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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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- Spring '13