The Origin of Buddhism
The following essay is a chapter from “Book of Religion” in Creation of Civilization that I am presently writing. Believing it would be of benefit, I wanted to release it as quickly as possible.The Origin of Buddhism
Already I have taught on several occasions that the original manifestation of the Boddhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World is the Deity Izunome, but what should be understood in this regard are the fundamentals of Buddhist manifestations. The simple mention of the word “buddha” can actually refer to one of two aspects, to a buddha from the tradition of Buddhism and also to the Buddhist manifestation of a divine being. The first type of buddha has existed for 2,600 years from the time of Shakyamuni. At that period, what is now called India was known by a name that in Chinese ideograms means “Moon Clan Country.” Long before Shakyamuni appeared, Brahmanism was deeply rooted and practiced in this country. Brahmanism does not have anything that could be called a doctrine and seeks to apprehend the truths of the cosmos through the practice of physical austerities. The pictures and statues of arhats from that period that we can view today depict those austerities, and as you can see from these representations, those austerities included climbing into trees and taking measures such as fashioning nests in the branches like birds, meditating there for many years. The Zen master of antiquity, Bird Nest, is one example. Holding in the palm of his hand what looks to be like the model of a stupa, he stayed perfectly still for many long years. In all cases, these austerities turned the bodies of ascetics into odd shapes as they were seated in positions of meditation with hands facing together and upward, and today their postures strike viewers with a peculiar sensation. Extreme examples are where meditation was practiced lying on a board of nails, the points of the nails piercing the elbows and arms of practitioners. The pain that occurs when the blood hemorrhages can not be described. Bearing such pain was a form of discipline we cannot imagine today.
Bodhidarma practiced meditation seated facing a wall for nine long years, a continuing austerity that was quite extraordinary. Here I would like to elucidate some of the historical views about Bodhidarma. In addition to the Bodhidarma of India just mentioned, Dharma, a different person with the same name, appeared some one thousand two or three hundred years ago, and the two are easily confused. The Chinese Dharma came to Japan during the times of Prince Shotoku, and I have inspected considerably reliable records that state that this Dharma had an audience with Prince Shotoku.
Returning to my main topic of Brahmanism, these difficult kinds of austerities were practiced because in those times the ascetics were in competition among themselves to learn the truths about the cosmos, and these varieties of austerities were the methods they employed to do so. In today’s terms, their efforts were like those who seek advanced academic degrees, fame, and position. In this regard one interesting anecdote about Bodhidarma is that while sitting and facing the wall for nine years, suddenly one night when he looked up to the full moon, the light of the moon shone brightly, deep into his bosom, and in a flash he attained wisdom. The legend has it that his joy at attaining wisdom was great, and that from then on, as though he saw the truth, he was able to provide clear answers to all kinds of difficult questions and was revered and trusted as a distinguished ascetic by many of the period.
In the India of those times, the deity who was central in respect paid by the general populace was Maheshvara, just as Ametarasu Omikami was revered in Japan. In addition, there were other names such as Virupaksa and Sakro devanam indrah, and these are more or less depicted in the mandalas of the Nichiren Sect where representations of these names can be easily identified, but in any case, there is no doubt that Brahmanism overwhelmingly dominated society at that time. Then, however, suddenly there appeared the Tathagata Shakyamuni. Later, I will describe in detail what happened then, but Siddartha, who was a crown prince, returned to the world after completing his training and attaining wisdom. The prince was able to discern the truth about the spiritual and physical worlds, and, burning with great compassion, set out to assist in the salvation of all sentient beings. For obtaining salvation, the method he revealed for attaining wisdom was through the reading of his teachings in the form we now refer to as the sutras. This method was taught to the general populace, and so, of course, caused great sensation in society of the time. Because in those days there was only the one variety of austere Brahmanistic practices for obtaining salvation, it is no surprise that the people were happy to receive Shakyamuni’s teachings. Because the easy form of training in the form of sutra reading took the place of practicing difficult austerities, the people extolled Shakyamuni’s virtue. Many people sought to enter the Buddhist path, and thus naturally Shakyamuni became an object of veneration as the savior of India. In this way, Buddhism spread throughout all India, so this is the origin of Buddhism. Afterwards, however, the energy of Brahmanism did prevail, and Buddhism gradually declined and stagnated, but it did not completely disappear in India. Devotees still keep it alive in certain regions, and they are able to manifest miracles. Even among scholars in England, Buddhism has become an object of enthusiastic study and research. Even now I recall my reading last year of a record of those studies and remember that it recorded a great number of wonderful miracles.
Chijôtengoku, Issue 29, page 5, October 25, 1951
translated by cynndd