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Nara Buddhism

Nara Buddhism. The place and period (709–84) in which Buddhism was enduringly introduced into Japan. The prince-regent Shōtoku Taishi (574–622) became a devout follower of Buddhism, accepting Korean emissaries and sending to China for further support and instruction. In 604 he promulgated the ‘Seventeen Article Constitution’ which included (Art. 2) the instruction to reverence the Three Jewels. Most of the emperors and empresses in the 8th cent. were Buddhist, and the court patronage led to a profusion of sects and building, especially in the capital, Nara, founded by the emperor Shōmu (701–56) in 710. The proliferation of sects was such that an alternative title for the period is that of ‘The Six Sects’ (Nanto Rokushu), of which the most important and enduring were Sanron, Hossō, and Kegon, the others being Ritsu, Kusha, and Jojitsu, all Hīnayāna-based. The Buddhism which flourished as a state religion was concerned with the ‘nation-protecting’ qualities of sūtras, bodhisattvas, and other guardians. The emperor Shōmu gave particular impetus to the building of many temples, particularly in Nara. He founded Temples of Golden Light and of the Four Devas in all the provinces, and he planned and built the daibutsu (large image of Birushan/Vairocana) in Tōdai-ji, so that the power of Birushan would emanate to the local temples from the centre. The Great Buddha Hall, said to be the largest wooden structure in the world, was restored in 1980. Other important temple complexes are Jōruri-ji (Shingon Ritsu), founded 1047, with Amida images from the Heian period; Kōfuku-ji, founded c.670 (Hossō); Shinyakushi-ji (Shingon Ritsu), founded 745; Tōshōdai-ji (Ritsu), founded 759, notable for the Fan Festival (Uchiwamaki), held on 16 May; Yakushi-ji (Hossō), founded in 680, notable for the portrait on hemp of Kichijoten, on view once a year from the end of Oct. to the beginning of Nov. Hōryū-ji, founded by Shōtoku Taishi in 607, is the oldest temple complex surviving and is 12 km from Nara.

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