Although Ryōan-ji, in Japan, has temples built as far back as the 1000s CE, the garden at Ryōan-ji was thought to have been built between 1450 and 1473. Which makes this rectangle of land one of the oldest gardens in the world. A World Heritage site, the garden at Ryōan-ji is considered to be one of the defining surviving examples of a form of Japanese Zen temple garden design called kare-sansui or ‘dry landscape’.
This beautiful depiction of a preaching Buddha was sculpted in Gandhara, a kingdom in northwestern Pakistan, around the 200s CE. After the Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment, he decided to teach others his path to spiritual freedom. The gesture that this Buddha makes refers to the Buddha’s first sermon and more generally to the Buddhist teachings, or “dharma”.
This is not a purely Indian sculpture, however. The Buddha’s wavy hair, his toned arm, and the folds of his cloak show influences of Greco-Roman sculptural conventions. Gandhara had been conquered by Alexander the Great in the 300s BCE, and continued to have trading ties with the Mediterranean through the time this particular sculpture was made.
IN this interview, James Blake Wiener, Co-Founder and Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), speaks to Emeritus Professor James H. Grayson, Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Sheffield, about the historical and cultural impact of Buddhism in Korea through an anthropological lens.
Dr. Grayson’s research interests lie in two main areas, the diffusion of religion across cultural boundaries, and an analysis of the religious and intellectual conceptual framework of the Korean and East Asian peoples. His research is broadly anthropological in approach with an interest in both the ancient and recent periods of Korean history. He has done fieldwork in Korea, Japan, and Okinawa. [BA (Rutgers), MA (Columbia), MDiv (Duke), PhD (Edinburgh)]
Did you know Tibet once controlled an empire? It ruled the Himalayan highlands, Bengal, and
the modern Chinese provinces of Gansu and Yunnan from 618 CE to about 840 CE. Between the first and third emperor, their territory expanded eventually to the height shown in the map above. But difficulty of transportation and communication, and religious tensions due to the introduction of Buddhism in the early 700s CE, led to infighting which pitted the royal family against ancient noble families and supporters of the new religion.
The last two emperors were assassinated, one by pro-native religionists, one by a Buddhist hermit. Yes, a Buddhist assassinated an emperor. After the death of the tenth emperor, the Tibetan Empire disintegrated into civil war.
PLACES IN THE ANCIENT WORLD: Longmen Grottoes (China)
THE Longmen Grottoes, a Buddhist cave complex located 13 kilometers south of Luoyang in China’s Henan province, form some of the most significant and exquisite representations of ancient Chinese stone art. Created over the course of approximately five centuries beginning in 493 CE, these grottoes, along with the statues and inscriptions carved within, provide a window into the political, cultural, and artistic circumstances of the late Northern Wei and Tang periods.
The caves were carved into the steep limestone cliffs of Mount Longmen and Mount Xiang which face one another along a one kilometer stretch, forming a valley through which the Yi River flows. This site, with its appearance of a natural gate, was historically referred to as Yique or “Gate of the Yi River.” After Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty built an imperial palace in Luoyang at the beginning of the 7th century CE with its southern gate aligned to the cliffs of the site, the name Longmen or “Dragon’s Gate” came into use (the dragon served as an emblem of the power of the emperor).
The “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” from the 1300s, was a Buddhist funerary text. According to the book, the wicked dead are said to endure bodily tortures after death before being reborn into the next life. Spiritual reflection will show there is no need to fear, the book reassures its readers, “because, in truth, your body is a natural form of emptiness.”
PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Ennin (Japanese Buddhist Monk)
ENNIN (c. 793-864 CE, posthumous title: Jikaku Daishi) was a Japanese Buddhist monk of the Tendai sect who studied Buddhism at length in China and brought back knowledge of esoteric rituals, sutras, and relics. On his return, he published his celebrated diary Nitto Guho Junrei Gyoki and became the abbot of the important Enryakuji monastery on Mount Hiei near Kyoto and, thus, head of the Tendai sect.
Tendai Buddhism had been introduced to Japan by the monk Saicho, also known as Dengyo Daishi (767-822 CE). Based on the teachings of the Chinese Tiantai Sect, Saicho’s simplified and inclusive version of Buddhism grew in popularity, and its headquarters, the Enryakuji complex on Mount Hiei outside the capital Heiankyo (Kyoto), became one of the most important in Japan as well as a celebrated seat of learning. Ennin became a disciple of Saicho from 808 CE when he began to study at the monastery, aged just 14.
BUDDHISM was introduced to ancient Japan via Korea in the 6th century CE with various sects following in subsequent centuries via China. It was readily accepted by both the elite and ordinary populace because it confirmed the political and economic status quo, offered a welcoming reassurance to the mystery of the afterlife, and complemented existing Shintobeliefs. Buddhist monasteries were established across the country, and they became powerful political players in their own right. Buddhism was also a key driver in fostering literacy, education in general, and the arts in ancient Japan.
Buddhism was introduced into Japan in either 538 CE or 552 CE (traditional date) from the Korean kingdom of Baekje (Paekche). It was adopted by the Soga clan particularly, which had Korean routes and was practised by the significant Korean immigrant population in Japan at that time. Buddhism received official government support in 587 CE during the reign of Emperor Yomei (585-587 CE).