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East Asia

In Japan the Buddha known as Sakyamuni, ‘the silent sage of the Sakya clan’,is the perfect embodiment of virtue. With the exception of the Jodo sect, which concentrates exclusively on the worship of Amida–nyorai, there are shrines dedicated to Shaka-nyorai in every Buddhist monastery, but above all this obmutescent figure is revered by the adherents of Zen.

Although the doctrines of the Ch'an Tsung, or ‘inner–light school’, were first brought from China in 1191, the real founder of the Zen sect was Dogen (1200–53), who established the great monastery of Eiheiji. Dogen spent four years under the instruction of Chinese masters, and the Japanese today acknowledge that Zen doctrine owes much to Taoism. Like Lao–tzu, the Buddha is supposed to have realized that the experience of Enlightenment was beyond the power of words to convey. Therefore the inexpressible doctrine was born of a smile of Shaka-nyorai before a lotus. The Zen sect is novel, its teaching methods are oral and intuitive, and it shuns canonical books and texts. Zen masters seek to lead their students to a moment of sudden awareness, satori, ‘awakening’, in which they have an intuitive glance into the very nature of things. It is the non-dual vision. Dogen said: ‘If we watch the shore while we are sailing in a boat, we feel the shore is moving. But if we look nearer to the boat itself, we know then that it is the boat which moves. When we regard the universe in confusion of body and mind, we often get the mistaken belief that our mind is constant. But if we actually practise the way of Zen and return to ourselves, we see that this was wrong.’

The great festival of Shaka-nyorai is his birthday, 8 April. Its popular name is Hanamatsuri, ‘the festival of flowers’. When deep in contemplation the Buddha sat beneath the Bo Tree, the demon Mara had hurled at him a fiery discus, which turned into a canopy of flowers.

Subjects: Religion.

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