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The Growth of Buddhism during the Kamakura Period

Question 1: The Growth of Buddhism during the Kamakura Period

From the Heian period to the Kamakura period, many changes occurred to Buddhism practices in Japan. The transformation to Buddhism during the two periods can be associated with the changes in the social, political and economic issues in the region. The Heian period occurred in the late 9th century when Kyoto became the capital city of Japan. The conversion of Kyoto to the capital city improved the administrative role of the region, hence improving the economic performance of the area. The economic success was relevant in supporting the divinity of the Buddhism values and religion. The city was the main driving force in founding Japanese Buddhism. The Heian period was characterized by the introduction of many priests from Tendai sects who played key roles in developing the Buddhism beliefs.1 The forests and rocks around Mt. Hiei were sacred places for practicing and developing Buddhism in the region. Some of the native communities living in the mountains peaks, such as Shinto Kami, were influential in supporting the divinity of Buddhism.

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Even though the introduction of Buddhism had faced strong resistance, the Heian period was marked by smooth acceptance of the religious beliefs and practices. Some of the social aspects can be indicated by the artistic influences towards promoting Buddhism success. In the late Heian era, there were relevant sculptures and paintings that promoted the popularity of Buddhism.  In 1185, the weaknesses of the citizens became evident due to the increased military and political exposures. The civil wars that weakened the state created relevant authority for enhancing the success of Buddhism.

Before the inception of the Kamakura period, Japan distanced itself from China, thus creating a better opportunity to promote the Japanese culture. It focused on promoting the religious and secular arts in the society.  The flourishing of the divine and worldly arts was significant in the institutionalization of Buddhism. Therefore, Buddhism gained more popularity during the time when the Kamakura period changed the Heian priod.

The theological changes blended well with the existing cultural aspects in the society.  The cultural factors included the warrior caste and other popular elements. For example, the changes supported the continued dominance of the courts and the development of unique warrior cultural techniques that expressed the values of Buddhists. The Buddhist monks were also active participants in the cultural activities during the Kamakura period.  An example of “the Buddhists involvements was the common Buddhist devotion that included the different cultural music and entertainments including sarugaku and dengaku among others.”2 In addition, the composition of the theological changes was important in dealing with the maintenance of cultural and other social relationships. Most importantly, the warriors were involved in the organization of the Buddhism activities. The learning and cultural styles in Japan were articulated by the new Buddhism values and practices.  The Lotus Sutra has offered quality teaching and protection of the Buddhist practices and values.

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During the Kamakura period, the theological changes continued to take place; Buddhism followers expanded their practices to different areas in spite of the inherent social, cultural, and political conations. For instance, the contradiction of the political autonomy through the process of centralization of power by the warlords created inequalities. However, the theological changes were not affected by the political interferences.

The warlords formed a class of opposition groups, thus limiting the success of the political leadership and involvement. The Kamakura period was marked by increased instability and insubordination among the different sectors of the society.  The instances were caused by the increased transformations of social relations, power changes and cultural aspects.  The theological values offered some legitimate consolations during the period of the intermittent civil war.

Some of the existing and old aristocracy adjusted positively to the theological changes in the society.  For instance, the reunnification of the two courts in Kyoto caused the civil war in 1392.  The Ashikaga shogun of the Southern dynasty won the struggle. The reunification and the end of the civil wars indicate a positive response to the theological changes. The Buddhism transformations supported the creation of better political systems to enhance good governance. “Some of old aristocracy centers including Negoro and Koyasan had a significant influence on the Buddhist world.”3 They helped in preserving the religious and political rights of the Buddhists by creating strong connections.

Moreover, the militant supporters focused on promoting the local control among the different religious territories. Still, in the Kamakura period, the cultural conditions of different social groups supported the growth of the Buddhism religious beliefs. During the Kamakura period, the political groups and institutions contributed to increased stability by following the theological transformations. It occurred due to the discontentment of many groups with the increased despotism associated with looting and pillaging.  The aristocracies provided good customs and values adopted to handle difficult situations.  The incident of the second Mongol invasion was one of the influential political changes that led to the collapse of aristocracy groups.  

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The above mentioned incidents illustrate that the old and existing aristocracy responded positively to the changing theological values that took place between the Heian and Kamakura periods.

The aristocracy responded positively in order to change the country’s attitude towards promoting state justice as well as dealing with major chaos. The responses were important in promoting social restructuring for new transformations.  It was a change of perception towards violence that occurred in the Kamakura period combined with the various civil wars. It also sought to understand the Buddhist view of the historical changes happening in the society.  It includes the understanding of the leadership transformations in terms of literary and scholarly changes such as music, art, and architecture.

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