Nara Buddhism

Doctrines The six schools of Nara Buddhism , introduced into Japan during the seventh and eighth centuries CE were Hosso (= Mind-Only, Yogacara); Sanron (= Three Treatises, Madhyamika) , Kegon (Flower-Garland, Avatamsaka); Ritsu (= Rules of Discipline, Vinaya); Jojitsu (= Establishment of truth, Satyasiddhi); and Kusha (study of the Abhidharma-kosha texts). The Nara schools have been well described a 'islands of Buddhism' in early Japan. They were simply extensions into Japan of well-established Korean or Chinese Buddhist institutions and their text-based philosophical doctrines were derived directly from Chinese or Korean parent denominations. For example, the Sanron school was led in Nara by a Korean monk and took as its basic scriptures the same three Madhyamaka texts (Middle Treatise, Hundred Treatise, Twelve-Topic Treatise) as the 'Three Treatises' school in China and Korea of which it formed a part. (For more details of the various schools, see INDIAN BUDDHISM or CHINESE BUDDHISM.) Descendants of the Ritsu, Hosso and Kegon sects survive today (see Headquarters below).

History 'Nara Buddhism' broadly refers to the six schools of Buddhism officially sponsored while the capital was at Nara (710-794). Three of these schools have survived, though they had little influence in Japan in later centuries compared with far more popular and powerful denominations such as Shingon, Tendai, Pure Land, Nichiren or Zen. Many of the monks and nuns connected with the early Nara schools of Buddhism were Korean or Chinese. The city of Nara grew around the imperial palace, major shrines connected with the ancestors of the ruling families and Buddhist temples connected with the Nara schools. These early Buddhist monastic institutions were supported by the ruling Yamato clan in return for prayers and rituals for the protection of the state, in conformity with the Chinese idea of the Buddha as guardian of the empire. Nara still contains a number of ancient buildings dating from this period. The oldest is the Horyuji, whose adherents seceded from the main Hosso sect in 1950 to form the Shotoku Shu. Their name derives from the revered Prince Shotoku, 574-621 or 622, who founded the Horyuji in 607CE.

Symbols Nara Buddhism is symbolised by the rich assortment of classical temple buildings sponsored by the court, and by an exceptional legacy of Buddhist temple painting and sculpture, some of it deriving from the 'silk road' trade route with China. Most of the rare items are now preserved in national museums in Nara and Kyoto. Chief amongst the buildings which survive, though in a reconstructed form two-thirds the size of the original, is the Todaiji, the 'Great Eastern Temple' which is still the largest wooden building in the world. Inside it is the 'Nara Daibutsu', the 'Great Buddha of Nara', a huge metal statue completed in 749. The casting of the Daibutsu symbolises the commitment of Japanese monarchs in the Nara period to the promotion of Buddhism for the protection of the fledgling empire of Japan.

Adherents The Nara schools together comprise around 400 temples and other meeting places, 1400 clergy and 2.5 million adherents. (Source: Hori (ed.) Japanese Religions 1972)

Main Centres
  RITSU is divided into:
Risshu: Toshodai-ji (ji = temple), Nara, Japan
Shingon Risshu: Saidai-ji, Nara
Hosso Shu: Kofuku-ji and Yakushi-ji, Nara
Shotoku Shu: Horyu-ji Temple, Nara
Kegon Shu: Todai-ji, Nara