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by Ryuei Michael McCormick > Historic Buddha > Mahayana > Lotus Sutra > Blog

The Transmission of Buddhism to East Asia and the West

III. Slandering the True Dharma

Angry, the Traveler Frowned Deeply and Asked the Master:

WNSD1: p. 113 - 114, WND: p. 10 - 11


                      The next section begins with the guest who is now flustered by the assertions of the host in the last section. The guest recounts key events that history and legend describe as the introduction of Buddhism into China and Japan. The first reference is to the Chinese Emperor Ming, the second emperor of the Later Han dynasty (25-220 C.E.) who lived from 28-75 C.E. and supposedly dreamed of a golden man floating over his garden. His counselors told him that in the western region (India) a great sage had been born many hundreds of years ago called the Buddha. The emperor sent 18 envoys to India to bring back the Buddha's teachings and in response two monks returned with Buddhist sutras and images on the back of a white horse in the year 67 C.E. In commemoration of this the emperor established the White Horse Temple. Of course, this legend is a romanticized version of the introduction of Buddhism to China in the first century. Buddhist merchants and maybe even monks may have unofficially been traveling into China along the silk route long before then. There may have even been Buddhist enclaves in China already at the time this story supposedly took place. In any case, Buddhism was brought into China very early on and was (at least at first) welcomed by the imperial court itself as well as the intelligentsia.


                      In Japan, things did not proceed so smoothly. It was introduced to the Japanese Emperor Kimmei in 538 C.E. when the ruler of Paekche (one of the three kingdoms on the Korean peninsula which would eventually be united into one country) sent the emperor an image of the Buddha. The emperor gave it to the Soga clan who wished to give this new and potentially potent form of foreign magick a try. The Mononobe clan, however, opposed it and claimed this foreign superstition would anger the kami, the Japanese gods. Of course this religious debate was also wrapped up in the conflicting ambitions of these two rival clans and they eventually went to war. In the end, the Soga won, and the Empress Suiko embraced Buddhism after her brother Emperor Yomei passed away. Her nephew, the son of Yomei, was Prince Shotoku (574-622) and it was he who wrote Japan's first constitution, which specifically states that all should take the threefold refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Prince Shotoku is also credited with writing commentaries on the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, and the Queen Shrimala Sutra. From this time on Buddhism was firmly established as the state religion of Japan along with Shinto.


                      The guest also refers to the lineage of Shariputra who meditated on the moon atop Eagle Peak and the adherents of Haklenayashas. Haklenayashas was the 23rd patriarch of Buddhism in India after Shakyamuni Buddha according to an apocryphal lineage of patriarchs originating in the T'ien-t'ai school and since championed by Zen Buddhism with the addition of several patriarchs and the extension of the system into China with Bodhidharma and his successors. In this context however, the lineage of Shariputra seems to refer to practitioners of meditation while the adherents of Haklenayashas refers to transmission of the teaching.


                      In any case, from the guestÂ’s point of view, Buddhism has been firmly established throughout East Asia, and all people revere it and both its practices and doctrines seem to be alive and well. So he wonders how the host can claim that Buddhism is being neglected and slandered to the point of karmically endangering the country?


                      One might wonder at this point, what the guest or the host would make of the state of Buddhism in the USA today. In this country only a small minority actually practice Buddhism. The vast majority has a passing familiarity with the Dalai Lama or Zen, and a good number of people see it as a pagan superstition at odds with Christianity. Far from being the universally respected state religion of Nichiren's time, Buddhism is very much the province of ethnic minorities (who themselves often leave it behind as they assimilate into the mainstream) and an even smaller group of converts who are unhappy or otherwise dissatisfied with the mainstream religions of this culture. Some even associate Buddhism with the taking of psychedelic drugs or even tantric sex practices that would have been unimaginable to the majority of people in Nichiren's day. On the positive side, forms of Buddhism from all over Asia are meeting in the USA for the first time. In addition, books (even those expounding previously esoteric and/or oral teachings) are easy to get in bookstores or online. In addition, the population is almost universally literate and more or less educated well enough to understand Buddhism on a conceptual level. Until the 20th century Buddhism had never encountered such a literate, well-educated, religiously and ethnically diverse and prosperous culture as the one it has encountered in the USA. So right at this point in the Rissho Ankoku Ron we can see the huge gulf between the assumptions which drive this treatise and the actual conditions of Buddhism in our own day. This must be taken into account as we read further in the Rissho Ankoku Ron and Nichiren's writings in general.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2004.

More Articles by Rev. Ryuei

Life of Nichiren
Life of the Buddha
Overview of Buddhism
History of the Hokke Shu
Pali Canon Commentaries
Mahayana Sutra Commentaries
Six Senior Disciples of Nichiren

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