(JAPAN, BUDDHISM AND SPIRITUAL BATHING – continued)
In the early 800s Japan's emperors became more interested in Buddhism's inner peace and in studying Buddhism than in ruling. And rather than create anything that could be called good government, they began a tradition of ruling as figureheads confined to the duties of religious ritual and various innocuous works. The government continued to be run by the Nakatomi family. Occasionally the head of the royal family would try to reassert his family's power. In the late 800s the emperor Uda, who was not born to a Fujiwara mother, tried. But the Fujiwara remained dominant, ruling as regent or as prime minister while maintaining their monopoly on daily government routines and religious rituals.
The rituals did not bring good government. By the 900s, more wealthy landholders had freed themselves from paying taxes. The government was low on revenues and soon gave up supporting a national army. In the countryside, the hardier aristocratic relatives of those in the capital were consolidating their various lands into single administrative units. Province governors were marrying daughters of local aristocratic landowners and becoming a part of the local power elite. They were not governing in the interest of the people as a whole. They collected taxes and used their authority to put peasants to work on projects that they benefited from. Their hired agents over-estimated the size of peasant lands to justify increased taxation. The governor-aristocrats depended upon violence to suppress peasant outrage. Without a functional central authority the economy was suffering. By the year 1000, money was disappearing. People paid for services with objects. Thieves were free to prey on travelers. Rural aristocrats were recruiting disenchanted peasants, workers and soldiers and maintaining their own armed force to protect themselves against lawlessness. The men making up the armed forces on these independent lands came to be known as samurai (men who serve), or bushi (warriors). And the now militarized aristocracy began to take over in the provinces.
Buddhist monasteries remained among the large landholders, and they were expanding in size as Buddhist temples were expanding in wealth. Buddhist estates had their own armies, the armed monks called acuso. And occasionally they fought against each other, against some other expanding estate, or against the government in Kyoto.
Religious ferment accompanied the wars. Buddhism spread from aristocrats to common people, and among the Buddhists rival schools of thought contended. Many Buddhists were appalled by the violence, including the violence of their fellow Buddhists who had adopted the credo of kill or be killed. Some saw the violence as having gotten so bad that too much evil existed for the possibility of attaining salvation. Some fled to China in search of enlightenment and went to extraordinary efforts at seeking salvation.
From a Buddhist movement in China, Japanese took what they called Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhists held that they were living in a degenerate age, that salvation could be attained in a place called "the Pure Land of the West," where they could live in serenity and work on the karma of their past lives. Pure Land Buddhism taught that in heaven were deities who helped people, and foremost among these deities was the Buddha, who went by the name of Amitabha (infinite light). The Buddha of Infinite Light vowed salvation for all living creatures. It was a salvation that could be achieved merely by faith and by chanting "hail to the Buddha Amida.” Pure Land Buddhism was open to all, women and men, and eventually it would become Japan's largest Buddhist sect.
Another form of Buddhism from China, called Chuan, developed in Japan and was called Zen. Like Pure Land Buddhism, Chuan demanded no intellectual effort. Chuan Buddhists saw reality as nothing more than the immediate present. For them there was neither past nor future – an ignoring of causation. Chuan supported themselves by menial labor and sought salvation and enlightenment through the immediacy of mystical inspiration. In Japan, Zen Buddhists rejected the ritualism and scholasticism that had been adopted by mainstream Buddhism. Zen followers sought enlightenment (satori) through spiritual and physical discipline. This included meditation and a study of insoluble problems as a way of cleansing one of a desire for theological intellectuality. Zen encouraged focus on nothingness to allow "inner truth" to surface. The hand cannot grasp itself argued Zen masters – against that human quality of self-awareness and realization.
Zen encouraged living without anxiety and with self-reliance. It focused on the individual and saw nothing of value in institutions or philanthropy. It emphasized strong character and action, however meaningless the world. Zen mixed with samurai values in a way that became alien to Chuan Buddhism. Zen appealed to the rough and uneducated samurai. Its emphasis on focusing the mind and physical discipline was similar to the discipline used in the martial arts. The Zen warrior viewed life as an illusion. Killing, they told themselves, was no worse than other activities, and dying was nothing. Samurai warriors in combat did not escape from the horror of slaughter, but after this horror they found in Zen what they believed was a cleansing of the mind.
The samurai added elements of Taoism and Shinto to their Buddhism and called it the "Way of the Warrior" – Bushido – seeing the only worthy truth as a true warrior's honor. This honor included being honest, sincere, frugal, stoic and loyal to one's landlord-commander. Femininity was shameful and women counted for little. Love for a woman was inferior to the pure love one was supposed to have for one's comrade-in-arms. The greatest honor was to seek death in the service of one's landlord-commander.
Not all samurai lived up to the Bushido ideal. The samurai remained as human as others, pursuing their personal interests, indulging their egos and paranoia, and when it served their personal interest, some samurai abandoned their landlord-commander.
The world of change, however illusory, continued, without favor necessarily for the samurai. By 1230, the men around the shogun had adopted Confucian principles and believed that it suited their position to be familiar with the Chinese classics. In keeping with Confucianism, they believed that good government was something other than just rule by the sword. They were interested in law and order, and a part of the new law and order was taming unruly warriors. Penalties were imposed on those who were abusive or started fights. Samurai who started fights could lose their estates.
Towns, meanwhile, had been rising in Japan, as they had in Europe. But the independence of towns ended as the powerful lords or monasteries moved in to claim jurisdiction and the right to tax. The towns accepted their power and in return received armed protection against trouble from neighboring communities.
Moving from town to town were itinerant blacksmiths, pot makers, sellers of oil, mats, sake and other goods. There were also itinerant dancers and musicians, people who lived by entertaining. Among the dancers and musicians some had a secondary form of entertaining. Along major roads one might find a public bath, first built in the 1200s by monks in association with monasteries and spirituality. Bathing was associated with purification, and anyone could bathe there: commoners, warriors or nobles, men, women or children. The baths were considered places of peace and asylum.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.