The Nichiren Buddhism【ミステリーな日蓮 英訳版】4. Kamakura rings with Nenbutsu

4. Kamakura rings with Nenbutsu

Hiroto Ema

Why could Nenbutsu, the chanting of Namu Amida Butsu, overcome the prohibition by the Imperial Court and Shogunate, and spread among the society of the Eastern warriors? I think there are three main reasons. First, the Pure Land sect became moderate. After the extreme Nenbutsu, which asserted Nenbutsu was only way to the Paradise and the Pure Land, lost momentum by repeated oppressions, a moderate doctrine which respected the doctrines of other sects and allowed various trainings gained strength. So it eliminated the rivalry with the existent forces of Buddhism, and Nenbutsu prevailed as one of the trainings which even the monks of other sects chanted.


Second, the atrocity of warriors relates with it. Warriors, who battled and killed as their duty, also fought with the fear of life after death. But the existent Buddhism, which required huge wealth and good education, was for the Imperial family and aristocrats, so it was difficult for the Eastern warriors, whose ability to read and write was so poor, to hail it. This situation was changed drastically by the belief in Nenbutsu.


Hell waits after death — One could be saved from this kind of fear by Nenbutsu. It requires neither special education nor wealth, and only by chanting Namu Amida Butsu, one would be guaranteed the Paradise. So it was natural the warriors became committed to this welcome doctrine. Furthermore, after Nenbutsu was hailed by those warriors, it must have been accepted by the lower classes of peasants and servants. For the first time, Buddhism which the commonalty could believe in appeared before the eyes of them. Thus, the rapid prevalence of the belief in Nenbutsu in eastern Japan coincided with the development of the society of warriors.


The third reason is the anxiety about era and society. After the end of Heian era (about 1052~), the era called “the Latter Day of the Law” was to start. It was believed that in the era of the Latter Day of the Law, the doctrine of Buddha would be lost and the society would be in turmoil. In Japanese, the confusion of society is often expressed as “the end of the world”, and the thought of the Latter Day of the Law has the same root. In fact, in those days, disasters such as bad weather and earthquake occurred frequently, and famines and plagues recurred very often. One could hardly escape from starvation or disease, the sight of hell where corpses decayed into white bones appeared before the eyes, and everyone could realize the coming of the Latter Day of the Law keenly. This is an important factor in the prevalence of Nenbutsu as a way of salvation.

October 1st 2018


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