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The word “emperor” is actually misleading when discussing this ancient age, for the emperor we find presiding over the loosely associated
clans of the Yamato state in mid-sixth century appears, like a kami of
primitive Shinto, only to have been relatively superior to or elevated above 20 The Introduction of Buddhism the leaders of the other clans. Not until the next century did the Japanese, under the influence of Chinese monarchic ideas, transform their
sovereign into a transcendentally divine ruler, giving him the Chinesesounding title of tennò that is always translated into English as emperor.
Although the Japanese thus created an exalted emperor figure on the
Chinese model, they did not adopt the key Chinese Confucian theory of
the emperor ruling through a mandate from heaven. A corollary to this
theory was that a mandate granted by heaven to a virtuous ruler could
be withdrawn from an unvirtuous one, and it was on the basis of this
rationale that the Chinese justified or explained the periodic changes of
dynasty in their history. In Japan, on the other hand, the native mythological assertion (noted in the last chapter) that the Sun Goddess had
granted a mandate to the imperial family to rule eternally was retained,
and the emperor line of the sixth century was thus enabled to achieve its
extraordinary continuity of unbroken rulership throughout historic times
until the present day.
Tradition has it that Buddhism was officially introduced to Japan from
the Korean kingdom of Paekche in 552.1 Since about a third of Japan’s
aristocracy was by that time of foreign descent, the Japanese undoubtedly
already knew about Buddhism as well as the other major features of continental civilization. Nevertheless, it was over the issue of whether or not
to accept Buddhism that a larger debate concerning national reform arose
at the Japanese court in the second half of the sixth century.
Buddhism was at least a thousand years old when it entered Japan. It
had emerged in northern India with the teachings of Gautama (ca. 563–
483 b.c.), the historic Buddha, and had spread throughout the Indian
subcontinent and into Southeast and East Asia. But it had become a
complex, universalistic religion that embraced doctrines far removed from
the basic tenets of its founder. Gautama, in his Four Noble Truths, had
taught that (1) the world is a place of suffering; (2)...
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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