“What are you doing? Grandpa?” “Ssh!” he replies. TanMai imitates Grandpa’s position and closes his eyes. “Yes TanMai-chan. Sit down with me. But no peaking!” demands Grandpa.
They sit in silence. “Grandpa why are you so quiet?..” asks TanMai. “WHAAAAAAAAAT?!?!!?” replies Grandpa annoyed.
“Sorry again grandpa...I’m just bored...” explains TanMai. “I am not going to play with you right now because I am meditating. Perhaps if you are bored, why don’t you figure out for yourself why I am sitting here in silence?” replies Grandpa. “But how am I supposed to learn anything if you don’t speak to me?” asks TanMai. “You will see TanMai chan. Just be patient, close your eyes and…” Suddenly, with the breath of the winds of time, TanMai and grandpa begin to journey through time.
“Grandpa where are you?” asks TanMai as he looks around and finds Grandpa floating in thin air. “I am here Yoshi-bun TanMai-chan. We are going to be exploring the history of Japanese Buddhism through your mind. Right now we are in India.” “Really? That is so cool! Hey grandpa! Who is that?” asks TanMai. “That is Buddha TanMai, Siddhartha Gautama, the foundation of Buddhism.” “ What is Buddhism?” “Well TanMai, Buddhism was a very a unique religion that focused on suffering. Buddhism first came from India. The people of Japan and Chinese often refer to Buddhism as Mahayana Buddhism, or the greater vehicle,” answers Grandpa. “What is the “great vehicle” grandpa, like a really big car? Were there a lot of people who liked Mahayana Buddhism so they needed a big car?” “No TanMai, but that’s a good guess. Mahayana Buddhism centers around the practice of focusing on helping the world instead of solely focusing on only bettering yourself. Mahayana Buddhism also offers salvation for everyone. Mahayana scriptures and writings also claim to represent the final doctrines of Buddha. Buddhism, after being created in India, began to spread around the world to places like China, where it played a big role in Chinese philosophy and literature,” Grandpa explains.
“What did Buddha teach?” asks TanMai. “Buddha, after finding his own enlightenment, began to teach his ways to others. Buddha taught that we all have enlightenment inside, this is Buddha nature,” answers Grandpa. “So do I have Buddha nature grandpa?” asks TanMai. “Yes you do TanMai and so do I. Beyond Buddha nature, Buddha taught about impermanence, karma, samsara, letting go of ego, and nirvana. Impermanence is the idea that time is constantly changing. Nothing is permanent TanMai. Everything is temporary. Impermanence also became a major theme of Japanese literature,” replied Grandpa. “What does this mean to us grandpa, if things are always changing?” TanMai asks. “This means that we must also move with the changes TanMai, and not resist change because this causes suffering. This suffering and how we suffer or have difficulties and desires in life is called Samsara. So instead we must embrace change; we must accept it as it comes TanMai,’ explains Grandpa. “Ok grandpa, I will try that,” TanMai responds. “Good TanMai but it also important that you know how to let go of your ego,” says Grandpa. “What does that mean?” TanMai asks confusedly. “Letting go of your ego or yourself, means to let go of desires, and not holding onto our ego. He also taught about Karma, or ‘action.’ This is the cause and effect of our actions TanMai, or the consequence of what we do on Earth that will affect us later in our lives, or in after lives. So have good karma TanMai.” “Ok Grandpa, I will try my best,” replies TanMai.
“Yes TanMai, and with that the Four Noble Truths were also created. The truths talk about suffering and how you can end your suffering. These truths are Dukkha, or the feeling of something that is wrong or uncomfortable. The other truth is that there are reasons for why you have unhappy feelings and suffer. The next truth is that there is a way to stop this suffering. The last truth is the way to stop your suffering is the eightfold path.” “That’s a lot of things to remember, grandpa.” TanMai looks at grandpa and contemplates how he will remember all of these things that his grandpa tells him. “Well TanMai, if you can try to remember them and live by these ways, than Buddha says that you can reach Nirvana, the state of perfect enlightenment and peace in which you are relieved of all suffering. These were his first teachings along with the three pillars of Buddhism. These are known as the three jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Buddha is who Buddhists inspire to be like. Dharma is the rules in which Buddhists follow. Sangha is the community of followers. The three jewels help Buddhist practitioners on their path to enlightenment.”
“Wait, but who was Buddha to have created all of these ideas about life?” asks TanMai intuitively. “Buddha was a man Tanmai. His name was Siddhartha Gautama. He was a man with two prophecies and two destinations to choose from.” “What were the prophecies Grandpa? Were they—,” TanMai starts. “Wait TanMai, so I can properly tell you the story. Buddha was said to have lived around ancient 6th century BCE in India. When he was young, two prophecies were told to his father.” “What were the prophecies Grandpa? Was he going to become a great king?” asks TanMai. “Yes, that exactly TanMai. A prophetic man told Buddha’s father that Gautama Buddha would either become a great and powerful king, or that he would become the savior of the world,” replies Grandpa. “Which one did his father choose?” asks TanMai. “Which one do you think he chose TanMai?” Grandpa asks TanMai. “A great and powerful King?” TanMai guessed.“Yes, you guessed correctly,” replies Grandpa. “Yes! That is so cool!” says TanMai excited that Buddha was to become a king. “No TanMai, to become the savior of the world is much more important and respectable!” replies Grandpa disappointed. “But why is that so Grandpa?” asks TanMai. ”You will see TanMai, just listen as the story unfolds,” replies Grandpa, and from there the story of Buddha’s life begun. “Growing up, Gautama was sheltered from the outside world TanMai. He was kept inside his palace at all times of the day and was never able to go outside his home.” Grandpa begins to explain.
“Well, my little TanMai, he decided that he would lie down under a tree until he found the answer to all of the sickness in the world.” “That sounds like a long time to find the answer to all of the bad in the world.” “Yes, but he did what he said he would, and when he stood up from the tree he had found the answer, TanMai.” explains Grandpa. “What was the answer Grandpa? What was the answer he found?” asks TanMai. “The answer was the law of Four Noble Truths, Tanmai. These were the beginnings of Buddha’s first teachings, and the start of his duty to becoming the savior of the world. The prophecy had triumphed his father’s and this was just the beginning.”
With that TanMai, were off on their next adventure. TanMai and Grandpa take off on a boat headed to China.“Where are we going this time Grandpa?” asks TanMai. “We are going to China TanMai. We’re off to China!” grandpa answers. They soon arrive in China for their next adventure.
“Are we in China grandpa?” “Yes we are in China Tanmai. This is where Buddhism was spread after it was created in India. This is also where we meet Kukai and Saicho the first teachers of Buddhism in Japan. We are going to China first because this is where both Saicho and Kukai spent the first years in their life learning about Shingon and Tendai Buddhism.”
“Ok Tanmai back on the boats. We are off to Japan,” grandpa says as he and TanMai head back onto the boats towards Japan.Tanmai complains because he does not want to row all the way back to Japan. “Grandpa do we really have to row all the way to Japan?” “No you have to row to Japan,” “Quiet Tanmai, we have to make it back to Japan on time to meet creators of the different sects of Buddhism in Japan!”
TanMai and Grandpa arrived in Japan. “TanMai, now that we are back in Japan, we can talk more about Saicho and Kukai. TanMai looks around and sees men in monk clothing. “Were those the same men from China? “What was the difference between them Grandpa? Why did Kukai teach about Shingon Buddhism and Saicho teach about Tendai Buddhism?” TanMai asks. “Kukai was another Buddhist monk who also traveled to China, and upon his return to Japan built a temple of Shingon Buddhist teaching in Mt. Koya during the 8th and 9th century AD. Kukai was really great at making maps, and he was a very smart philosopher. He spent a lot of time thinking about life and the universe as he saw it. However, Kukai’s teachings about Buddhism were not very philosophical, or spiritual. Kukai’s Shingon Buddhist teachings were very ritualistic. This means that he focussed on teaching about making habits of practicing Buddhism. His followers had three main rituals they were to perform to show their dedication to Kukai’s teachings and their understanding of Shingon Buddhism. These rituals were mantra, mandala, and mudra” grandpa finishes explaining.
“Mantro, mandalo, and mundaro?” asks TanMai confused. “No TanMai, mantra, mandala, and mudra. These three practices were saying chants, make hand gestures, and drawing artistic to represent their faith in Buddha.” Says grandpa. “Did a lot of people believe in Shingon Buddhism grandpa?” asks TanMai. “Some people believed in Shingon practice, but the difficult idea about Shingon Buddhism was that Kukai believed that in order to understand the message of Shingon Buddhism you had to be well prepared,” says Grandpa. “Did you have to study to pass a test?” asks TanMai. “Not exactly, but it was believed that not every person was ready to receive the message of Shingon Buddhism. You had to be very mature and sometimes with many years of experience in Shingon Buddhism,” grandpa explains to TanMai. “I guess not everybody could not follow Shingon Buddhism,” replies TanMai. “Yes Tanmai, although some people did follow Shingon Buddhism, many people thought that Shingon Buddhism was like a secret club because not everybody could join.” TanMai supposes, “What about the other monk grandpa? Wasn’t his name Saicho?”
“Yes, both Saicho and Kukai were Buddhist monks who traveled to China. Actually here is Saicho right now.” “What is Saicho doing? “Well, Saicho was a Buddhist monk of Chinese descent who taught Tendai Buddhism. After living in China for one year, he moved back to Japan and went on a thirteen year retreat in the mountains of Mt. Hei. This is where he built his first temple of Tendai Buddhist teaching during the 8th and 9th century.”“Yes TanMai, his name was Saicho. He was a Buddhist Saicho went on a 13 year retreat, to spend time meditating by alone, in the mountains of Mt. Hei. After he went on this retreat, he started to teach about “two-vehicle” Buddhism. This was a type of Buddhism in which Saicho saw the harmony between between Esoteric Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra,” grandpa continues to explain Saicho’s history to TanMai. “So Esoteric Buddhism was one part and Lotus Sutra was another part of Tendai Buddhism, Grandpa? Is that why it is called ‘two-vehicle Buddhism?’” asks TanMai. “Yes TanMai. That is correct. The Lotus Sutra were the main ideas or doctrine of Tendai Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism was the part of Buddhism that Kukai taught.” “But what did the Lotus Sutra talk about Grandpa?” “With the Lotus Sutra, Saicho told his followers that they needed to meditate, practice, and pray in order to gain enlightenment from Tendai Buddhism. He said without doing all three of these things, you cannot be enlightened and feel the grace of Tendai Buddhism. Saicho was the monk who made Esoteric Buddhism and Tendai Buddhism into one, unified Buddhist practice. Do you understand TanMai?” Grandpa. “I think so Grandpa. There is a lot of history behind the spread of Buddhism,” responds TanMai. “Yes TanMai, but it is all important. Do your best to remember everything I have taught you so far and put on your nicest kimono because next we are on our way to the palace of the Empress Suiko’s son Shotoku Taishi” grandpa says.
Soon grandpa and TanMai time traveled to the palace to see Shotoku and the major part in the spread of Buddhism to the lands of Japan.
“Is that the Prince Grandpa?” TanMai asks. “Yes that is Prince Shotoku Taishi, son of Empress Suiko,” says grandpa. ”Wow he looks so cool!” exclaims TanMai in excitement. Yes TanMai. “Do you know what is really cool about him? He was the main reason for the spread of Buddhism in Japan. At this time during the 6th century AD, Japan was having disagreement between the clans and Uji. So the ruling Yamato Court of Japan during this time decided to adopt many things from the Chinese society to so model Japan after China. The Yamato court decided to adopt the Chinese calendar and started to contact China. Japan also borrowed ideas like having an emperor. Shotoku Taishi also adopted Buddhist teachings from China as the state religion. By doing this Shotoku Taishi was able to introduce Buddhist learning into Japanese society,” says grandpa.
“Even with all of this Japan was still having big problems. Japan still supported their former Shinto religion. This Shinto religion believed in many Gods. In Shinto belief there was a Sun Goddess who was a major part in the creation of the world. It was believed that all who descend from Amaterasu’s Sun Line were royalty and had the divine right from the Gods to rule Japan,” says grandpa. “Hey Grandpa, you must also be a descendant of the Sun line since you are so dignified,” TanMai says surely. “Not exactly TanMai, in the future that we come from we do not use anyh methods of deciding whether or not one is a descendant of the Sun Line. Back in those time during the early centuries Japan had difficulties adopting Buddhism because the ruling people they liked having divine power from the Gods to rule the country. Well TanMai we are off to a more recent time in the past. We do not have much time,” Grandpa finishes explaining as he and TanMai take off.
As TanMai and grandpa arrive in the new era of the 12th and 13th century grandpa begins to explain where they have arrived. ”This is the Kamakura and Ashikaga era. From the 12th to 13th century BCE. This is the Ashikaga and Kamakura Era. This was around the time when Japan started to find its identity. Also around this time more books were written in Japanese instead of Chinese. The people of Japan were beginning to understand Buddhism much better around this time. TanMai and Grandpa walk around and observe Jodo Buddhism in practice. “One of the first major practices of Buddhism during this time is Jodo Pure Land Buddhism. Jodo Buddhists believe that it is the end of the Dharma and that the world is ending and meditation is simply not enough to save you. However, Amida Buddha, shall lead you and anyone to salvation in the afterlife where you will be happy.“Is the world actually ending Grandpa?” asks TanMai as grandpa responds, “I am not sure if it is TanMai. It just depends on what you believe in. Even back in the future where we live, Jodo Pure Land is still practiced. In fact, it is the most popular practice of Buddhism around the world.
“Wow! There are so many soldiers here grandpa! Hey Grandpa they are meditating like what you were doing earlier!” TanMai says as he notices the soldiers sitting on the ground in silence. “Yes TanMai they are practice Zen Buddhism. This was the most popular practice of Zen Buddhism for the military class. For the military class it was important that they could practice a religion that relied only on their mind. Zen Buddhism focussed on self-reliance because you have to train yourself on the inside.” “Next we can see The Lotus Sect or Hokke Pure Land view of Buddhism was started during this time as well TanMai. The section of Buddhism completed the process of spreading Buddhism into society. The Lotus Sect of Pure Land Buddhism was created by Nichiren. He was a man who embraced Tendai Buddhism as a foundation for Lotus Pure Land Buddhism. He had much faith in his mission to save Japan through his way of Buddhism. He believed that the Lotus Sutra was the basis of everything in the world. Nichiren believed it is the final and supreme teaching of the Buddha Shakyamuni. Next we shall be off to a more dangerous place in history. Stay by my side TanMai.”
“Wow....” says TanMai. “Amazing history right TanMai?” says grandpa surely. “Yeah grandpa that was exciting. But grandpa,” TanMai replies. “Yes learned one,” grandpa says.“Will you play with me now?” “No! Sit up straight and be quiet!” exclaims TanMai’s grandfather as corrects TanMai’s posture with a wooden stick, “Talking is over. You already took up my meditation time.” TanMai sighs.
“Fine TanMai, one game, and one game only.” Says grandpa to TanMai’s excitement. “Yes! I win!” exclaims TanMai; and from there on only the future lie ahead as the moon rises in sun-smeared skies, the chimes clanging in the wind.