Aug 5, 2020 in Research

Buddhism Practices During Medieval Period in Japan

Buddhism as a form of religious practices and dharma is mainly composed of various traditional beliefs and practices of the spiritual world that are based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha also known as the awakened one. Buddhism, unlike, Shinto was accepted in Japan since it teachings were mostly concerned about what happens after death rather than the life in this world. The original enlightenment thought referred to as hongaku shiso was the dominant intellectual circle in the whole of Japan during the medieval period. The discourse of enlightenment claims that it is neither a goal set to be achieved nor is it a potential to be realized but most specifically it is a true status of everything. Japan entered a new period called the Sengoku after the Onin war and it is also referred to as the country war.

Sengoku was coined during the Tokugawa period, which was the era warring states with the Chinese. During the Muromachi period, there was the inversion of hierarchies’ referred to as gekokuja which was an emancipation of working class and also a form of political anarchy where the lower class were commanding the upper class. The gekokuja movement led to awakening of economic growth of the various regions that were commanded by the warlord .It also contributed to the creation of political and military structures that helped to end anarchism in Japan.


Role of different sects of Buddhism in the inversions of hierarchy throughout the medieval time

In the medieval period, practicing Buddhism was highly motivated by its political and cultural reasons. During the medieval period, the imperial authority in Japan was weak since the Warriors were the ones playing the role of governing the society. The warlords wanted to consolidate the existing clans in Japan by establishing a system that will govern all the regions. Since Buddhism was offering benefits both morally and intellectually, it was thus going to favor how the warlords ruled their different regions. The warlords therefore, built and consolidated principals based on Buddhist that would run their regions to ensure there was stability. Gekokujo it was an expression translating to the lower commanding the upper in the Muromachi period developed as a result of the warlords being unable to stabilize control of the regions. 

Buddhism played an important role during the inversion of hierarchy in the medieval period in Japan. Buddhism in Japan during this period underwent a significant growth and many changes. After the Onin War, major warlords were weakened with except the Hosokawa. At this period society was organized around small villages and towns. By the end of fifteenth century the society in Japan was under the effect of two movements that were contradicting. The establishment of Kamakura shogunate, which mostly emphasized on military rule wanted to bring stability in the region. However, stability did not prevail in the region and there was continued devastating warfare until the Tokugawa period. At this time the deepening and pessimism energies of Buddhism were restored. Another sect of Buddhism was Pure Land Buddhism, its agenda was that self-salvation was impossible. Pure Land Buddhism in Japan played a role in the inversion of hierarchy by teaching people ways that were going to appeal to their ways of life. Religious reformer Honen taught people that if they placed their complete faith in Buddha Amida who had vowed he will save them before they achieved enlightenment. When people expressed their faith in him repeatedly by saying the phrase nembutsu they were going to be reborn in to Amida’s western paradise. Pure Land Buddhism was further emphasized by Shinran who was Honen student claimed repeating the phrase nembutsu was not necessary since salvation also depended on their individual effort. Shinran believed that what was only required is one expression of belief that was absolutely necessary. Therefore, the teachings of True Pure Land Buddhism played a big role in inversion of hierarchy since they were widespread and accepted by most peasants who were involved in the gekokujo.

Another important Buddhist sect during the medieval period in Japan that played a role inversion of hierarchy was the Zen Buddhism. Its teachings were focused on the Chinese Ch’an Buddhism and Eisai and Dogen Japanese priests who trained China. Their faith mostly promoted meditation together with reflection on questions without logical answers as ways to reach enlightenment. Zen encouraged on self-reliance played a role of appealing to many samurai warriors to follow its teachings leading to inversion of hierarchy.

How Buddhism inspired cultural practices motivate and legitimize the groups in lower positions to challenge the superior.

During the medieval period Buddhism cultural practices inspired the people in the lower ranks to the challenge the superior in many ways. The warriors and the aristocrats during the Muromachi period joined hands to support arts which was considered as an activity for the elites. They sponsored the painters, playwrights, poets and other individual people with talent. Therefore, the trade and economy grew enabling the merchants to engage in world of culture thus offering the lowers to challenge the superiors.

All the different forms of art currently in Japan were inspired by the Buddhism cultural practices. The cultural practice of taking tea was inspired by Eisai who was among the founders of Zen Buddhism. The warriors used to hold large tea parties and this challenged the superior greatly. Another Buddhist culture that inspired the low class to challenge the superior was Noh Theater which was attended by the samurai patronage. The performance of traditional Buddhist practices such as court comics and peasant farm songs were presented in the theater. The plays inspired the peasant class since they were able to understand the practices of Buddhism and this enabled them to challenge the superior class. 

How Buddhism promote the cult of honor

Buddhism helped to promote the cult of honor and resolve the lack of cultural capital for warriors by adding samurai elements that involved Taoism and Shinto. This practice was referred to as the Way of the Warrior this enabled them to see that the only truth that was worthy is through true warriors honor. It included virtues such as being honest in all ways, sincerity, frugal and maintaining loyalty. They also considered warfare as being masculine and femininity was being considered to be shameful. 

The warriors considered death while offering service to one’s lord-commander as the greatest honor. The decline of the aristocratic and imperial authority is experienced when the bushi started to rise. The bushi who were warrior leaders used to govern themselves and did not follow the establishments of the courts. They also created their own armed forces referred to as the samurai. At the same moment the control of imperial continued to decline. Due to increased violence the courts were hiring samurai to protect their interest. 

How Pure Land Buddhism inspire ikko ikki as popular movement of autonomy

Ikko ikki who were mostly composed of mobs of peasant farmers, Buddhist monks, priests of Shinto and local nobles were inspired by the Pure Land Buddhism to rise against daimyo rule. The ikko ikki followed the beliefs of True Pure Land in which all the believers were going to be equally saved by the grace of Amida Buddha’s. Ikko-ikki was a popular movement for autonomy as they followed Rennyo who was a highly respected abbot with a lot of influence and persuasion. 

They were composed of a movement of peasants that had a vision of creating a paradise on earth though they did not have any skills concerning the military. The ikko ikki used to recruit warrior monks with superior skills to spread faith that people were going to believe. In addition, they used to rely on the appeal they had with the local communes to spread their word through other lands. Their origin as mobs from countryside they were able to use different kind of armor and armament for their own protection

How commoners appropriate Zen aesthetic practices to achieve cultural superiority over bushi culture

After arriving in Japan the Zen Buddhism were able to develop influence that was strong on the Japanese culture enabling them to be a part of spiritual and aesthetic foundation. The unique Zen philosophy influenced Japanese forms of art such as tea taking ceremony, arranging flowers and martial arts. The different forms of art were then transformed by Zen to discipline spiritual conquest that mostly focused on being calm, encouraging its followers to maintain simplicity and ensure self-growth. Zen Buddhism had a unique aesthetic that referred was as Wabi aestheticism that was mostly used by commoners to achieve cultural superiority over the bushi culture. The Wabi aesthetic used to see beauty in things that were not perfect, permanent and complete. The Wabi aestheticism was also manifested through art in a modest, humble and unpretentious ways.

The Tea ceremony was highly considered as a hallmark of Japanese taste by the Zen Buddhist. The Tea ceremony was inspired by Rikyu who was the most famous tea master he helped to perfect the Wabi aesthetic. The execution of tea master Rikyu’s by Hideyoshi marked a tension between political and cultural centers. The cultural differences and opinions about various uncertain things were the reason behind execution of the tea master by Hideyoshi who ordered him to commit ritual suicide.


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