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Dharma Master Jian Zhen - Japan

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Master Jian Zhen's arrival was a major event in Japan, and people from every sector of society lined the streets to greet him as he and the others left the ship and were escorted away.

They reached the capital, Nara, early in 754. A royal prince representing the Japanese emperor greeted them at the city gate. From there, Jian Zhen was escorted to Todai Temple, the center of Japanese Buddhism at that time. The Japanese emperor decreed that Jian Zhen was to be in charge of preaching Buddhism, and he bestowed upon him the title, "Grand Master of Transmitting the Light." This gave Jian Zhen official status to teach the Buddha's wisdom and compassion. Fusho and the other Chinese monks were also granted their daily necessities by the imperial court.

Jian Zhen's knowledge of the precepts was very inspiring to the Japanese monks, who had hardly understood the stipulations of these rules and regulations. Candidates who want to become monks or nuns must attend a precept-granting ceremony which can last between one and three months, according to the local temple. During the ceremony, candidates first receive the novice precepts, and they have a short time to really and seriously consider if they want to join the sangha, the Buddhist monastic community. When they are truly ready for that, they vow to enter the sangha, and they also receive the bhikshu (monk) and bhikshuni (nun) precepts. Finally, they take the Perfect Precepts, which means they can now abide by all the required precepts "perfectly well," and the monks or nuns are thus officially ordained and recognized. The whole process is known as the "Great Three-Precept-Granting Ceremony (三壇大戒)" for monks and nuns. As for lay people, they can either accept the ordinary Five Precepts of no killing, stealing, fornicating, lying, and drinking; or they can take the Bodhisattva Precepts, consisting of 10 major and 48 minor precepts.

In early 754, Jian Zhen held a ceremony to grant the Buddhist precepts. He first granted the Bodhisattva Precepts to the emperor and his family, followed by the novice precepts to about 440 novice candidates. A few days later, 80 Chinese and Japanese monks renounced their own precepts because they, especially the Japanese monks, felt that the previous precepts they took were incomplete or inappropriate; so they asked Jian Zhen to grant them the proper monastic precepts one more time.

In 756, Jian Zhen was granted the title of Minister of Monastic Affairs. This meant that he was now fully in charge of the monastic community in Japan. However, despite his grand title and the official status from the imperial court, there was opposition to Jian Zhen among Japanese Buddhists. They felt that their own power and status were threatened by the great monk's presence, and they started to fight back.

In 758, the Japanese Emperor Shomu (701-758) passed away. Soon after, the imperial court revoked Jian Zhen's ministerial title and stripped him of his duties. Officially, the court stated that the administrative work was too much for the 70-year-old master. However, there were rumors that the court had been influenced by those opposed to Jian Zhen. Regardless of the reason, the master was rather pleased with the court's decision. He had never been interested in politics, and the court's decision allowed him to focus on teaching.

Although the court relieved Jian Zhen of his duties, they also gave him a mansion in Nara that had previously been owned by a royal prince. His disciples suggested that he build a temple there, a place from which he could teach the Buddhist precepts to everyone. The disciples contended that doing so would help everyone better abide by the precepts and make the whole country more harmonious. Jian Zhen agreed. In 762, his Toushoudai Temple was established.

Even though Jian Zhen was blind, he had not lost his ability to captivate and teach his disciples. He began teaching Buddhism to monks in the new temple. The disciples in turn established their own temples and passed Jian Zhen's knowledge of Buddhism and the precepts on to even more people. Gradually, the Buddhist precepts permeated the entire Japanese Buddhist community.

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