But by far the most significant role of buddhism in

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Unformatted text preview: cedented favor during his reign. Yet, this favor seems to have been based more on adoration than understanding. The so-called six sects of Nara Buddhism were highly complex metaphysical systems imported from China that, doctrinally, provided little more than intellectual exercise for a handful of priestly devotees in Japan. Some were never established as independent sects, and none acquired a significant following among the Japanese people. Judged by the great rage at Nara for the copying of sutras to obtain health and prosperity, Buddhism still held its appeal as potent magic. The particular favor enjoyed by the healing buddha, Yakushi, suggests that the primitive faith-healing instincts of the Japanese were widely aroused by this popular Mahayanist deity. But by far the most significant role of Buddhism in the Tempyò epoch was as the great protector of the state. Shòmu, who founded a national Buddhist center at the Tòdaiji Temple in Nara and caused branch temples and nunneries to be constructed in the provinces, carried to its climax the policy of state sponsorship of Buddhism inaugurated by Temmu half a century earlier. Ironically, Shòmu’s great undertaking so taxed the public resources of the Nara court that, far from strengthening central rule as he wished, it was probably the single most important factor in stimulating a decline in national administration over the next century and a half. Whatever the long-range effects of its construction on the course of political events, the Tòdaiji became one of the greatest Buddhist establishments in Japan and the focal point for the brilliant age of Tempyò art (fig. 16). Compared to the Hòryûji, the Tòdaiji was laid out on a mammoth scale. It was spread over an extensive tract of land and its central image, housed in the largest wooden structure in the world, was a bronze statue fifty-three feet tall of the cosmic buddha Vairochana (called in Japanese daibutsu or “great buddha”) that required eight attempts before...
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