mystical power of attaining the spiritual wisdom which sees the nature of the world:

Endless action arises from the mind from action arises the multifarious world. Having understood that the world's true nature is mind, you display bodies of your own in harmony with the world. Having realized that this world is like a dream, and that all Buddhas are like mere reflections, that all principles [dharma] are like an echo, you move unimpeded in the world (Trans in Gomez, 1967: lxxxi) [18]

As a result of their meditative power, Buddhas have the magical ability to create and manifest infinite forms, and they do this in many skillful ways out of great compassion for all beings. [19]

The point of these teachings is to lead all beings through the ten bodhisattva levels to the goal of Buddhahood (which is done for sake of all other beings). These stages of spiritual attainment are also widely discussed in various parts of the sutra (book 15, book 26). The sutra also includes numerous Buddhas and their Buddhalands which are said to be infinite, representing a vast cosmic view of reality, though it centers on a most important figure, the Buddha Vairocana (great radiance). Vairocana is a cosmic being who is the source of light and enlightenment of the 'Lotus universe', who is said to contain all world systems. [15] According to Paul Williams, the Buddha "is said or implied at various places in this vast and heterogeneous sutra to be the universe itself, to be the same as ‘absence of intrinsic existence’ or emptiness, and to be the Buddha's all-pervading omniscient awareness." [19] The very body of Vairocana is also seen as a reflection of the whole universe:

The body of [Vairocana] Buddha is inconceivable. In his body are all sorts of lands of sentient beings. Even in a single pore are countless vast oceans. [20]

Also, for the Avatamsaka, the historical Buddha Sakyamuni is simply a magical emanation of the cosmic Buddha Vairocana. [19]

Luis Gomez notes that there is an underlying order to the collection. The discourses in the sutra version with 39 chapters are delivered to eight different audiences or "assemblies" in seven locations such as Bodh Gaya and the Tusita Heaven. Following the Chinese tradition, Gomez states that the major themes in each "assembly" are: [21]

  1. The Buddha at the moment of enlightenment is one with Vairocana (books 1-5)
  2. The Four Noble Truths form the basis for the bodhisattva's practice and liberation (books 6-12)
  3. The bodhisattva's progress, from initial aspiration to the highest station in the bodhisattva's path, described in ten 'abodes' or viharas (books 13-18)
  4. Ten types of conduct (carya) of bodhisattvas (books 19-22)
  5. Ten dedications of merit (books 23-25)
  6. Ten stages (bhūmi) of the bodhisattvas (books 26-37, book 26 is the "Ten stages sutra")
  7. A summary of themes that form the core of the collection (themes 3 to 5 of this list book 38)
  8. The bodhisattva Sudhana's career and inconceivable liberation (book 39, Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra)

Two of the chapters also circulated as independent sutras in China and India (The Gandavyuha and the Ten Stages Sutra). These two are the only sections of the Avatamsaka which survive in Sanskrit. [14]

Ten Stages Edit

The sutra is also well known for its detailed description of the course of the bodhisattva's practice through ten stages where the Ten Stages Sutra, or Daśabhūmika Sūtra ( 十地經 , Wylie: 'phags pa sa bcu pa'i mdo), is the name given to this chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. This sutra gives details on the ten stages (bhūmis) of development a bodhisattva must undergo to attain supreme enlightenment. The ten stages are also depicted in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. The sutra also touches on the subject of the development of the "aspiration for Enlightenment" (bodhicitta) to attain supreme buddhahood.

Gaṇḍavyūha Edit

The last chapter of the Avatamsaka circulates as a separate and important text known as the Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra (flower-array, or 'bouquet' [22] 入法界品 ‘Entering the Dharma Realm’ [23] ). Considered the "climax" of the larger text, [24] this section details the pilgrimage of the layman Sudhana to various lands (worldly and supra-mundane) at the behest of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī to find a spiritual friend who will instruct him in the ways of a bodhisattva. According to Luis Gomez, this sutra can also be "regarded as emblematic of the whole collection." [21]

Despite the former being at the end of the Avataṃsaka, the Gaṇḍavyūha and the Ten Stages are generally believed to be the oldest written chapters of the sutra. [25]

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was translated in its entirety from the Śikṣānanda edition by Thomas Cleary, and was divided originally into three volumes. The latest edition, from 1993, is contained in a large single volume spanning 1656 pages.

In addition to Thomas Cleary's translation, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is translating the Avataṃsaka Sūtra [27] along with a lengthy commentary by Venerable Hsuan Hua. Currently over twenty volumes are available, and it is estimated that there may be 75-100 volumes in the complete edition. The publisher Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai is also editing a full multi-volume translation which should be available around 2022.

  1. ^ The Divyavadana also calls a Śrāvastī miracle Buddhāvataṃsaka, namely, he created countless emanations of himself seated on lotus blossoms. [5][6]
  1. ^ Cleary, Entry into the Inconceivable: An Introduction to Hua-Yen Buddhism, http://www.shambhala.com/an-introduction-to-the-flower-ornament-sutra/
  2. ^ ab Cleary, The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra, 1993, page 2.
  3. ^
  4. Keown, Damien (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. ISBN978-0-19-860560-7 .
  5. ^
  6. Akira Hirakawa Paul Groner (1990). A history of Indian Buddhism: from Śākyamuni to early Mahāyāna. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN978-0-8248-1203-4 . Retrieved 12 June 2011 . The term "avatamsaka" means "a garland of flowers," indicating that all the virtues that the Buddha has accumulated by the time he attains enlightenment are like a beautiful garland of flowers that adorns him.
  7. ^
  8. Akira Sadakata (15 April 1997). Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. Kōsei Pub. Co. p. 144. ISBN978-4-333-01682-2 . Retrieved 12 June 2011 . . adornment, or glorious manifestation, of the Buddha[. ]It means that countless buddhas manifest themselves in this realm, thereby adorning it.
  9. ^ abcde
  10. Ōtake Susumu (2007), "On the Origin and Early Development of the Buddhāvataṃsaka-Sūtra", in Hamar, Imre (ed.), Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 89–93, ISBN978-3-447-05509-3 , retrieved 12 June 2011
  11. ^
  12. Soothill, W.E. Hodous, Lewis (1937). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. London: Trübner. Archived from the original on 2009-03-02. CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^
  14. Gimello, Robert M. (2005) [1987]. "Huayan" . In Jones, Lindsay (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion. 6 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Macmillan. pp. 4145–4149. ISBN978-0-02-865733-2 .
  15. ^ Hamar, Imre (Editor). Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism (ASIATISCHE FORSCHUNGEN), 2007, page 92
  16. ^
  17. "Taisho Tripitaka No. 278". Archived from the original on 2012-06-18 . Retrieved 2012-06-02 .
  18. ^
  19. "Taisho Tripitaka No. 279". Archived from the original on 2012-05-23 . Retrieved 2012-06-02 .
  20. ^ Hamar, Imre (2007), The History of the Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra. In: Hamar, Imre (editor), Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism (Asiatische Forschungen Vol. 151), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 344705509X, pp.159-161
  21. ^ Hamar, Imre (Editor). Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism (ASIATISCHE FORSCHUNGEN), 2007, page 87
  22. ^ ab Takeuchi Yoshinori (editor). Buddhist Spirituality: Indian, Southeast Asian, Tibetan, and Early Chinese, page 160
  23. ^ abc Takeuchi Yoshinori (editor). Buddhist Spirituality: Indian, Southeast Asian, Tibetan, and Early Chinese, page 161
  24. ^ Fox, Alan. The Practice of Huayan Buddhism, 2015.04, http://www.fgu.edu.tw/

Prince, Tony (2020), Universal Enlightenment - An introduction to the Teachings and Practices of Huayen Buddhism (2nd edn.) Amazon Kindle Book, ASIN: B08C37PG7G

The Complex Role Faith Played for Incarcerated Japanese-Americans During World War II

When Yoshiko Hide Kishi was a small girl, her parents farmed Washington’s fertile Yakima Valley, where Japanese immigrants settled as early as the 1890s. At the time of her birth in January 1936, the Hides were well-established as an American farm family like so many others around the country. They grew melons, onions and potatoes, sustained by hard work and traditions passed down across generations.

Then life changed dramatically. In the aftermath of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, authorizing the incarceration of more than 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent. The Hides lost their farm, and soon found themselves at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in northwest Wyoming, 800 miles from home.

Faith was one of the few constants to be found in camp life. Like two-thirds of those incarcerated at Heart Mountain, the Hides were Buddhists. The young Yoshiko Hide attended religious education classes in a makeshift building referred to as the Buddhist Church, where she sang hymns in both Japanese and English that were published in a ribbon bound book of gathas, or poems about the Buddha and his teachings. Behind barbed wire fences erected by their own government, Hide and the other camp children—natural born citizens of the United States—recited words that today are a moving reminder of the way religion has been used to grapple with injustice:

Where shall we find the road to peace

where earthly strife and hatred cease?

O weary soul, that peace profound

In Buddha’s Holy Law is found.

And must we pray that we may find

The strength to break the chains and bind?

By each one must the race be run

And not by prayer is freedom won.

Following the war, Yoshiko Hide’s book of gathas from the Heart Mountain Buddhist Church remained hidden in a trunk for decades. After rediscovering it, she knew that she should share it with future generations. As she told Smithsonian curators as part of our efforts to collect the memories of survivors of this period in American history, “It is important to educate people about what happened to Japanese-Americans during the World War II incarceration, and especially to show that religions were able to share their teachings in English and Japanese.”

This poignant artifact reveals an important backstory about the improvised nature of religious life in the camps, one of thousands of stories that might be told to highlight a mostly forgotten aspect of the turbulent 1940s—the complex role faith played in the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans. The collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History include Buddhist altars made of scrapwood, thousand-stitch belts given for protection to Japanese-American soldiers going off to war, and Young Men’s Buddhist Association uniforms from camp athletic teams—all suggesting the ways both quotidian and profound that religious identity informed the incarceration experience.

Yoshiko Hide attended religious education classes in a makeshift building referred to as the Buddhist Church, where she sang hymns in both Japanese and English that were published in a ribbon bound book of gathas, or poems about the Buddha and his teachings. (Courtesy of Yoshiko Hide Kishi)

Providing important new context for these objects and the much larger history of which they are a part, scholar Duncan Ryuken Williams’ new book “heathen Chinee” in the late 19th century, to dire warnings of a “Hindoo peril” early in the 20th century, to rampant Islamophobia in the 21st. Even before war with Japan was declared, Buddhists encountered similar mistrust.

Williams, director of the University of Southern California’s Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, is both an ordained Buddhist priest and a Harvard-trained historian of religion. He has been gathering stories of the Japanese-American incarceration for 17 years, drawing from previously untranslated diaries and letters written in Japanese, camp newsletters and programs from religious services, and extensive new oral histories capturing voices that soon will be lost. The intimate view such sources often provide, he notes, “allow a telling of the story from the inside out, and make it possible for us to understand how the faith of these Buddhists gave them purpose and meaning at a time of loss, uncertainty, dislocation, and deep questioning of their place in the world.”

Before all that, however, outside perceptions of their faith shaped the experiences to come.

“Religious difference acted as a multiplier of suspiciousness,” Williams writes, “making it even more difficult for Japanese Americans to be perceived as anything other than perpetually foreign and potentially dangerous.”

Japanese-American Rinban Kankai Izuhara at the altar in the Buddhist church at Heart Mountain. (George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, Washington State University Libraries' MASC)

This was not only a matter of popular prejudice, but official policy. In 1940, with the possibility of hostilities between the United States and Japan on the rise, the FBI developed a Custodial Detention List to identify potential collaborators with Japan living on U.S. soil. Using a classification system designating the supposed risk of individuals on an A-B-C scale, the FBI assigned an A-1 designation to Buddhist priests as those deserving greatest suspicion. Shinto priests were similarly classified, but as practitioners of a tradition explicitly tied to the Japanese homeland and its emperor, there were relatively few to be found in America. With ties to a large portion of the Japanese-American community, Buddhist priests became targets for surveillance in far greater numbers.

Deemed “dangerous enemy aliens,” the leaders of Buddhist temples throughout the coastal states and Hawaii were arrested in the early days of the war, a harbinger of the mass incarceration to come. The Rev. Nyogen Senzaki, for example, was 65 years old when the war began. Before he joined the Hide family and the nearly 14,000 others incarcerated at Heart Mountain between August 1942 to November 1945, he had spent four decades in California.

In a poem by Senzaki with which Williams opens the book, the self-described “homeless monk” recounts his time teaching Zen in Los Angeles as “meditating with all faces / from all parts of the world.” That he posed no threat to national security did not change his fate. His religious commitments, and the global connections they implied, made him dangerous in the eyes of the law.

Yet the role of Buddhism at this dark moment in the nation’s history was not simply to provide an additional category of difference through which Japanese-Americans might be seen. Religion in the camps served the same multifaceted purposes as it does everywhere. For many, the continuation of religious practice, whether occurring in public settings or privately in cramped family barracks, was an island of normality within the chaos of eviction and confinement.

Women and Buddhism in East Asian history: The case of the Blood Bowl Sutra, Part II: Japan

Lori Meeks, Associate Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California.

University of Southern California

Lori Meeks, Associate Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California.


Part II turns to Japan, the other major East Asian region where beliefs and practices related to blood hells became commonplace, especially in the early modern period. This article traces Japanese reception of cults to the Blood Bowl Sutra, examining the particular ways in which blood hell cults developed there. As was the case in China, Japanese cults to the Blood Bowl Sutra often emphasized postmortem care for women and were disseminated largely through entertaining storytelling traditions. The cult also came to be associated, as it had been in China, with rites for safe childbirth. After examining the cults' historical development in Japan, this article will consider some of the larger insights made possible through a broadly conceived comparison of Chinese and Japanese cults to the blood hells.

What is the Lotus Sutra and why is it so important to Japanese Buddhism

At the beginning of your essay, please write out fully which prompt you will be writing about, as sometimes it is not always clear for me as a reader.

choose one of the following prompts and write about it:

1. How has art influenced the development and understanding of Buddhism throughout history?

2. Buddhism has adapted with many cultural and societal changes as it spread around the globe throughout history. How have modernity and globalization influenced the message and expansion of Buddhism within recent history?

3. How are women perceived within the different schools of Buddhism? Have those perceptions changed over time? Why or why not?

4. Buddhism has often found itself involved in violent actions, and have even been known to develop skills in martial arts. How is violence perceived in Buddhism? Do warrior monks or even Buddhist forms of terrorism fit within the spectrum of Buddhist teachings? Why or why not?

5. What role does karma play in Buddhism? Who does it affect, and how does it affect them in this life, the afterlife, and the next life?

6. According to the second noble truth, greed/craving give rise to suffering. What did the Buddha mean by greed/craving and how do they cause suffering? How do these apply to love and compassion for others?

7. What is the Lotus Sutra and why is it so important to Japanese Buddhism?

Your essays will be graded on the following criteria:

a) evidence that the factual material called for in the question is presented and documented

Kannon: Figure of the Bodhisattva in Japanese Buddhism STEVEN GUMP

Spending a summer in Japan can be a remarkable experience I remember the summer of 1991 to be that way. Living in Tokyo, where the contrast between old and new—between traditional and Western— is blatantly obvious yet subtly harmonious, I exhausted the area temples and shrines in search of clues to understanding the religion of Japan. I knew that within this fascinating religious amalgam lay explanations of the Japanese—answers to questions of why their lives were the way they were. Trips to Kyoto and Mie Prefecture opened a wealth of temples and shrines to visit spending a few nights directly across the road from a temple in Hokusai-cho provided more than one rainy afternoon to call upon the monk-caretaker.

At many of the temples, I came across representations of Kannon, a goddess I had only heard about but never “experienced” before setting foot on Japanese soil. I recall how the warmly female images seemed to possess the ability to placate a restless soul—how the icons seemed to radiate affection and omniscient understanding. Yet upon my return to America and trips to the library, I read of Kannon as the Japanese equivalent of the Indian Buddhist bodhisattva Avalokite ́svara, who, when depicted in human form, is masculine. This left me wondering why Kannon, if she is indeed a personification of the same essence as the male Avalokiteśvara, is iconographically represented as a fe- male. Did the reasons have anything to do with an aspect of the Japanese people that was still foreign to me?

Exploring the origin of Kannon as a bodhisattva and, ultimately, the reasons for a sexual transformation from her masculine Indian––predecessor entails, first of all, understanding something about Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddhism of Japan. Moreover, it involves surveying the possible origin of Avalokites ́vara, for, in essence, Kannon and Avalokitésvara are two cultures’ embodiments of the same divinity. Only after considering what kinds of ideas a Kannon-like entity might represent is it possible to address Kannon’s divination as female. As a welcome consequence, we gain a clearer understanding of the univer- sality of a being, in this case a bodhisattva, who will answer our prayers and watch over us as we live life with the paramount goal of nirvana. Buddhism reached the islands of Japan in the middle of the sixth century A.D. Because of calendrical differences, the officially recog- nized “diplomatic” introduction of Buddhism from a kingdom in Korea is believed to have taken place in either 538 or 552.1 At this time, a delegation accompanied by Buddhist priests presented the Japanese court with, among other ceremonial articles, a gold-plated image of the Buddha (Singhal 148). The first Japanese ruler to embrace Buddhism publicly was Emperor Yomei, who held power briefly in 585 but it was his son, Prince Shotoku Taishi, who ensured the permanence of Bud- dhism in Japan. During the reign of his aunt, Empress Suiko (573–628), Shotoku became regent and proclaimed Buddhism as the state religion. In 604, he issued the “Seventeen-Article Constitution,” urging the Japanese to revere the three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.2 According to Shotoku, devotion and faith to these three principal components would constitute the fundamental basis of an honorable, moral life.

During Prince Shotoku’s regency (593–621), the state built its first Buddhist temples, seminaries, hospitals, and homes for the aged and destitute. Shotoku sent envoys of scholars to China for Buddhist texts and wrote commentaries and expositions of these works himself. Ac- cording to D. P. Singhal, author of Buddhism in East Asia, “sufficient changes occurred in the evolution of Japanese Buddhism during his [Prince Shotoku’s] regency to consider him the sponsor, and by exten- sion, father of Japanese Buddhism” (149–50).

Japan was not, of course, a religiously deprived country before Buddhism was introduced religion existed, but it was scattered and varied. By the sixth century, in addition to the native traditions (termed

“Shinto” only after the assimilation of Buddhism), Confucian and Taoist beliefs also played a role in religiously syncretic Japan. Yet Buddhism provided Japan with a new idea—an idea of universality— that neutralized the idiosyncrasies of the scattered clans.3 In his essay “A Pilgrimage to Enoshima,” Lafcadio Hearn comments on the amal- gamation of Japanese religion: “Into it [the Japanese “faith”], as into a bottomless sea, mythology after mythology from India and China and the farther East has sunk and been absorbed” (101).

Because of this potpourri of beliefs prevailing at the time, certain scholars question the early Japanese monks’ interpretation of Buddhist scriptures. The monks who established Buddhism in Japan altered certain tenets, removing altogether the “thou shalt nots” of drinking, marrying, and owning personal possessions. Did they also change the sex of Avalokites ́vara because of personal preference? (And even if they did, does this mean they prejudicially altered Buddhism, straying farther from the true Path?) The skeptical scholars fear that the early Japanese did not truly understand Buddhism and, therefore, molded it to meet both their needs and desires, thus creating a different religion. When considering this view, an important fact to remember is that not all of the changes—deviations from the original Indian religion—that came to Japanese Buddhism actually occurred in Japan.

Before being introduced to Japan, the Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) form of Buddhism had already acquired new concepts and practices during its journey from India across central Asia, China, and Korea (Singhal 147). One of these was the emergence of a new type of spiritual hero: the bodhisattva (Snelling 81). The bodhisattva is, ac- cording to Professor Jane Marie Law, “one who has achieved enlight- enment and can step off the chain of rebirth into the world of nirvana yet decides to stay and help other sentient beings become enlightened.” The Bodhisattva doctrine—the belief that bodhisattvas exist to help the less fortunate—formed a distinct characteristic of Mahayanism. While preaching that one should postpone his (or her)4 own attainment of––nirvana in order to help others in the path of sanctification, Mahayanism was a departure from the original Buddhism, where everyone was working for his (or her) own salvation. According to Singhal, the “ideal––of the bodhisattva” becomes the aim of all Mahayanists. In the Hinayana school, “everyone has to help himself, has to work for his own salvation, but according to the Mahayana, the bodhisattva is the great helper who takes upon himself the punishment for the sins of others, who suffers for others.” Because charity and compassion are the distin- guishing qualities of the bodhisattva, the deity will certainly not enter nirvana and thus become inaccessible to humans. Instead, the sympa- thetic bodhisattva will wait until all troubled beings have been brought out of their suffering and been made fit for salvation (Singhal 9).5

While a self-inflicted eternity in limbo between nirvana and the physical world seems a harsh sentence, becoming a bodhisattva is a difficult task in itself: one must truly “aspire to buddhahood solely that he might help others” (Snelling 83–4). The ambitious bodhisattva must pass through at least six of the ten stages that culminate in buddhahood. Six “perfections,” which correlate with the first six stages, must be mastered: giving, patience, morality, vigor, meditation, and wisdom (Snelling 84).6 At any of the four higher stages, the aspirant may choose to become a “supernatural” entity, a celestial bodhisattva. That is precisely what the Indian deity Avalokitesvara is—one who remains in a liminal world between the spirit nirvana and the earth from which he was born in order to help others.7 With the emergence of such celestial bodhisattvas as Avalokite ́svara, it became possible to direct prayers for help to godlike beings who could intercede on one’s behalf. Formerly the tendency in Buddhism had been distinctly “heroic”— spiritual progress was possible only through fervent personal effort (Snelling 85). Soon various cults arose—cults devoted to the venera- tion of a particular bodhisattva, who, to the casual observer, could mistakenly appear as a god or goddess.8

While the emergence of such cults is indeed an interesting considera tion, determining the true origin of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara has been the subject of much “scholarly energy,” according to an article by Raoul Birnbaum in the Encyclopedia of Religion. In the Indian sutras, it was written that Avalokite ́svara, bearing a lotus flower, was born from a ray of light that sprang from the Buddha’s right eye (Blofeld 39). Yet according to Birnbaum, the sole references to Avalokite ́svarin Mahayana scriptures present him as only one of many beings with a “human history whose dedication and spiritual development has led to successful fruition as a bodhisattva” (12). In 1948, Giuseppe Tucci proposed that Avalokite ́svara is the personification of the compassionate gaze of Sakyamuni, the historical Gautama Buddha (Birnbaum 11).

While this suggestion does not support the findings from the Buddhist scriptures by associating the name “Avalokite ́svara” with a person in history, it provides a foundation for possibilities to be explored later regarding why Kannon, the Japanese Avalokite ́svara, is iconographi- cally represented as female.

After studying Buddhist ideals as expressed in religious scriptures, Clarence Hamilton came to the conclusion that one of the “major values which Buddhism as a religion has given to Asia and the world . . . is the idea of unselfish devotion to the good of others for the sake of their deliverance from ill.” Therefore, “in its final character, Bud- dhism is a religion of infinite compassion” (xxiii). It is compassion that is embodied in Buddhism in the figures of Avalokitésvara in India, Kuan Yin in China, and Kannon in Japan—a personal, “intimate” compassion, a “counterpart of gentle pity” (Blofeld 86). In Mahayana Buddhism, compassion is elevated alongside wisdom at the forefront of all virtues. Brought together, the two are believed to be a “supreme combination.” In The Buddhist Handbook, John Snelling concisely explains what he believes is meant by “Buddhist compassion”:

Buddhist compassion has connotations of being able to feel the sufferings of others as if they were one’s own, which, indeed, from a high point that transcends distinctions of self, they really are. Unlike lower forms of love (if indeed they can be called love), this compassion is not selective or tainted with attachment but goes out equally to all who suffer. (84)

Thus compassion is a binding universal force that emanates from Avalokites ́vara.With such an understanding of Mahayana Buddhism, the origin of Avalokite ́svara, and the meaning of compassion in Buddhism, it is now possible to focus on Kannon, the Japanese bodhisattva of compassion.9 Her name, it appears, has its roots in her chief Indian progenitor. “Avalokitésvara” (or “Avalokita,” the less formal version) has been translated from Sanskrit in several ways, two of which are: “the lord of what is seen, the lord who is seen” and “the lord who surveys, gazing lord” (Birnbaum 11). The Chinese name for Kannon, “Kuan Shih Yin” (commonly “Kuan Yin,” also personified as female), was translated from an alternative spelling of the name of her Indian forefather “Avalokitasvara” (Birnbaum 11). Most translations, it seems, entail a sensory shift from sight to sound. Three interpretations are: she “who has perceived sound” she “who perceives the sounds of the world” (Birnbaum 11) and, more explicitly, “she who hearkens to the cries of the world” (Blofeld 17). The Japanese “Kannon” has been translated from one of the first two Chinese renderings and, therefore, can be construed as “one who perceives the world sound” (Shaku 161).10

Diana Paul’s definition in the Encyclopedia of Japan, however, draws on the third and most detailed of the Chinese definitions by translating “Kannon” into “the one who hears cries.” Paul contends that Kannon, along with Jizo, is “one of the most popular of all Bodhisattvas in Japan.” Oliver Statler, in Japanese Pilgrimage, submits that Kannon has always been popular among the Japanese. . . . From the ninth to twelfth centuries worship of Kannon came to full flower: of the treasured statues from that period, the majority are of Kannon there came into being a pilgrimage to thirty-three Kannon temples stretched across the waist of Honshu. (145) Scholars give numerous reasons for Kannon’s great popularity.

Most agree, however, that it is dependent on the “Kannon-gyo” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, wherein Kannon is depicted in thirty-three different incarnations (Paul 144). Often recited independently from the rest of the sutra, the Kannon-gyo teaches the saving power of Kannon over the seven calamities (fire, flood, storm, weapons, demons, enemies, and inner evils) and over the three poisons (greed, anger, and stupidity) (Ryodo 30). Furthermore, worship of Kannon is not an exclusive characteristic of one sect Singhal believes this to be an important attribute of Japanese Buddhism (157–8). Kannon is important to all Jap- anese Buddhists, and more actual acts of veneration center on images of the bodhisattva than on scriptures pertaining to her (Nakamura 86).

While methods for Kannon worship differ, most scholars would agree that compassion is the main attribute being venerated. In his essay “Kwannon Bosatz,” Soen Shaku (1859–1919), considered by Snelling to be the “first modern Zen master of Japan” (303), referred to what Hamilton and Blofeld call Kannon’s “compassion” with a term translatable as “love.” Shaku presents two vivid analogies to Kannon’s love in the following passage: “The love that makes up the being of Kwannon is . . . comprehensive and universal.” It embraces the entire universe, just and unjust, good and evil, pious and sacrilegious. In this love there is not a trace of partiality or discrimination. It is like rain that falls on all forms of vegetation, while each plant is benefited in its own peculiar way. It is, again, like the sun that shines upon all forms of life, while the latter make use of the sunshine each according to its own nature. The sun or the rain thus benefiting everything harbors no thought of discrimination. Kwannon’s love for all sentient beings is no more than an exhibition of the universal energy of animation and enlightenment, which creates, fashions, and regulates the world. (165–6)

Interestingly, Shaku’s first analogy comes from Chapter Five of theLotus Sutra, where the Buddha’s teaching is likened to the one rain that benefits all vegetation upon which it falls the second analogy appears to be an extension of this theme. The most important message in the above passage is that Kannon’s love is available to all who ask Kannon, like the sun or the rain, does not discriminate. “Wherever there is a heart groping in the dark, Kwannon will not fail to extend her embracing arms” (Shaku 168). This was the message about Kannon that Buddhist priests would offer in their sermons, often including one or two miracle tales to get the main point across.
Stories about Kannon’s miraculous powers rose to prominence in Japan during the eighth century. Many of these stories were recorded––in collections of Buddhist morality tales, such as the Konjaku MonogatariShu or Priest Chingen’s Dainihonkoku Hokekyokenki. Marian Ury, a translator of selected tales from the Konjaku Monogatari Shu, suggests that these tales were compiled for use in sermons by Buddhist priestsand monks (2).

On the eighteenth day of each month, services called Kannon-ko were held in honor of the bodhisattva Kannon (Dykstra 2). It seems likely that the stories told or referred to at these ceremonies would have been those dealing with the miracles of Kannon. Many such stories exist, and all demonstrate the compassion of Kannon to all believers. Translated in under 350 words each, the three stories dis- cussed below relate how a devout Kannon-worshipper is saved from death in an amazing way and provide examples of miraculous deeds that demonstrate the extent of Kannon’s Buddhist lovingkindness. Included in Priest Chingen’s Dainihonkoku Hokekyokenki is the story of Priest Kanze (Vol. III, story 85), a devout worshipper of the bodhisattva of compassion, who makes an image of Kannon for an evil man and is rewarded with gifts. Out of greed, the evil man ambushes Priest Kanze, kills him, and takes back his gifts. But when the man goes to see the image Kanze had made for him, he finds the golden image has a slashed, bloodied shoulder. The evil man is amazed to discover that Kanze did not die the image of Kannon received the injuries in his place. Kanze recalled being ambushed and having his goods stolen as he was on his way home, but he was not hurt in any way. The second- to-last sentence of this story relates what its reciters undoubtedly wished would happen to the listeners:

“All who heard this, including the patron, became pious, acquired faith in Kannon, and recited the Hokekyo” (the Lotus Sutra 108).––

The Kannon miracle story in Lucia St. Clair Robson’s historical fiction The Tokaido Road relates a similar incident—but this time in the life of a common woman. Robson’s story tells of a wife who nightly worships Kannon at a shrine not far from her home. Her husband becomes suspicious of her nightly excursions, suspects there is another man involved, and kills his wife by ambushing her on the forest path one night and hacking her shoulder with his sword. He returns home only to find alive the woman he thought he had killed. Shocked, he asks his wife whether anything strange happened on her way home. She responds: “For a moment, the blood turned cold in my veins.” In disbelief, the man returns the next morning to the spot where he thought he had killed his wife to find a trail of blood leading to the mountain shrine. There, he finds the statue of Kannon, with a “long cleft on her shoulder, in the exact place he had struck his wife the night before” (261). This story, thematically similar to “Priest Kanze,” sug- gests that Kannon helps not only the devout priest but the devout commoner as well. In both stories Kannon takes the place of whoever is being attacked: an image of Kannon bears the damage that would have been done to the faithful person.

Like the story of Priest Kanze, the story of “Thief Tatasumaro of Akao District” is also found in Chingen’s Dainihonkoku Hokekyokenki(Vol. III, story 114) and has the same Kannon theme but in this case, the devout Kannon worshipper is not an honest, ethical person—he is, instead, a thief. But as in the other Kannon tales, Kannon takes any–harm that would be inflicted upon Tatasumaro—even by police officers—because, since his youth, Tatasumaro has recited the Hokekyo and observed the practice on the eighteenth of every month. This story demonstrates the common message of all Kannon miracle tales: Every- one, whatever his or her moral standing or position in life, can gain the protection of Kannon by devout worship.11 The protagonists in the Kannon stories are both men and women, holy people, common people, and thieves. Thus the first of many correlations with Christianity may be formed by these tales and the roles Kannon plays in them. Like Jesus Christ, Kannon saves those who truly believe in her.

Throúghout this discussion, the pronoun “he” has been used for Avalokitesvara, while “she” has been used for Japanese Kannon and Chinese Kuan Yin. Why has this distinction been drawn? I have been arguing that the three entities are personifications of the compassion of Buddhism—the cosmic compassion suggested by the Four Noble Truths. What, if anything, does the fact that Kuan Yin and Kannon are regarded as females in China and Japan say about those societies?

John Blofeld, as he researches and reports on all aspects of the Chinese bodhisattva, addresses these and other questions in hisBodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin. The most plausible period for Kuan Yin’s sexual transformation to female ranges from the eighth to the eleventh centuries (40). The transforma- tion, therefore, would not have taken effect until after Buddhism had reached Japan in the sixth century. Blofeld’s ideas are important to consider, as scholarly Buddhist relations existed between China and Japan as early as the time of Prince Shotoku. If ideas were freely traded, there is the possibility that the Japanese borrowed their female bodhisattva from Kannon’s Chinese sister, Kuan Yin.

For an explanation of Kuan Yin’s transformation, Blofeld turns to Mr. P’an, an authority on Chinese Buddhism, who suggests that the Chinese Kuan Yin is a ́ composite of three distinct entities: (1) the original male Avalokitesvara of India (2) the Tibetan Tara, a divine emanation of the bodhisattva in female form and (3) Miao Shan, a Chinese empress symbolic of compassion who was integrated by the influence of native folklore (21–3). Blofeld considers this proposal but does not entirely accept it. “It is possible that confusion in the popular mind between Bodhisattvas and local gods and goddesses permitted Miao Shan, a legendary Chinese princess with extraordinary compas- sion, to become assimilated to Kuan Yin,” Blofeld speculates, “but I personally doubt if this assimilation took place until after the Bod- hisattva had come to be regarded as female” (39). Blofeld believés that the female Kuan Yin is a straightforward combination of Avalokitesvara and Tara, who was “born of a tear shed by Avalokita in sorrow for the world” (40). From the beginning, Tara had always been an attractive being Blofeld believes the Ćhinese borrowed this aspect from Tara and combined it with Avalokitesvara’s canonical backing to form Kuan Yin. Moreover, he suggests that there were certain psychological grounds for envisaging compassion in womanly form, which aided in the inte- gration of Princess Miao Shan to the Kuan Yin picture (40–1). For example, the forms taken by deities depend somewhat upon the beliefs of the artists. According to one Chinese scholar, “picturing compassion in the form of a lovely woman” may simply have been a “reasonable thing to do” (Blofeld 86).

Finally, Blofeld brings up an interesting question about theimportance of any sexual distinction among bodhisattvas: “Viewed esoterically,” he argues, “the sex attributed to celestial Bodhisattvas is unimportant, since they are regarded as meditation forms not of beingsbut of what might be called cosmic forces.” But “to scholars and art- lovers . . . the details of iconography are of great significance” (42–3). His point is that Buddhism itself does not distinguish as to whether a bodhisattva should be considered male or female—it is entirely up to the individual practicing Buddhist. Within Buddhism, such distinctions are inconsequential but to the Buddhist, the difference must be profoundly personal.

As Blofeld’s writings deal predominantly with China, the question of whether the Japanese imported the idea for a female bodhisattva of compassion from China comes again into view. Contrary to that supposition, scholars Soen Shaku and Kyoko Nakamura (both Japanese) be- lieve that the source for the change from the stereotypically “aggres- sive” male to the “compassionate” female can be found within the Japanese people themselves. Nakamura, in the introduction to Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition: The Nihon ryoki of the Monk Kyokai, examines the female in early Japanese Buddhism and provides evidence that the Japanese independently created a female Kannon who exemplifies the morals and virtues of Japan. About the symbolism of women in Buddhism, Nakamura writes: “After the ar- rival of Buddhism, women became symbols of Buddha’s boundless compassion, and motherly love was idealized” (75). Nakamura de- scribes her views on the feminization of Kannon in the following passage:

In ancient Japanese tradition, woman had particular importance as a symbol of cosmic power, a role which is exemplified in her procreative function. Buddhism added the ethical significance of motherly love to the symbolism of woman. In China and Japan, Kannon acquired feminine features as the embodiment of great compassion in spite of a reluctance to see the bodhisattva in female form. (76)

Nakamura’s last statement is the first allusion to the woman as an unwelcome guest in Buddhism. Women were originally used as sym- bols of the desire that causes suffering in every human’s life (as per the Four Noble Truths) therefore, representing a bodhisattva in feminine form suggests that females, too, are able to become enlightened or to become bodhisattvas themselves. (Remember that in early Buddhism, only men could become enlightened.) Finally, Nakamura comments on Kannon’s role as a “savior,” stating that the female characteristics of Kannon in Japan and Kuan Yin in China may have originated when this role was fused with the folk belief in mother divinities (87). For example, Kannon was an especially popular bodhisattva for women who wished to become mothers or who wanted reassurance during childbirth (Paul 144). Nakamura is herself Japanese and her specula- tions may well be personal truths.

Even closer than Nakamura to Japanese Buddhism on the level of doctrine and practice was the Zen priest Soen Shaku, discussed earlier with respect to the indiscriminate love of Kannon. Shaku simply attributes Kan-non’s feminine form to the fact that her predominant

virtue is lovingkindness (165)12 and goes on to analyze this quality and its effect on the Japanese:

This conception of Kwannon, it seems to me, has had a great influence in shaping the national character of my countrymen. Whatever tenderness of heart they may have, they owe it to the lovingkindness of Kwannon. . . . Being simplehearted, they believe in the response by Kwannon to their earnest prayers. The universal wave of love is vibrating in every sentient being, and when this innermost chord is touched to the deepest spiritual

commotion one can suffer, it vibrates, and the vibration reaches the very source of life, which is the love of Kwannon. . . . The universal love-principle has thus made itself known to the human heart. (168–9)

Now the final connection has been made. According to Shaku, the Japanese are the way they are because of Kannon’s lovingkindness. And it was the Japanese themselves who cultivated this virtue in the bodhisattva, shaping her into a motherly, redemptive deity whom they could worship and turn to for comfort and help.

Like many scholars, Shaku takes this idea one step further, bridg- ing East and West in an ultimate correlation: He believes that the Buddhist bodhisattva Kannon corresponds to the Virgin Mary of Chris- tianity.13

Human nature everywhere seems to request what Goethe calls “eternal femininity.” Christians according to their needs have created Maria. Though she is a historical figure, she has been invested with all the necessary qualities that will satisfy their inner yearnings. Buddhists have Kwannon, who, whatever her historical standing in critical Buddhism, fully answers their religious cravings. From the Christian point of view, Kwannon is a Maria incarnate and from the Buddhist standpoint, Maria is a representative of Kwannon. . . . The truth must be one and humanity the same everywhere, and it is my earnest wish that the time will soon come when the East and the West will all join in the adoration of truth, disregarding all their accidental differences and contradictions. (169)

Although Shaku’s “earnest” wish has not yet been attained, more and more students of religion continue to make the connection and to assert the oneness of humanity. Buddhism, a religion of infinite compassion, provides the essential outlets for reciprocation between itself and its host culture. While Buddhism may have shaped Japan, Japan also shaped Buddhism. Through such alterations as embodying com- passion in feminine form, the Japanese looked to themselves for clues of Kannon’s lovingkindness. They found something that is not unique to Japanese Buddhism but belongs also to the traditions of other religions. Their transformation attests to an almost universal religious desire that can be satisfied only by a female “goddess” of compassion: a Kannon, a Kuan Yin, or a Maria.

1 Granted, the recognition of Buddhism as a religion in Japan was gradual the sixth century (and even more precisely 538 or 552) dates an occurrence that eventually led to national awareness and endorse- ment of Buddhism, even if at first only among members of the aristoc- racy.

2 This and other non-annotated facts in the next four paragraphs on the introduction of Buddhism to Japan come from lecture notes on Buddhism and Japanese religion by Professor Jane Marie Law, Depart- ment of Asian Studies, Cornell University. The Buddha is the historical Sakyamuni Buddha the Dharma is the Buddhist Law or Teachings and the Sangha is the Community of Fellow Buddhists.

3 Before Buddhism, Japan had no “national” religion (as Japan was not yet a true “nation”). Instead, the individual clans each had their own protective deities, and religious ideas and beliefs were passed down orally.

4 The parenthetical “or her” designates a modern addition, since the original Buddhism did not include females in its nirvana-instruct- ing doctrines.

5 Of course, all humans will never simultaneously become free of troubles the bodhisattva therefore voluntarily offers his or her spirit for an eternity of assistance to sentient beings.

6 In an article in the Encyclopedia of Religion, Hajime Nakamura lists essentially the same six perfections: giving, patience, morality, effort, contemplation, and transcendental insight. Four different but comparable perfections show up in lists in scriptures other than theLotus Sutra, from where these first six came.

7 As a final emphasis on the solid, heart-felt concern that bodhisattvas must have for sentient beings, consider this quotation from a Sanskrit text, as translated by J. J. Jones: “As it is not possible for any bird to reach the confines of the sky, so it is not possible for any man to comprehend the good qualities of the self-becoming Buddhas.” The “self-becoming Buddhas” are, of course, bodhisattvas (Hamilton, ed., 109).

8 John Blofeld prescribes the proper terminology in an instance such as this, citing the Chinese worship of the “goddess” Kuan Yin for the past one thousand years: “In truth she is not a goddess but a celestial Bodhisattva” (17). Yet in another instance, Blofeld states that Kuan Yin is “both an abstraction and a goddess how one sees her depends upon one’s expectation and attitude of mind” (36).

9 In older romanization, the name “Kannon” often appears as “Kwannon.” Kannon is also sometimes suffixed by the words “Sama,” a formality, or “Bosatsu” (also “Bosatz”), meaning “bodhisattva.” “Kanjizai” is an alternative name “Kan-ze-on” is the more “proper” but less common title for this deity.

10 Kan literally means “to see,” “to perceive,” or “to look upon.” Shaku reminds us that this is not a physical perception, however it is “spiritual, inward, and transcendental.” “Ze” means the “world” or “universe,” and “on” is “sound” or “voice” (161). Shaku further elabo- rates on his translation, stating that the sound Kannon perceives “is not physical” to understand it we must “transcend the limits of phenomenality” (162).

11 I was rather surprised to find a story detailing how a thief is protected by Kannon’s compassion in a collection intended for priests. Yet this theme is common in other religions: in Christianity, for ex- ample, even sinners may be saved.

12 John Snelling begins his definition of the term “lovingkindness” in the following manner: “Loving-kindness represents a warm-hearted concern for the well-being of others. It is not sentimentally or erotically based, nor is it selectively applied to congenial people or one’s nearest and dearest. . . . [This] love should ideally be extended outwards in ever-increasing circles to ultimately embrace totality” (70).

13 Lafcadio Hearn shares this belief. In his essay “Jizo,” Hearn writes: “Here is a beautiful virgin-figure, standing upon a lily: Kwannon- Sama, the Japanese Madonna” (47).

Works Cited

Birnbaum, Raoul. “Avalokitesvara.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Mircea Eliade. New York: MacMillan, 1987.

Blofeld, John. Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1977.

Hamilton, Clarence H., ed. Buddhism: A Religion of Infinite Compassion. Indianapolis: Bobbs, 1952.

Hearn, Lafcadio. Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1894. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1976.

Kato, Bunno, Yoshiro Tamura, and Kojiro Miyasaka. The Threefold Lotus Sutra. Tokyo: Kosei, 1992.

Kitagawa, Joseph Mitsuo. Religion in Japanese History. New York: Columbia UP, 1966.

Miraculous Tales of the Lotus Sutra from Ancient Japan: TheDainihonkoku Hokekyokenki of Priest Chingen. Trans., Foreword Yoshiko K. Dykstra. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1983.

Nakamura, Hajime. “Bodhisattva Path.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Mircea Eliade. New York: MacMillan, 1987.

Nakamura, Kyoko Motomachi. Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition: The Nihon ryoki of Monk Kyokai. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1973.

Paul, Diana. “Kannon.” Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Kondansha, 1983.

Robson, Lucia St. Clair. The Tokaido Road. New York: Ballantine, 1991.

Ryodo, Shioiri. “The Meaning of the Formation and Structure of theLotus Sutra.” In The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Ed. George J. Tanabe, Jr., and Willa Jane Tanabe. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1989.

Shaku, Soen. Zen for Americans. Trans. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. 1906. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1974.

Singhal, D. P. Buddhism in East Asia. New Delhi: Books & Books, 1984.

Snelling, John. The Buddhist Handbook: A Complete Guide to Buddhist Schools, Teaching, Practice, and History. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, Ltd., 1991.

Statler, Oliver. Japanese Pilgrimage. New York: Morrow, 1983.

Ury, Marian. Tales of Times Now Past: Sixty-Two Stories from a Medieval Japanese Collection. Selected translations from theKonjaku monogatari shu. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979.

Part 1: Happiness Chapter 3: The Practice for Transforming Our State of Life [3.11]

Nichiren Buddhism is based on the Lotus Sutra, the scripture teaching the supreme enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. The pinnacle of the Mahayana teachings, the Lotus Sutra was compiled in the first century CE. It sees the eternal life state of Buddhahood inherent within all people and teaches that anyone can reveal this lofty inner potential. And it calls on practitioners to carry on the struggle to lead people to enlightenment in the evil age after Shakyamuni’s death. In this excerpt, President Ikeda discusses the profound meaning contained in the sutra.

“The scripture of the lotus flower of the Law”—the Lotus Sutra is the monarch of all scriptures. As a monarch, it does not reject any other teaching, but acts to enable every other teaching to be fully effective.

Nichiren Daishonin writes:

“Ultimately, all phenomena are contained within one’s life, down to the last particle of dust. The nine mountains and the eight seas are encompassed in one’s body, and the sun, moon, and myriad stars are found in one’s life. We, however, are like a blind person who is incapable of seeing the images reflected in a mirror, or like an infant who has no fear of water or fire. The teachings such as those of the non-Buddhist writings and those of the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana Buddhist scriptures all partially explain the phenomena inherent in one’s life. They do not explain them as the Lotus Sutra does.” (WND-1, 629)

Teachings apart from the Lotus Sutra offer only partial explanations of the Law of life. Though partially true, they do not have the capacity on their own to revitalize all aspects of life. They are more likely, in fact, to produce distortions. The Lotus Sutra, however, is the single essential Law that unifies all these partial teachings, places them in the proper perspective, and enables them to function effectively.

This is the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra. The “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra likens the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra to “a skilled physician who is wise and understanding” (LSOC16, 268). Like a skilled physician, the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra has the power to cure those who are suffering.

The Lotus Sutra seeks to convey in an easily accessible way the truth that each of us has been a Buddha since the eternal past and will be so into the eternal future. And it was Nichiren Daishonin, the votary of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law, who made it possible for all people to actually experience this in their lives.

The Lotus Sutra teaches of a hidden treasure residing within us, as vast as the universe itself, that vanquishes all feelings of helplessness. It teaches us how to live vibrantly and vigorously, in rhythm with the infinite life of the universe. It teaches the true, great adventure of self-transformation.

The Lotus Sutra has a vastness that can enfold all people in a state of peace. It has cultural and artistic richness. It enables us to attain a boundless state forever imbued with the noble virtues of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity, and to live with the confidence, wherever we may be, that “This, my land, remains safe and tranquil” (LSOC16, 272).

The Lotus Sutra has the drama of struggles of good over evil. It has a warmth that comforts the weary. It has a vibrant, pulsing courage that banishes all fear. It has joyous songs of living unbounded and at ease throughout past, present, and future. It has soaring freedom.

It has brilliant light, flowers, greenery, music, and scenes like epic works of art or cinema.

It offers brilliant psychology, life lessons, and guidelines for happiness and peace. It presents basic principles for healthy living.

It awakens us to the universal truth that changing our mind-set changes everything. Avoiding both the desolation of individualism and the prison of totalitarianism, it possesses the power for creating a pure land of compassion in which people help and encourage one another.

Both communism and capitalism have reduced people to being a means to an end. But the Lotus Sutra, the monarch of all scriptures, embodies a fundamental humanism in which people are the end, not the means, where people are the protagonists, the monarchs. This message of the Lotus Sutra can be described as a “cosmic humanism”1—a magnificent theme to guide the 21st century.

From The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 1, published in Japanese in March 1996.

FEATURES | COLUMNS | Buddhism in Japan

Statue of a Tengu, a forest spirit, at Yakuō-in on Mt. Takao
(Hachiōji, Tokyo), where Shingon Buddhism and Shintō unite.
Photo by the author

In 1977, Ronald Eyre released the &ldquoJapanese Buddhism&rdquo installment of his documentary series The Long Search, titled Land of the Disappearing Buddha. This film is designed to introduce various forms of Buddhism in Japan to the anglophone audience of the late 1970s. While it succeeds in providing such an introduction, albeit a rather romanticized one, to some degree the title of the film is rather misleading. Eyre&rsquos main point seems to be that it is difficult to find in Japan forms of Buddhism presented in the Pali Canon or practiced today in South and Southeast Asia. The title of his film also seems to echo Zen sayings such as the famous &ldquokill the buddhas and the ancestors&rdquo (Jap: satsubutsu satsuso) (T 1997.47.792a09) and &ldquowhen you see a buddha, kill that buddha when you see an ancestor, kill that ancestor&rdquo (Jap: kenbutsu satsubutsu kenzo satsuso) (T 1999.47.979b23, T 2000.47.1041b25-26). However, and this is important to note, &ldquoBuddha&rdquo is not absent in Japan on the contrary, descriptions and images of&mdashas well as devotion to&mdasha multiplicity of buddhas (including the Buddha himself) can be easily found. In this essay, I will introduce some images of, and forms of, devotion to various buddhas in Japan.

One of the tropes circulated about Buddhism in Japan is its division into many different schools. This &ldquosectarian nature&rdquo of Japanese Buddhism is sometimes juxtaposed with the seeming unity or uniformity of, especially, Korean and Chinese Buddhism. And it is true that in Japan one finds a variety of institutionalized Buddhist schools. However, this rhetoric overlooks that Buddhism everywhere is diverse, manifesting itself in a variety of movements, traditions, schools, lineages, practices, and forms of devotion. At the same time, despite the sectarian rhetoric in Japan, there are quite a few features (such as the nationwide danka, parish, system which assigns Buddhists to an ancestral temple) and practices common to the various schools of Buddhism in Japan.

The Heart Sūtra (Skt: Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya-sūtra, Jap: Shingyō) plays a significant liturgical and emotional role in most forms of Buddhism in Japan. In addition, sūtras and iconography, but also practices and beliefs are shared and not limited to specific schools or traditions. For example, the Shikoku pilgrimage (Jap: Shikoku hachijū hakkasho reijō)* in honor of Kūkai (commonly known by his posthumous name Kōbō Daishi), ostensibly a practice sanctioned and institutionalized by Shingon Buddhism, entails temples affiliated with Tendai Buddhism, Rinzai Zen, and Sōtō Zen as well. It is also not uncommon that a practitioner, whose family is affiliated with the temple of one school, has chosen a practice from, and is associated with, a temple of another. In addition, some temples offer practices that are seemingly at odds with the main doctrine of the school with which they are affiliated.** In the remaining sections, I will present a variety of religious systems central to Japanese Buddhism and identify the schools with which they are traditionally (but not exclusively) associated.

The overwhelming majority of the Buddhist schools in Japan belong to Mahāyāna (and/or Vajrayāna) Buddhism and privilege Mahāyāna Buddhist scriptures, imagery, philosophy, and soteriology. The schools inherit and disclose the wide variety in scriptures, practices, and forms of devotion that can be found in Mahāyāna Buddhism in general. One admittedly imperfect strategy to categorize the various religious systems found in the Buddhist schools in Japan is to differentiate them by practice as devotional (Nichiren, Pure Land, and True Pure Land), esoteric (Tendai and Shingon), and contemplative (Rinzai, Sōtō, and Ōbaku Zen) forms of Buddhism. However, before I continue, I need to add a disclaimer: most forms of Buddhism in Japan practice some sort of devotion as well as contemplation, and the esoteric school of Tendai Buddhism claims to promote all traditional Buddhist practices conceivable. Ultimately the identifying mark used to categorize the various religious systems is to be found in the rhetoric of the respective schools rather than their concrete practice.

The altar of Kaikō-ji (Sakata, Yamagata) featuring the cosmic Mahāvairocana. According to the priestess of Kaikō-ji, the other form is Amaterasu. Photo by the author

Nichiren Buddhism presents itself as a single-Buddha (Shakyamuni), single-scripture (Lotus Sūtra), and single-practice (daimoku) form of Buddhism. It is believed that the recitation of the name of the Lotus Sūtra, &ldquonamu myōhō rengekyō,&rdquo allows the practitioner to attain &ldquosupreme perfected enlightenment&rdquo (Skt: anuttarā samyak saṃbodhi) and &ldquoopens the practitioner to the experience of mystic identification with ultimate reality&rdquo (Habito 2019, 458) during which the Lotus realm is embodied.

The various forms of Pure Land Buddhism emphasize devotion to Amida Buddha and the practice of chanting his name called nenbutsu. Pure Land thought is based on the so-called three Pure Land sūtras, the Immeasurable Life Sūtra (Chin: Wulianhshou jing), the Amida Sūtra (Chin: Amituo jing), and the Pure Land Sūtra (Chn: Jingtu lun). Trust in Amida expressed by the recitation of his name, &ldquonamu amida butsu&rdquo will result in &ldquobirth&rdquo (Jap: ōjō) in the Pure Land and, according to the later Shinran (1173&ndash1263), the founder of True Pure Land Buddhism (Jap.: shinshū), ultimately, a &ldquoreturn&rdquo (Jap: kansō) to saṃsāra in a function not unlike that of a bodhisattva.

The three Zen schools ostensibly claim to be no-scripture schools&mdashone of the Zen maxims promulgated ironically in the Zen canon is &ldquodo not rely on scriptures and words&rdquo (Jap: furitsu monji) (T 2005.48.293c15)&mdashand to interpret the figure and trope of the &ldquoBuddha&rdquo as a symbol for the &ldquobuddha-nature&rdquo (Skt: tathāgatagarbha, Jap: busshō) that is in all of us and that has to be recognized in kōan meditation (in Rinzai), actualized in &ldquositting meditation&rdquo (Jap: zazen) (in Sōtō), or evoked in &ldquonenbutsu meditation&rdquo (Jap: nenbutsu zen) (in Ōbaku), respectively.

Tendai Buddhism, which privileges Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sūtra, but has an appreciation for the Mahāyāna canon at large and encourages the veneration of a plethora of buddhas and bodhisattvas, maintains that we can attain buddhahood in this or a succeeding life through rigorous training that includes all of the above-mentioned Buddhist, as well as select Shintō, practices such as the &ldquowaterfall practice&rdquo (Jap: misogi). Finally, Shingon Buddhists believe that the practice of the &ldquothree mysteries&rdquo (Jap: sanmitsu) that purify body, speech, and mind through mudra, mantra, and mandala practices enables the practitioner to &ldquobecome a buddha in this present body&rdquo (Jap: sokushin jōbutsu) and to embody the &ldquoSun Buddha&rdquo (Skt: Mahāvairocana) and/or one of his many manifestations.*

Shōfukuji in Nagasaki is one of the few Ōbaku Zen temples in Japan. Photo by the author

While this extremely short discussion of doctrinal Buddhist beliefs and practices in Japan may seem unsatisfactory in some sense, it does bring to the fore one of the central maxims of Mahāyāna Buddhism, namely that &ldquoone-is-also-all&rdquo (Jap: issokuta). To me, these practices exemplify the teaching that provides the key to Buddhism as well as to religious practice: Buddha&rsquos teaching (Skt: Dharma) is expressed in multiple ways: there are many roads to the spiritual core of what it means to be human Buddha can be found even in the most unexpected places.

Habito, Ruben. 2019. &ldquoLotus Land in This Very Body: The Religious Philosophy of Nichiren,&rdquo in Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy, ed. Gereon Kopf, pp. 451-470. Dordrecht: Springer.

Takakusu, Junjirō and Kaigyoku Watanabe, eds. 1961. Taishō Taizōkyō (The Taishō Edition of the Buddhist Canon). Tokyo: TaishōShinshū Daizōkyō Kankōkai. [Abbr. T].


War has been an integral part of Buddhist states from day one.

Unfortunately, Buddhist views of war have become deeply misunderstood by the modern West. In the West today there is a view of Buddhism that is the product of commercial marketing of Buddhism rather than a historical reality. A key factor in this is the Dalai Lama. We're not judging whether he is a good or bad man. We're saying that the kind of pacifism that he is advocating is the view of the Dalai Lama, not the history of Buddhism or even Buddhism in Tibet.

Now to understand the history of Buddhism, you need to look at the history of Buddhism. The first major ruler to adopt Buddhism was Emperor Ashoka in ancient India. Now most historians know very little about the leaders of ancient India. There is a lack of historical evidence. We know a lot about their ideas, but we don't know about them. The myth in the West is that Ashoka had a policy of pacifism, but this is rubbish. As we have pointed out in our Totalitarianism in Ancient India page, India's first Empire was a ruthless totalitarian state. Now Ashoka expanded that empire to its largest extent. We're told that after it reached a certain size that he adopted pacifistic policies. But this is not true. As the leader of a large and sophisticated empire in the ancient world, could he really afford to adopt 1960's flower power? No, he could not. In order to keep his empire in place, he needed to keep the system of ruthless control intact. Furthermore, there is evidence that Ashoka was intolerant of other religions and even called for the mass murder of the Jains for the crime of "disrespecting the Buddha." 18,000 Followers of Jainism were put to death under Ashoka's rule [1].

Now the next major Buddhist state was the Bactrian Greek Empire which conquered a good part of the older ancient Indian Empire. This again was a military state, not a bunch of pacifists. The next Buddhist state after that was the Kushan Empire. Again, another warrior state.

In the first millennium, Buddhism expanded into China and became a major part of Chinese ideology. Then it spread into Tibet. When the Mongols decided to choose a religion, they chose a variant of Tibetan Buddhism, which is why Tibetan Buddhism is in Mongolia today as well as Tibet. Now we know that no one, with a straight face, would suggest that Kublai Khan was some sort of pacifist.

Then you also have a long history of warrior monks in China. You also have the philosophy of Chán, which later became the philosophy of Zen in Japan, which led to the development of the Samurai culture, which later became influential in World War II. The Japanese imperialists in World War II had a deep interest in Zen Buddhism. So all this shows that historically, Buddhism has not been explicitly a religion of pacifism, as many Westerners would like to believe.


Now in talking about Buddhism, we will first say that it is difficult to definitively say what exactly Buddhism is and what it is not, because there are different versions and sects of Buddhism. The three major sects are Theravada (prominent in South Asia), Mahayana (prominent in East Asia), and Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism in general encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs, and spiritual practices based on the teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, with Nirvana as the goal of the Buddhist path. While Nirvana is a goal in many religious traditions (such as Hinduism and Jainism), in Buddhism Nirvana is described as the extinguishing of the fires that cause suffering. These fires are characterized as attachment, aversion and ignorance. The cessation of suffering, which is accomplished by letting go of desires and attachments, is described as the completion of peace.

Therefore, since the end of suffering is one of the main goals of Buddhism, many could say that Buddhism is "incapable of violence." In Buddhism, as well as other Eastern religions, there is a principle of non-violence called ahimsa, which literally means "not to strike." And yet, it seems that the Buddha's teachings on non-violence were not interpreted to put into practice an "uncompromising pacifism" or anti-military stance. Many of the early Buddhist texts assumed that war would be a fact of life, and well skilled warriors are viewed as necessary in defensive warfare.[2] In Pali texts (a collection of Theravada scripture) injunctions to abstain from violence are aimed at the Sangha (which is the monastic community), not the whole community. And while the Pali texts portray the ideal king as peaceful, this king is flanked by an army nevertheless. In various Buddhist commentaries and traditions, defensive war - or violence to prevent violence - has been promoted as a Buddhist principle. One example is the story of the compassionate ship captain in the Mark Tatz’ Skill in Means Sutra. In this story, a compassionate captain kills a criminal who is about to kill 500 people on a boat. Even though the captain will suffer negative karma for the sin of murder, his action is hailed as virtuous, because he prevented the deaths of 500 by killing one. [3]. So in some readings and interpretations of Buddhist scripture, there is a concept of just, or compassionate killing.

Are we saying that all Buddhism is violent and that there are no peaceful teachings to be found? No. But we're saying that a lot of Buddhist history has been misinterpreted as"flower power" by the West. There is an idea that there were absolutely no Buddhist wars to be heard of, or that the Buddhist principles were never used by any culture to justify violence. But this is simply not true.

The reality of Buddhist history is much more nuanced, and much more violent, than many Westerners would like to believe. So below we present a view of Buddhist history that is often omitted from Western classrooms and text-books.



The tradition of the warrior Buddhist monk in China is hundreds of years old. The most well known Buddhist warrior monks are the Shaolin monks.

The history of Shaolin monks began about 1500 years ago. The Shaolin Monastery is one of the most famous temples in China today, renown for its kung fu fighting monks. With amazing feats of strength, flexibility and pain-endurance, the Shaolin monks have created a world-wide reputation as Buddhist warriors. There are also plenty of examples throughout history where the Shaolin monks acted as a para-military force for different causes. For instance, in 618, the Shaolin monks fought on the side of a rebel official from the Sui Court, Li Shimin, who became the second Tang Emperor. In the mid-sixteenth century, they were called upon to fight Japanese pirates. Their order survived various pitfalls and setbacks - including China's "Cultural Revolution" starting in 1966, where monks were flogged through the streets, jailed, and their temples sacked. However, they survived this rocky period, and now the Shaolin monks are among the best known fighting monks on Earth. They put on martial arts displays at world capitals, and thousands of films have been made about their exploits. In fact, the 1982 film Shaolin Shi or "Shaolin Temple," was Jet Li's (Li Lianjie) debut film. The movie was based very loosely on the story of the monks' aid to Li Shimin, and became a huge smash hit in China. (Asian History)


At its height in 1300, the Mongol Empire had conquered land stretching from Korea to Hungary. Historians regard Mongol raids and invasions as some of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Their empire established itself through a series of brutal conquests and invasions throughout Western Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Large areas were entirely depopulated. Almost all towns that resisted the Mongols were subject to complete destruction. The Mongol invasions induced population displacement on a scale previously unseen in history. In fact, so many people were killed that carbon levels plummeted and huge swaths of cultivated land returned to forest.

The success of Mongol tactics hinged on terror. They wanted their subjects to think that their army was larger than it actually was, so part of the way they accomplished this feat was via mass killing. Other famous terror tactics of the Mongols include that of a later Mongolian chieftain, Tamerlane. He built a pyramid of 90,000 human heads in front of the walls of Delhi, in order to convince the town to surrender during his Indian Campaign. Then another tactic of terror favored by the Mongols was to catapult severed human heads over city walls to frighten the inhabitants and spread disease in the city's confines. In fact, many Historians attribute the spread of the Bubonic plague through Asia and Europe to the Mongol conquests.

Now considering the violence we have just described above, many Westerners would be completely shocked to discover that Tibetan Buddhism was a religious practice highly supported by the Mongols. Especially during and after the rule of Khubilai Khan. Now we're not saying that all Mongols were Tibetan Buddhists. A variety of religions flourished under the Mongolian Empire - including Islam and Christianity. The Mongols also had their own ethnic, shamanic traditions.

However, it would be a mistake to ignore the influence that Tibetan Buddhism had on the Mongols. (Tibetan Buddhism, The Mongolian Religion).


The Mongols were tolerant of many religions, and were particularly captivated by Buddhism - specifically Tibetan Buddhism. They recruited a number of Tibetan monks to help them rule China and promote the interests of Buddhism. The most important of these monks was a man named 'Phags-pa.' He was so successful that he became one of Khubilai Khan's closest advisers (Khubilai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan, and in addition to being a Mongolian ruler, he was an Emperor of China). Khubilai Khan and Phags-pa met around 1254, and Khubilai was very impressed with the young monk. Within a short time, Khubilai became 'Phags-pa's patron and 'Phags-pa became Khubilai's religious confidante. Khubilai even offered Phags-pa the title of State Preceptor in 1260 and Imperial Preceptor in 1270.

The Tibetan Buddhists had so much support from the Mongols, that Khubilai Khan even assisted them in their battle against the Daoists. Daoism was embroiled in a struggle with Buddhism at the time, that flared into a pitched battle with the actual monks of the two religions fighting one another. Khubilai Khan imposed severe limitations on the Daoists. He converted a considerable number of Daoist monasteries into Buddhist monasteries, some Daoist monks were defrocked, and some of the wealth and property of the Daoists was taken over by the Mongol state.

So why were the Tibetan Buddhists supported by the Mongols? Some historians say that the Tibetan faith was successful among the Mongols because of the similarities between their cultures. They had a mutual distance - geographically and culturally from the Chinese, both Mongolia and Tibet are high plateaus of Inner Asia, and their open steppes and cold, arid climate made both their people well-suited to nomadism. And some historians even say that it was easier for Mongols to mingle and associate with the semi-nomadic Tibetans, rather than the purely agricultural Chinese.

Centuries after the death of Khubilai Khan, Tibetan Buddhism gained further influence among the Mongols when Altan Khan, the king of the Tümed Mongols, first invited Sonam Gyatso, the head of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism to Mongolia in 1569. Gyatso did not accept the invitation the first time, but then accepted when he was invited again in 1578. Gyatso met with King Altan Khan at the site of Altan Khan's new capital, Koko Khotan (Hohhot), and Sonam Gyatso gave teachings to a huge crowd there. Then Sonam Gyatso publicly announced that he was a reincarnation of the monk Phags-pa who converted Khubila Khan, while Altan Khan was a reincarnation of Khubila Khan, and that they had come together again (in a new time period and incarnation) to cooperate in propagating the Buddhist religion. This claim was used by Altan Khan to legitimize the power of Mongolian nobility.

So if this is confusing, let us explain. Sonam Gyatso declared himself Dalai Lama, and then retroactively made his predecessors into the first and second Dalai Lamas, while declaring himself the third Dalai Lama. Sonam Gyatso then used his new title to seize monasteries that did not belong to his sect and destroy Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim of divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle, filled with many mistresses, parties, and other activities that did not seem fit for an incarnated deity.

Then the next Dalai Lama after him (the 5th one) began construction on the Potala Palace in 1645, a magnificent structure with 1,000 rooms and 14 stories. Here the Dalai Lamas lived in the veritable lap of luxury until 1959, when the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan Uprising.


For hundreds of years, competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in violent clashes. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in the Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” [4]

In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” [5] An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. [6] (Friendly Feudalism: The Tibetan Myth)

So rather than being a picture of Shangri la, Tibetan history is not far different from that of the rivaling clashes among feudal lords in Europe. Much of the ideas of Tibetan pacifism derive from the current Dalai Lama. Yet even he was involved in war. Here he is with his CIA backed soldiers.


Just as Tibetan Buddhism was influential to Tibetan and Mongol warriors, Zen Buddhism would also play a role in developing ideas of the Samurai warrior in Japan.

Japanese religion historically has been characterized by a mixture of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. Shinto is an ethnic religion of the Japanese people. Buddhism was spread to Japan primarily through Korean and Chinese cultural influence. In the sixth century, the Korean king of Packche, anxious to establish relations with Japan, sent gifts and images of Buddha and copies of Buddhist texts, and from the sixth century onward, many Japanese people practiced both Shinto and Buddhism. Unlike in the West, many Asian religions are not exclusive, so they can be practiced simultaneously.


Zen Buddhism would later come to Japan in the 12th century. It is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, a school originally known as "Chán." It was strongly influenced by Taoism and developed as a distinguished Chinese style of Buddhism. Then from China it spread to Vietnam, Korea, and then to Japan - where it became known as "Zen Buddhism." Zen Buddhism (as well as Shinto practices) would later influence Bushido, the code of the Samurai warrior during the Feudal Period of Japanese history. Bushido, "the way of the warrior," was a stringent moral code.

In Bushido (1899), Nitobe wrote: "SOURCES OF BUSHIDO, of which I may begin with Buddhism. It furnished a sense of calm trust in Fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, that stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, that disdain of life and friendliness with death. A foremost teacher of swordsmanship, when he saw his pupil master the utmost of his art, told him, 'Beyond this my instruction must give way to Zen teaching.'" (Gutenberg)

The sword, as a Buddhist symbol for cutting through delusion, became an object of veneration in Bushido. Of the sword, Nitobe wrote, "BUSHIDO made the sword its emblem of power and prowess. When Mahomet proclaimed that 'the sword is the key of Heaven and of Hell," he only echoed a Japanese sentiment.'" (Sacred-Texts)

While the Zen Buddhist part of the teaching focused on cultivating a stillness of mind in the chaos of battle, the Shinto part emphasized a loyalty to sovereignty and filial piety. "What Buddhism failed to give, Shintoism offered in abundance. Such loyalty to the sovereign, such reverence for ancestral memory, and such filial piety as are not taught by any other creed, were inculcated by the Shinto doctrines." (Gutenberg)


Around 1645, A Book of Five Rings was written by Miyamoto Mushashi. The five books refer to the idea that there are different elements in battle, just as there are different physical elements in life, as described by Buddhism, Shinto and Eastern religions. The idea of the four or five elements is popularized today in the Western study of Eastern religions. Yet what many Westerners may not know is that the fifth element is "void." The book of void is probably the most Zen influenced of the books. There is an emphasis on how one's consciousness and mind-set effect their skill in battle, and how clearing the mind - or making the mind empty - can help increase one's focus and clarity in the battle field.

While the age of the samurai warrior ended during the Meji period of modernization in Japan (1868-1912), many of these ideas would carry on into World War II to define ideas of nationalism and "just killing."



When many Westerners look at Japan during World War II, they think that this era was an aberration of Japanese history, and that ideas of Zen Buddhism historically promoted peace in the region. But the promotion of violence and national pride in World War II era Japan represent long term trends in Japan, the extension of Bushido and the warrior ethic of the samurai. In the same way that some Zen Buddhist ideas were used to develop a warrior code in Feudal Era Japan, these ideas were referenced once again by Japanese intellectuals and leaders to support the war effort in the 1930's and 40's.

What is interesting is that Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, one of the chief intellectuals involved in bringing Buddhism to the west, was a fervent supporter of the war. It was only after World War II that he repudiated these ideas.

In the 19th and 20th century, Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki was a notorious Japanese author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen and Shin. His works and teachings were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin (and Far Eastern philosophy in general) to the West. Suzuki was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. Suzuki spent several lengthy stretches teaching and lecturing at Western universities, and devoted many years to a professorship at Otani University, a Japanese Buddhist school.

Suzuki presents a version of Zen that can be described as "detraditionalized and essentialized." This resemblance is not coincidental, since Suzuki was also influenced by Western esotericism,[7] and even joined the Theosophical Society.

In the text, "The Making of Buddhist Modernism," the author McMahan stated. "In his discussion of humanity and nature, Suzuki takes Zen literature out of its social, ritual, and ethical contexts and reframes it in terms of a language of metaphysics derived from German Romantic idealism, English Romanticism, and American Transcendentalism [8]."

Another author marked Suzuki's approach as "incomprehensible":

. D. T. Suzuki, whose most cherished methodology seems to have been to describe some aspect of Zen as beyond ordinary explanation, then offer a suitably incomprehensible story or two by way of illustration. Obviously, Suzuki's approach captured the imaginations of generations of readers. However, while this approach substantiated Suzuki's authority as one with insider access to the profound truths of the tradition, another result was to increase the confusion in reader's minds. To question such accounts was to admit one did not "get it", to distance oneself even further from the goal of achieving what Suzuki termed the "Zen enlightenment experience" [9].


Suzuki has been criticized for defending the Japanese war-efforts and nationalistic ideals.

In 1896 as the war with China began, Suzuki wrote, "religion should, first of all, seek to preserve the existence of the state."(Kyoto Journal). Suzuki used poetic language in praise of Japanese soldiers. "Our soldiers regard their own lives as being as light as goose feathers while their devotion to duty is as heavy as Mount Taishan (in China). Should they fall on the battlefields, they have no regrets." (The Asia-Pacific Journal). This metaphor of "goose feathers" would become a major point of military indoctrination. Recruits and the young kamikaze ("divine wind") pilots were taught that their individual lives were meaningless and had no weight. Only total devotion to the emperor would give their existence meaning. Suzuki also popularized the bushido concept of the "sword that gives life" that was used over and over again to rationalize killing [10].

Years later, this concept was also referenced by Japan's ambassador Kurusu Saburo at the signing of the Tripartite Pact in 1941, which brought the three Axis Powers together. Ambassador Saburo declared that "the pillar of Japan is to be found in Bushido," and referenced the sword that gives life [11].

Japan’s major war began in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria. From the mid-1930's, Zen academics and abbots embarked on an intellectual campaign to justify the war. They taught that "compassionate war" was a Bodhisattva practice and was of great benefit to Japan’s enemies. In 1937, two Soto Zen scholars claimed that Japan was motivated by the highest ideals of Buddhism: "there is no choice but to wage compassionate wars which give life to both oneself and one's enemy. Through a compassionate war, warring nations are able to improve themselves and war is able to exterminate itself " [12] During this period, millions of Chinese were dying and cities were being decimated.

In 1937, D. T. Suzuki was finishing Zen and Japanese Culture, in which he wrote that Zen "treats life and death indifferently" and "is a religion that teaches us not to look backward once the course is decided." [13]. He wrote that Zen "has no special doctrine or philosophy. It is therefore extremely flexible in adapting itself to almost any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with." Zen can be "wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy. or any political or economic dogmatism." [14].


The writer Brian Victoria delivered lectures in Germany in 2012 in which he revealed evidence of Suzuki's sympathy for the Nazi regime. "D.T. Suzuki left a record of his early view of the Nazi movement that was included in a series of articles published in the Japanese Buddhist newspaper, Chūgai Nippō, on October 3, 4, 6, 11, and 13, 1936."[15]

In this Suzuki expresses his agreement with Hitler's policies as explained to him by a relative living in Germany. "While they don't know much about politics, they have never enjoyed greater peace of mind than they have now. For this alone, they want to cheer Hitler on. This is what my relative told me. It is quite understandable, and I am in agreement with him." He also expresses agreement with Hitler's expulsion of the Jews from Germany. "Changing the topic to Hitler's expulsion of the Jews, it appears that in this, too, there are a lot of reasons for his actions. While it is a very cruel policy, when looked at from the point of view of the current and future happiness of the entire German people, it may be that, for a time, some sort of extreme action is necessary in order to preserve the nation."

Yet even after making these statements, Suzuki did express sympathy for individual Jews. "As regards individuals, this is truly a regrettable situation." [15]


The Nihonjinron-philosophy emphasizes the uniqueness of the Japanese. Suzuki attributes Japanese uniqueness to Zen. In his view, Zen embodies the ultimate essence of all philosophy and religion. He pictured Zen as a unique expression of Asian spirituality, which was considered to be superior to the western ways of thinking. [16]

Sharf criticizes this uniqueness-theses, as propagated by Suzuki: "The nihonjinron cultural exceptionalism polemic in Suzuki's work—the grotesque caricatures of 'East' versus 'West'—is no doubt the most egregiously inane manifestation of his nationalist leanings. [17]"


Yet in the aftermath of World War II, Suzuki completely changed his tune, and in 1963, he was even nominated for as Nobel Peace Prize.


So far, we have discussed aspects of Buddhist violence in the past, as well as some support for violence and war among Japanese Buddhists in World War II. However, is Buddhism all peace today - as many Westerners would agree? In the book Buddhist Warfare, authors Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer would disagree.

In an article on religion-dispatches, Michael Jerryson discusses his encounters with Buddhist soldiers in Thailand.

In January 2004, violent attacks broke out in the southern provinces of Thailand, some of which were directed at Buddhist monks. These attacks renewed fears of Islamic separatism in the region. This southern region once known as the "The Islamic Sultanate of Patani" was annexed by Buddhist Thailand in 1902 as a buffer against British Malaya. Over the centuries, Malay Muslims have struggled to regain their political autonomy from Thailand. Whenever the central government was weak, southern Thai resistance flared. Since January 2004, the region has been under martial law. Violence is pervasive in the region people live in constant fear. And now while Thailand is over 90 percent Buddhist, the three southernmost provinces are more than 85 percent Malay Muslim.

In the 1960's groups such as the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) engaged in armed resistance and then attempted to negotiate with the Thai government. These organizations opposed policies requiring Muslims to bow to Buddhist statues, take Thai surnames, and abandon their Malay heritage and language of Bahasa Melayu. The Malay Muslim organizations called for changes to these regional policies and asked for limited autonomy. While the Thai government capitulated to some of their requests, the changes did not last long. Malay Muslim ambassadors who sought to negotiate with the Thai government, such as the religious leader and scholar Hajji Sulong, went missing and were later found dead. It is through these experiences that the Malay Muslim community developed a deep distrust of the Thai government and its promise of negotiations. This perspective is shared by Thailand’s southern neighboring country Malaysia, which had tried to broker peace negotiations. (Lionsroar)

In the 2004 attacks, thousands died in sporadic bombing and random shootings. Writer Michael Jerryson states that he went to Thailand in order to see Buddhist peace making in action in response to the violent attacks in 2004. But once he arrived, he says that there wasn't very much peacemaking to be seen. "During my visits between 2006 and 2008, southern Thai monks shared the challenges of living in their fear-infested communities. All but a few concentrated on survival peacemaking was the last thing on their minds." (religion-dispatches)

Since the 2004 attacks, the Thai government has militarized Buddhist temples, authorized clandestine military monks, and enforced brutal counterinsurgent directives and interrogation techniques (oftentimes on Buddhist temple grounds). So far, these actions have only worsened Muslim-Buddhist tensions.

Many other Buddhists in the region believe that military monks are essential to protecting Buddhism in southern Thailand, and that if Muslims drive the Buddhists out of southern Thailand, order and morality will be pushed out as well. (Lionsroar)

Religion in Thailand has also become a proxy for political conflict and corruption. The front runner for Supreme Patriarch (the head of the order of Buddhist monks in Thailand) is a 90-year-old abbot who is under investigation for a tax scam involving luxury cars. His competitor is a firebrand monk known for his part in street protests backed by the royalist military elite who helped usher in Thailand's junta back in 2014. This cleric says the government must honor a pledge to stamp out corruption. Thai Buddhist leaders battle over politics, sex and money scandals.

Buddhist violence against Muslims (and some Christians) is also intensifying in Myanmar.

The ethnic Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim minority in the mostly Buddhist country of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). They have been called the most persecuted people on Earth. They are unable to claim citizenship in Myanmar (where about 1.1m of them live in Rakhine). Things took a turn for the worse in 2012. Tensions were sparked by the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Muslim men, and so about 200 people were killed as Rakhine mobs rampaged through Sittwe and other parts of Rakhine to drive the Rohingyas from their midst. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas were forced into camps, cut off from their livelihoods, and barred from schools and hospitals.

Researchers at the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), a cross-disciplinary academic group, argue that some of this violence was organized. They spoke to Rakhine men who claimed they were bussed into Sittwe to attack Muslims, and were encouraged to bring knives. They were given free food for a day’s work. In the fervently anti-Muslim atmosphere of Myanmar, encouraged by both Buddhist monks and politicians concerned to defend their “race and religion” against the supposed Muslim threat, this is seen as "good politics." Professor Penny Green of the ISCI argues that the ethnic cleansing of 2012 was a stage in what she describes as the “process of genocide”. (The Economist).

Since 2012, the Rohingyas have been forced into squalid refugee camps after the local Buddhists turned on them. Human-rights groups warn that the situation in Rakhine is now so desperate that, in the words of the Simon-Skjodt Centre of America’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, which campaigns to prevent genocide, the Rohingyas are “at grave risk [of] additional mass atrocities and even genocide”. (The Economist). Many of these ethnic minorities have even been forced to do harsh physical labor without pay. Now hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled to southern Bangladesh. And yet despite the violence, most of the Rohingyas have remained fairly peaceful, choosing flight over fight.

In Myanmar, a strong ultranationalist group is helping the country's ruling party to win votes by pushing anti-muslim laws. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) used its parliamentary majority to push through anti-islamic laws with the belief that the Buddhist nationalist group, Ma Ba Tha would help them get votes. Formally known in English as the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, Ma Ba Tha grew out of the “969” movement, also led by monks, which called for a ban on interfaith marriages and a boycott of Muslim businesses. (United Humanists).

Ironically, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese social democratic stateswoman who won a Nobel Prize for being a human rights activist, has turned a blind eye toward the suffering of Muslims in her own country. Aung San Suu Kyi's 'silence' on the Rohingya: Has 'The Lady' lost her voice?