In an effort to categorize and account for the roles

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Unformatted text preview: mselves solely to attainment of their own enlightenments, Mahayana preached universal love, through the ideal of the bodhisattva, for all beings, animal as well as human. The Mahayana school of Buddhism, which had its greatest flourishing in East Asia, also accumulated a vast and bewildering pantheon of buddhas and other exalted beings, some of whom were taken from Hinduism and even from the religions of the Near East. In an effort to categorize and account for the roles of these myriad deities, the Mahayanists formulated the theory of the “three forms” of the buddha: his all-embracing, universal, or cosmic form, his transcendent form, in which he might appear as any one of many heavenly figures, such as the healing buddha (in Japanese, Yakushi), the buddha of the future (Miroku), and the buddha of the boundless light (Amida); and his transformation form, or the body he assumed when he existed on earth as Gautama. Without knowledge of this theory of the three forms, one cannot understand the interrelationship among the various Buddhist sects that appeared successively in Japanese history. It is difficult to gauge the precise impact of Buddhism in Japan during the first century or so after its introduction. In China, it had already proliferated into a number of abstruse metaphysical sects, within both the Hinayana and Mahayana schools, that could scarcely have appealed to the Japanese beyond a small circle of intellectuals at court. As others outside this circle gradually became aware of Buddhism, they apparently regarded it at first as a new and potent form of magic for ensuring more abundant harvests and for warding off calamities. They also responded directly and intuitively to the wonders of Buddhist art as these were displayed in the sculpture, painting, and temple architecture brought to Japan. Moreover, the Japanese probably accepted with little difficulty the validity of Buddhism’s most fundamental premises: that all things are impermanent, 22 The Introduction of Buddhism su...
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