Buddhism in Japan

March of Buddhism in Japan

Print edition : October 30, 2015

Kujaku-Myoo, Buddha on Peacock, A.D. 1200, Koyasan Museum. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Garuda or Karura, Daiyuzan-Saijoji, near Odawara. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Garuda or Karura, Kofokuji Museum, Nara. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Kubera, or Vaisravana or Bishamonten, Kamakura Period, 12-14th centuries, Kurumadera temple, Kyoto Prefecture. He is one of the four heavenly kings of the Indian tradition and he rules over the northern direction. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Kubera or Vaisravana or Bishamonten, Shibamata Taishakuten, Indra temple, formerly known as Daikyoji, Tokyo. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Kamadeva, Meguro Ryusenji, Tokyo. Kamadeva, or ‘Deity of Love’, is worshipped by many young people at this temple in Tokyo. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Kubera, or Vaisravana or Bishamonten, Heian Period, 8th-12th centuries, Kurumadera temple, Kyoto prefecture. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Chandra, or Gnatoo, moon deity taken from the Indian tradition, screen painting, Daigoji, Shiga prefecture. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Todaiji temple, Nara. This is one of the oldest and most revered temples of Japan. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Nagarjuna, Gokokuji, Tokyo. Nagarjuna is known as Gujio in Japan. He is the most prominent intellectual and teacher who established Vajrayana Buddhism. According to Japanese priests, without his teachings, the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle would not have existed. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Chamundi, Rokuhara Mitsuji Museum, Kyoto. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Naga Bodhi of Nalanda University, Gokokuji, Tokyo. The great intellectuals of Nalanda University are known to have formulated Esoteric, or Vajrayana, Buddhism. They are deeply venerated by many sects of Buddhists in Japan. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Big Buddha, Todaiji Temple, Nara. This 48-foot high Vairochana is the largest bronze statue in the world. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Varuna, or Suiten, Shibamata Taishakuten, or Daikyoji Indra temple, Tokyo. Varuna is worshiped in numerous temples in Japan. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Varuna, or Suiten, pond, Meguro Ryusenji, Tokyo. A shrine was dedicated to Varuna here in 1836. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Varuna, or Suiten, A.D. 1127, National Treasure from Toji, Kyoto, courtesy Kyoto National Museum. Varuna has been worshipped in many temples in Japan to prevent droughts, typhoons and floods, which occur often in Japan. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

The Indian priest Bodhisena, or Baramon Sojo (Brahmin priest), being received by Gyoki Bhodhisattva. Ryosenji, Nara, Scroll Painting. Bodhisena was received in Japan with great honours and was named one of the four saints of the Todaiji temple. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Bodhisena statue, Ryosenji, Nara. In the eight century, Bodhisena was invited by the Japanese Emperor. He conducted the eye-opening ceremony of the great Buddha of the Todaiji temple in 752. Bodhisena is believed to have been from South India. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Bodhisena commoration stone, Ryosenji, Nara. Bodhisena stayed in Nara at the Daianji temple. He passed away in A.D. 760 when he was 57 years old. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Apsara, or Tennin, Gokokuji, Tokyo. Apsaras are among the earliest representations of Indian art, profusely used since the 2nd century B.C. They are made equally profusely in Japanese art, and the Japanese name means "Heavenly Beings". In the words of Dr. Kusano Kenshi, President of Otani University: “In Japan, they have always called India tinico. The ten in tinico means heaven, so from that we can see the high regard and respect which the Japanese people have had for India.” Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Krishna Venugopala-like figure, Todaiji temple, Nara. The philosophic imagery of India has been fully adopted by the Japanese. One can come across in Japan almost all the representations from Indian temples. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Havan, or Homa or Goma, Takahata Fudo temple, Tokyo. In the Shingon and Tendai Buddhist sects, Goma has striking parallels with the early Hindu rites of agni worship. There are also deep similarities with the later Tantric traditions. In Japan, the havan is perhaps conducted as often as in India. The tantric Shingon school sings Sanskrit hymns. To this day, followers of the sect perform their worship in 1,200 temples throughout Japan. In the words of His Excellency Yasukuni Enoki, Former Ambassador of Japan: “This should be recognised by the Japanese people that at the bottom of Japanese culture, Indian culture is very strongly imprinted. It is then developed in the Japanese way.” Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Havan, Saidaiji temple, Nara. In the words of Prof Kitamura: “In Japan, they are preserving the old Indian tradition, because they are following the ancient scriptures. They are also doing the puja and the mudras, as well as the sadhna. There is nothing called Japanese or Japanese elements in these. It is all Indian and it is, all of it, the Indian Buddhist Tantric tradition.” Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Asanga, Kofokuji Temple, Nara. Asanga was a major exponent of the Yogacara school of Buddhism in India. He is deeply venerated in Japan, and this is one of the very few statuesof him in the world. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Vasubandhu, Kofokuji temple, Nara. Half-brother of Asanga, he was also a major exponent of the Yogacara school of Buddhism in India. He is deeply venerated in Japan and this is one of the very few statues of him in the world. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Fudo Myoo, Achalanatha, Enryakuji Museum, Shiga prefecture. In Japan, Achalanatha is revered in Shingon, Tendai, Zen and Nichiren Buddhism and in Shugendo. In the words of Chief Priest Tomokazu Tsukahara: “There are four types of Shingon mantras of Fudo Myoo in Japan. They are taken from the Sanskrit language. Fudo Myoo seems to have had his origin in the Hindu deity Siva. The Myoo is called 'Vidya-raja' in Sanskrit. Here, it can be safely stated that Fudo Myoo has his origin in the Hindu deities of India.” Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

One of the four directional kings, or Shitenno, Meguro Ryusenji, Tokyo. They have been taken from the Indian tradition and are Vaisravana, Virudhaka, Dhrtarastra and Virupaksa. Photo: Photograph by Benoy K Behl

Many links in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism can be found in a study of Japanese Buddhism. Today’s Himalayan Buddhism is of a later development and has lost the typical “havan” or “homa”. I was delighted to find and to record the continuance of the tradition of “homa” in some of the most important Japanese Buddhist sects. They call it “goma”. Sanskrit sutras are also chanted on the occasion, and it is much like the “havan” Indians are familiar with.

India’s relationship with Japan is far closer than Indians seem to be aware of. It is time to understand this and to build upon it. It is time, in fact, for the world to learn from the peaceful and civilised outlook which is rooted in ancient India and in the culture of countries like Japan. People of “modern” outlook need not be concerned that looking to ancient culture will lead to less economic development. In fact, culture provides the discipline, meaning and concentration in life that makes people truly successful in all that they do. Japan is the one country where Buddhism is flourishing in all its facets. Here, technology and transcendence live together. The deep-rooted spirit of the Buddha’s teachings energises the Japanese people.

Buddhist temples are numerous and vast numbers of people visit them every day. Besides the Buddha, so many ancient Indian deities and practices are preserved in these temples. An Indian will feel quite at home in Japan.

I did the research for and took most of the photographs used in this feature in spring 2015 with the support of a Japan Foundation Fellowship. I am deeply grateful for this valuable support. I have also made a film for the Ministry of External Affairs on the subject of “Hindu Deities Worshipped in Japan”. My partner Sujata Chatterji is the assistant director of the film.

This is the final part of a three-part feature.

Benoy K. Behl is a film-maker, arthistorian and photographer who is known for his tireless and prolific output of work over the past 36 years. He has taken over 46,000 photographs of Asian monuments and art heritage and made 132 documentaries on art and cultural history. His exhibitions have been warmly received in 54 countries, and he holds the record in Limca Book of Records for being the most travelled photographer.

The vastness of Behl’s documentation presents a wide and new perspective in understanding the art and culture of India and of Asia. He has been invited to lecture by most of the important universities and museums around the world that have departments of Asian art. His landmark book The Ajanta Caves is published by Thames & Hudson, London and Harry N. Abrams, New York. It is in its fifth print run.

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