Early Japan Religion, Buddhism + Shinto (Are the Warrior Monks Here Already?) | History of Japan 43

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You like religious wars, right? They’re fun. When two religions meet, things can get ugly,
and things getting ugly means more views YES. But did Shinto and Buddhism war it out? What the heck did people believe back then? And what is blood pollution? So the Japanese worshipped what we now call
Shinto long before Buddhism arrived. When Buddhism came in the Kofun Period, blood
was spilled between the pro-Buddhists and anti-Buddhists. I made a video about that. Now in the Heian Period, Buddhism was already
rooted in the society, but the two religions were like my clothing, they didn’t really
match. Shinto worshippers believed that these spirits
or gods called kami inhabited the world and they were everywhere. There were kami of trees and mountains and
rivers. They didn’t exist in Buddhist teachings. What were these Buddhist teachings? I’m glad you asked, no one. No history of Heian Period Japan is complete
without talking about religion. Two Buddhist sects became all the rage in
Heian Japan: Tendai and Shingon. Before the Heian, in the Nara Period, Buddhist
schools taught that attaining enlightenment was super duper hard, you undeserving worm,
you couldn’t do it within your lifetime. You basically had to wait for a lucky string
of reincarnations. When Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from
Nara to Heian-kyo, partly to escape the powerful Buddhist temples around the Nara capital,
it opened the door for new schools. Saicho (最澄) and Kukai (空海) were two
monks who studied Buddhism in China, came home, had a bad breakup, and each founded
their own brand of Buddhism. Saicho formed the Tendai school (天台宗),
and Kukai founded the Shingon school (真言宗). Both schools rejected the old sacred doctrine
of… Wow reaching salvation was a pain in the ass. A pain in multiple asses because you had to
reincarnate a bajillion times. Our two new kids on the block were like, “No, you too can reach salvation in a single lifetime! Just come study at our schools. I mean my school. Not his, he dumb.” You had to become a monk though. That’s why a lot of men at the end of their
careers retired from public life to become monks, gotta get some of that procrastination
worship in, Buddha won’t mind. The two Buddhist schools argued on some Buddhist-y
things. They were rivals like Coke and Pepsi, Edison
and Tesla, Sir Patrick Stewart and hair. Saicho created the famous Tendai monastery
Enryakuji (延暦寺) on Mount Hiei, overlooking the capital of Heian-kyo. Enryakuji was not only a badass temple that
taught Buddhism to a bunch of famous figures and trained warrior monks, it also became a political and
economic powerhouse for centuries… until in the Sengoku Period, infamous asshole Oda
Nobunaga burned it to the ground and slaughtered everyone. Tendai followers taught that the way to understand
Buddha’s teachings was through studying sacred texts, the main one being the Lotus
Sutra. In theory, anyone could attain salvation if
they studied the texts hard enough. Shingon monks were like, cool story bro. They thought the Tendai-ers were absurd. You couldn’t get anywhere studying old writings. No, the way to enlightenment was by experiencing
the truth of the universe via rituals like mantras, mudras, and mandalas. There was a trend in the Heian Period of quantity
over quality. So the more you recited mantras, the more
likely it was for you to reach salvation. Don’t understand why you’re doing it? Who cares, just go through the motions. It’s all good. Even Tendai incorporated some of these rituals. People accumulated a bunch of Buddhist art
because it was supposed to increase your chances of salvation. One retired emperor had people make him one
thousand pieces of art of the Buddha. Unfortunately, no interviews of the dead have
survived to the modern day, so we can say nothing of the efficacy of the art-4-salvation
method. Shingon Buddhism did have public texts for
outsiders to read, but these were just appetizers. Remember, Shingon monks didn’t much care
for texts. You were supposed to experience the truth,
not read about it. To reach enlightenment, the texts were not
enough. You needed the secret teachings that were
only passed down verbally, monk-to-monk. So conveniently, you had to become a Shingon
monk and prove that you deserved the secret teachings of your master. And since they didn’t write down these secret
teachings, it’s hard for us today to know what they were. What we do know is, it probably didn’t involve
anything fun. Tendai was the more powerful of the two, it
enjoyed the backing of the Fujiwara house and the Imperial Family. The Fujiwara was a clan that famously married
their daughters into the Imperial Family, allowing them control over the Heian court
for 200 years. But Shingon was popular among the other Heian
elites. It was easy to see why. Shingon was all about grand ceremonies and
rituals, and they also sprinkled in some secksual ingredients from Indian Tantrism. Remember, the Heian elite had a cult of beauty,
so they loved the extravagant ceremonies. The aristocracy went on pilgrimages to Buddhist
temples all the time. Was it because they were super devout? Well, an educated man was expected to be familiar
with Buddhist texts and religious teachings, but nah, a pilgrimage was often like a vacation. Temples were often located on mountains, in
forests, on mountains, perfect Instagram spots. Women especially couldn’t wait to get out
of the house, though they couldn’t actually show themselves in public. They mostly stayed inside carriages on their
trips. Now, it wasn’t all fun and games, this Buddhism
thing. In the Heian era, religious treatment of women
changed. When Buddhism arose in India from a trust
fund kid who checked his privilege, it was egalitarian. The body was an illusion, so the differences
that you saw between men and women were illusory. Your soul could reincarnate into a man or
woman. When Buddhism spread to China, they incorporated
Taoist and Confucian thought, which were not so egalitarian. They introduced the idea of blood pollution. It was simple, and as always it had to do
with the vaa-gin-nah. Women’s menstrual and birthing blood were
icky wtf and so they prevented salvation. Women had to reincarnate into men before they
could attain enlightenment. Women also polluted temple grounds with their
cooties. This Cootie Buddhism spread to Japan. Before, women were allowed to be trained in
temples as nuns, but in the Heian Period, most temples put a stop to that. It was only after the Heian Period that temples
started accepting women again. Let’s talk about warrior monks for a bit. If you pictured these Buddhist temples as
serene places where monks go about meditating and studying and they just wanted to be left
alone to focus on Buddha’s teachings, you’re wrong and you need to be punished. You must write “I love this channel” in
the comments. That’s the punishment. Alright, one of the main roles of Buddhist
temples was to protect the capital, not by arms but by prayers. Temples had strong connections with the Imperial
Family and the Fujiwara, which made sense because the temples protected them. It was a time when the government was giving
out tax-free land to people rather than paying them directly. Buddhist temples made like turkeys and gobbled
up a bunch of land. This brought wealth and power, especially
for the Tendai and Shingon schools. So you had these large temples expanding their
territory, pressuring landowners to come under temple control. They acted no different from local warlords. When non-violent pressure didn’t work, they
would exert the other kind of pressure, the pressure of an arrowhead against your chest. Now there must have been people who said, “Warrior monks? What can they do, they’re just monks. They sit all day. They don’t even eat meat. Where do you get your protein, monks?” Those people are dead. In fact, if you just had that thought watching
this, you just died, they just killed you. Powerful Buddhist temples trained warrior
monks called Sohei (僧兵). These were much like the monastic orders of
Catholic warrior monks in Europe. Enryakuji on Mount Hiei was a huge training
ground for warrior monks. Temples would send them to harass landowners. You even had temples fighting and destroying
other temples. Buddhist monks were huge Buddha shaped thorns
on the sides of the ruling elite. If they had an issue with the government,
they didn’t write complaint letters like whiny little teat-sucking chihuahua puppies. No, they took to the streets. Monks protested all the time in the capital
streets and surrounded the houses of government officials. Officials stayed indoors lest they get the
word of Buddha delivered up their asses. An emperor once said that there were three
things in the world he could not control: “the floods of Kamo River, the hazards of gambling, and the monks of Mount Hiei.” Now all this talk of Buddhist power may give
you the impression that the whole country was Buddhist. But no, not everyone got the memo. In fact, most people missed that memo. They must have been using Yahoo Mail. Buddhism was what the aristocracy in the capital
indulged in. The common folk, the vast majority of the
country, still practiced their native kami worship. So what were the Buddhist temples to do about
these old beliefs? You would think that they could have taken
their warrior monks to the countryside and converted the peasants to Buddhism at the
point of a spear, but they didn’t. The Japanese didn’t think that believing
in one religion meant you closed yourself off from another. They kind of incorporated Shinto into Buddhism. Shinto was a set of beliefs that was so vague
that it was pretty easy to conjure up some explanation. In Star Trek, they explained that ships had
gravity because of gravity plating under the floors. The Japanese handwaved into existence the
idea that the various kami floating around were just Buddhist deities in different forms. Buddhas can take different forms, you see,
to help steer people to the right path. They built religious complexes that were both
Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. The capital devised a system called nijuni-sha
(二十二社), or Twenty-Two Shrines, where they designated 22 shrines to be official
shrines sponsored by the government. These became huge gathering places for the
public. They were shrines slash temples slash places
where people went to cheat on their spouses. So they were a crucial part of Heian society. So we’re really close to the next goal on
Patreon, when we reach it I’ll do a contest for patrons where you can get a copy of the
excellent Premodern Japan by Mikiso Hane and Louis Perez. It’s a great overview of Japanese history
before modern times. And the new patrons for this week are Chris
A., Grant Graves, Ben Sauer, Rae, and Drawing and games. Thank you warrior monks. Alright much love, you, and spread the knowledge!

 

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