Shotoku Taishi


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The second son of Emperor Yōmei, Prince Shōtoku was broadly educated in Confucian classics, Buddhist scriptures, and secular studies such as history, astronomy, and geography. In 592, five years after his father's death, he was named regent for his mother, the Empress, and ruled Japan in this capacity until his death. He proved an enlightened ruler, and is sometimes credited with drafting Japan's first real constitution in seventeen articles and importing many ideas from China such as city planning and political arts. In terms of Buddhist history in Japan, Shōtoku is regarded as the first Japanese aristocrat to understand basic Buddhist doctrines and to distinguish it clearly from native Japanese cults of kami. Three of the earliest scriptural commentaries composed in Japan are attributed to him, and based on stylistic considerations and the fact that these works refer only to other sūtras known in Japan at that time, some scholars find these attributions credible. He is also credited with building many of the early great temples in Japan, such as the Hōryūji and the Shitennōji. Whether or not he was personally responsible for their construction, he certainly provided the patronage and helped create an atmosphere conducive to such building projects. Finally, he sent many missions across the sea to China to bring the fruits of Chinese civilization to Japan, and these missions included many Buddhist monks who worked actively to bring scriptures, treatises, and learned Chinese monks back to Japan. Even if scholars dispute some of the activities attributed to him, it is undeniable that Prince Shōtoku gave an enormous impetus to the early development and dissemination of Buddhism in Japan.

Subjects: Buddhism.

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