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Unformatted text preview: ffering is universal, and man is the helpless victim of his fate. People
in many ages have held these or similar propositions to be true, and we
should not be surprised to find the Japanese of this period accepting
them in the persuasive language of Buddhism.
Possibly the strongest feeling the Japanese of the seventh and eighth
centuries came to have about Buddhism was that it was an essential
quality of higher civilization. It is ironic that this religion, which in its
origins viewed the world with extreme pessimism and gave no thought
to social or political reform, should enter Japan from China as the carrier
of such multifarious aspects of civilization, including the ideal of state
It is impossible to explain in a few words, or perhaps even in many,
how primitive Shinto managed to survive the influx of Buddhism. Part
of the answer lies in the unusual tolerance of Eastern religious thought
in general for “partial” or “alternative” truths and its capacity to synthesize seemingly disparate beliefs and manifestations of the divine. In Japan,
for example, the principal kami of Shinto came to be regarded as Buddhist deities in different forms, and Shinto shrines were even amalgamated with Buddhist temples. Another reason why the Japanese throughout the ages have with little or no difficulty considered themselves to be
both Shintoists and Buddhists is that the doctrines of the two religions
complement each other so neatly. Shinto expresses a simple and direct
love of nature and its vital reproductive forces, and regards death simply
as one of many kinds of defilement. Buddhism, on the other hand, is
concerned with life’s interminable suffering and seeks to guide living
beings on the path to enlightenment. It is fitting that even today in Japan
the ceremonies employed to celebrate such events as birth and marriage
are Shinto, whereas funerals and communion with the dead are within
the purview of Buddhism.
The dispute in Japan in the mid-sixth century over whether or not to
accept Buddhism, and at the same time to undertake national reforms,
divided the Japanese court into two...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13