ASIA212Varley

In the best far eastern tradition the tendai priests

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Unformatted text preview: uddha as a transcendent, rather than earthly, being and by adulation for the bodhisattva, or buddha-to-be, who would assist others on the path to buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra is not only the basic text of Tendai, but the principal writing of all of Mahayana Buddhism. Drawing within its pages the entire range of Buddhist thought, both Hinayana and Mahayana, the Lotus is held to be the “one vehicle,” the sole and ultimate source of religious truth. Its influence has been especially great in the countries of East Asia, where it has been revered not only as a text for religious study, but also an object of devotion in and of itself. Thus, according to some Buddhist sects, one need not try to understand the Lotus’s contents but simply to worship it. And believers have through the ages sought religious merit by copying the Lotus, a task requiring considerable effort because of the sutra’s great length. The Tendai center at the Enryakuji played an extremely prominent role in premodern Japanese history. It became a vast complex of more than three thousand buildings, where priests engaged in a wide range of both spiritual and secular studies. In the best Far Eastern tradition, the Tendai priests sought to synthesize all known religious truths and practices; and ultimately it was Tendai that, beginning in the late Heian period, spawned the various popular sects that finally spread Buddhism to the common people throughout Japan. Another, and less edifying, way in which the Enryakuji attained distinction in premodern times was as a center for akusò or “rowdy monks.” During the Nara period, the court had strictly limited the entry of people other than members of the aristocracy into the Buddhist priesthood. But after the move of the capital to Kyoto, entry restrictions were relaxed and the more important Buddhist temples, which were already in the process of acquiring great wealth in landed estates, hired increasing numbers of peasants to serve in their private armies. By the tenth and eleventh centuries, these hordes of akusò...
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