To say what has never been said

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Do you live your own truth? Or are you living someone else’s truth?

 

 

 

Artistic expression is perhaps your only opportunity to express your individual mind and the only opportunity others have to hear or see what they have never heard or seen before.

Modern human beings are heavily conditioned the moment they are born. They emerge from the womb usually a round peg fitting into a round hole. Their family and inherited ancestry, their language, their culture, their gender, their social class, their intelligence quota, etc. are the ground they have been assigned to grow in. It is difficult not to lose touch with one’s True Nature in the midst of all these givens.

 

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Only the truth that is uniquely your own liberates. Anybody else’s truth becomes a bondage and you a slave.

We may fall into the trap of comparing and judging art works by abstract criteria but it is being true to our own inward flights of consciousness that is part of our mission in being human.

 

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Michaelangelo was an Italian painter, architect, sculptor, inventor and poet of the High Renaissance. His True Nature exerted an incredible influence on the art of the world. He allowed no limitations to be placed on himself despite the ground he was assigned to grow in. He fearlessly took risks and followed his heart in all things, a veritable warrior of self-expression.

His True Nature dazzles the world even now 700 years later.

 

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I’m longing to hear what I have never heard and never seen before. How about you?


images courtesy of Mariko Kinoshita, Linden Thorp and Megapixyl.com

Virtue

 

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 ‘When your heart surges broad and full like a river, a blessing and a danger to those who live near, that is when your virtue has its origin and beginning.’

Thus spake Zarathustra.

Vincent Van Gogh took his own life happily because his mission was completed. He had allowed his river to surge and overflow in all his works. He had utter trust in his own creativity and his artistic judgement never flickered despite no acknowledgement as a painter. He painted without cease but was so poor that he could not afford a place to hang his paintings so gave them to friends and even strangers to hang in their homes. Originals are still being discovered today in private basements and attics.

His joy and vision were not to be appreciated in his lifetime but he knew one day the world would be ready for them. He lived a life of complete sacrifice but not to a hypothetical god or image! He gave all his energy to creativity and therefore he can be called a true saint!

 

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Societies and communities will judge and snarl at creators, sorting and grading them on a whim, wielding their right to destroy or applaud their talents and achievements. They will scream and shout criticism and condemnation exactly to drown out the individual small voice.

But if you are committed to living out your personal truth, that voice will become an opera cadenza, a great symphony, the roar of a lion. Van Gogh was such a lion.

Your uncompromising creativity surging and overflowing is your virtue!

 

Creative & Graphics (124)

 

      Moving images courtesy of Mariko Kinoshita, Linden Thorp and megapixyl.com

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Prince Shotoku: Buddhist Founder of Japanese Buddhism and the Japanese Nation

AHE-Logo-TM-265pxhttp://www.ancient.eu/article/1029/

by Charley Linden Thorp

published on 09 March 2017

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In Japan in 573 CE Anahobe, the wife of the Emperor’s son, had a dream of a priest in golden robes who asked her if he could lodge in her womb as he was about to be born as a world-saving Bodhisattva. The child was born painlessly and unexpectedly in the imperial stables and was named Shotoku (sho meaning sacred, and toku meaning virtue). At the age of 2, he naturally placed his hands together in gassho (reverence), faced the East, and recited the words, Namu Butsu (praise be to Buddha). Buddhism had hardly been heard of in Japan at that time! Prince Shotoku was to rule Japan between 594-622 CE as Regent and to unite his nation of warring clans in the dual roles of the first Buddhist statesman in the world and the lay founder of Japanese Buddhism.

Prince Shotoku as a Youth

Prince Shotoku had several titles:

  • Prince of the Stable Door (Umayodo no Miko) due to the unusual circumstances of his birth.
  • Prince of Eight Ears (Yatsumimi no Miko) because of his special intelligence and his ability to listen to eight people at one time and understand each of them.
  • Prince of the Upper Palace (Kamitsumiya no Miko or Jogu Taishi) because his father, Emperor Yōmei, loved and respected his talented son so much that he created a special part of the palace for him to live in.

ACHIEVEMENTS

The civic contributions made by Jogu Taishi (the title most people in Japan give him) were impressive and are still in place. Among them, he created the ‘cap system’ for government officials which rooted out nepotism with the recognition of merit. He imported Chinese culture along with the lunar calendar, art and scholarship and he resumed the existing practice of dispatching of envoys to import all manner of cultural and religious knowledge to Japan which had been terminated. He initiated irrigation projects to improve agriculture and implemented extensive welfare measures. He created highway systems and he wrote the first chronicle of Japanese history.

BUDDHISM IN JAPAN

How he came to be devoted to this new faith which suddenly appeared in the islands of Japan is something of a mystery as mentioned above. However, though a Buddhist scholar and the first patriarch of Japanese Buddhism, he remained a lay practitioner throughout his life. It is thought that Buddhism first became known in Japan when the ruler of a province of Korea called Baekje visited Japan and presented a beautiful gold-plated image of Buddha Shakyamuni and sutra scrolls to Emperor Kimmei (531-571), Shotoku’s grandfather, who was impressed. However, his enthusiasm to adopt Buddhism threw the principal families of Japan into confusion. 

Japan had been culturally isolated and conservative until then and showed no sign that the indigenous religion, Shinto, the ‘Way of the Gods,’ was inadequate. Shinto develops a deep appreciation of natural beauty and spirituality but there is no ethical element, unlike Buddhism.  Also, at the time there was no formal written language in Japan so the enthusiastic adoption of Chinese pictographs happened simultaneously with the influx of Buddhist sutras in Chinese translation.   

However, Shotoku, now Prince Regent to his Aunt Suiko who succeeded her husband in 593 CE, was to convince the country that Buddhism was exactly what was needed. In fact, at the age of 14, he fought in a brief civil war between the progressive Soga family who favoured Buddhism and the conservative Monobes family.  It was a Holy War fought over the enshrinement of Holy relics in a pagoda (stupa) which Shotoku insisted was essential as the origin of Buddhism was so far away from Japan in India

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Prince Shotoku

Surprisingly, Buddhism replaced Shinto as the national religion of Japan within 50 years exactly due to its values of tolerance, rationality and philosophical depth, none of which featured in the Shinto faith. The only remnant of Shinto which was retained was the link between members of the Imperial family and the Japanese goddess of the Sun and the Universe, Amaterasu, who are still considered to be her direct descendants.

Perhaps the story which best exemplifies Shotoku’s devout Buddhist faith as an adult is when his father became seriously ill. The Prince sat by his father’s bedside day and night meditating on his recovery and as a result, he did recover and became a devoted Buddhist himself.

TEMPLES & TEACHINGS

The Prince initiated the first two Buddhist temples to be built in Japan. Shitenno-ji  (530 CE), the temple of the Four Heavenly Kings, of the North, South, East and West, was erected because whilst defending his family in battle, he prayed intently to the 4 Buddhist Kings and victory was achieved. Later Horyu-ji was built in Nara to contain many treasured artworks and artefacts, and he went on to build five more. But these temples were not merely places of worship. Shitenno-ji, built at the seaport, was a religious sanctuary providing training in music and the arts, a dispensary for medical herbs, an asylum for the abandoned and a hospital and sanatorium. Monks took many roles in society, as educators, physicians, and even engineers. Temples in Japan today are often cultural and welfare centres.

Prince Shotoku also gave public lectures on various aspects of Buddhism. He authored eight volumes of commentaries on sutras. The Sangyo-gisho (3 Sutras) was popular among lay Buddhists. It focused on the Lotus Sutra which conveyed Buddha Nature and universal enlightenment, the Vimalakirti Sutra which expounded lay Buddhism and national rulers as Bodhisattvas, and the Srimaladevi Sutra which extolled the virtues of a Buddhist Queen to honour his devout aunt, Princess Suiko.

SHOTOKU’S CONSTITUTION

‘HARMONY IS THE MOST PRECIOUS ASSET.  WE ALL ALTERNATE BETWEEN WISDOM & MADNESS.  IT IS A CLOSED CIRCLE.’ SHOTOKU SEVENTEEN-ARTICLE CONSTITUTION

The 5 bonds of Confucius figure in each article: ruler to ruled, father to son, elder to younger siblings, elder friend to younger friend, and husband to wife. Shotoku declared, ‘‘Harmony is the most precious asset.  We all alternate between wisdom and madness.  It is a closed circle.’ According to the Nihon Shoki, a definitive history of ancient Japan written in circa 720 CE, Prince Shotoku created a seventeen-article ‘constitution’ (Jpn. Jushichojo Kenpo) which was implemented as a political tool to unite the warring clans. This was not a modern constitution designed for the governing of state and subjects, but a set of spiritual aspirations inspired equally by Buddhism and Confucianism. It focused on the morals and virtues that should be the aspiration of every subject in the realm and led to him receiving the title ‘Dharma Monarch’ (Skt; Dharmaraja)

The following articles are evidence that this is truly a Buddhist constitution: Article 2: Reverence to the 3 Treasures of Buddhism – Shotoku firmly believed that all beings could benefit from their truth. Article 6: the difference between merit and demerit, reward and punishment – this demonstrates the laws of karma so central to Buddhism. Article 10: self-control and mind-control – the harmony between nature and society, also a strong goal of the Buddhist way of life. They are as follows:

1. Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided.

2. The three treasures, which are Buddha, the (Buddhist) Law and the (Buddhist) Priesthood; should be given sincere reverence, for they are the final refuge of all living things. 

3. Do not fail to obey the commands of your Sovereign. He is like Heaven, which is above the Earth, and the vassal is like the Earth, which bears up Heaven. 

4. The Ministers and officials of the state should make proper behavior their first principle, for if the superiors do not behave properly, the inferiors are disorderly.

5. Deal impartially with the legal complaints which are submitted to you. 

6. Punish the evil and reward the good. 

7. Every man has his own work. Do not let the spheres of duty be confused. 

8. Ministers and officials should attend the Court early in the morning and retire late, for the whole day is hardly enough for the accomplishment of state business. 

9. Good faith is the foundation of right. 

10. Let us control ourselves and not be resentful when others disagree with us, for all men have hearts and each heart has its own leanings. 

11. Know the difference between merit and demerit.

12. Do not let the local nobility levy taxes on the people. 

13. All people entrusted with office should attend equally to their duties. 

14. Do not be envious! For if we envy others, then they, in turn, will envy us. 

15. To subordinate private interests to the public good — that is the path of a vassal. 

16. Employ the people in forced labor at seasonable times. 

17. Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone.  

(Nihon Shoki)

These tenets provide the basis of stable and peaceful Japan today 1500 years later and could be said to be part of the essence of its distinctive culture.

DEATH & LEGACY

In 621 CE, Shotoku became gravely ill and as an indication of his popularity, a statue was commissioned in the form of the Buddha. It can now be viewed in the Hall of Dreams of the Horyuji Temple in Nara.  After his death in 622 CE, he became known as ‘Japan’s Shakyamuni’ and his relics were enshrined in the various temples he established.

The surviving features of the Mahayana Buddhism he founded are as follows: the notion that all beings have Buddha Nature and can be enlightened regardless of spiritual training, class or gender (Jpn. Ekayana); the spiritual aspects of Buddhism are the most important – this remains true today; gender discrimination in monasteries should not exist; Buddhism should be synonymous with the welfare of the Japanese nation and symbolic of prosperity and peace.    

Shitenno-ji Temple, Osaka

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In the Middle Ages, Shinran (1173-1262 CE), the founder of Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land), the largest school of Japanese Buddhism today, worshipped Prince Shotoku as the saviour of Japan. Shinran is famous as the first ordained monk to reject his clerical vow of celibacy which set a trend for Japanese clerics. He openly married and had children with Eshinni and the reason for this departure was that Prince Shotoku appeared to him in a dream as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kannon, who assured him that he would be incarnated in Eshinni.  So, in a way, Shinran married his greatest hero. Shotoku is also said to have reincarnated as Bodhisattva Eshi of the Tendai faith and later as Amida Buddha, the principal Buddha of the Pure Land School.

In conclusion, as Prince Shotoku firmly believed, it is certain that our sincere relationships with each other are the most important factor of all in society and that individual power and success must only be viewed through that lens. But this 17-article constitution could and can only be successful if humans put aside all their self-seeking ideas and temper their dominant egos and temporal desires. This can best be achieved by cultivating Buddha Nature and embodying our divine mission of unconditional love and light. Altruism – sincerely looking after others before ourselves – is an ancient universal tenet of the human species which Prince Shotoku spent his life embodying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CHARLEY LINDEN THORP

Linden is a ValidLit writer/teacher living in Japan. Ordained as a Buddhist Priest, she is a Dharma/Meditation teacher working to make the ideas of Buddha Nature accessible to everyone, which involves many thousands of years of historical research.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Buddha World
  • Anesaki, M, The Foundation of Buddhist Culture in japan. (Monumenta Nipponica, 1943), 1-12.
  • Anonymous, An Introduction to Buddhism: teachings, History and Practices. (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • Anonymous, Nihon Shoki
  • Banarsidass, M., “The Birth of Japanese Buddhism,” Buddhist Spirituality vol II.
  • Buswell, J.R.E. (Ed), Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Macmillan Reference, 2004)
  • Carr, K.G., “Pieces of Princes: Personalized Relics in Medieval Japan,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 38(1): 93-127.
  • Fujiwara K., Shotoku Taishi Derek
  • Kitagawa, J.M., “The Buddhist Transformation of Japan,” History of Religions 4 (2): 319-336.
  • Soper, A.C., A Pictorial Biography of Prince Shotoku (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 1967), 197-215.

Moongazing

Mariko Kinoshita, a Japanese artist, is highly culturally adaptable unlike many Japanese who still harbour suspicions about foreigners. This is to be expected when we consider that the whole country was closed to all foreign influence for a period of over 250 years between 1603 and 1868. 

But this work unashamedly evokes the very essence of Japan. Gazing at the moon through the pale fish of cherry blossom (sakura) is essential for the Japanese spirit. The kimono and white mask of a beautiful silent woman create the sense of mystery the world is so intrigued by.

In Japan, fully-grown adults can be seen weeping at the sight of sakura at its peak. We watch the national news several times a day to find the exact peak for particular locations and then rush to stand close and gaze by moonlight.  In fact, the first national forecast has been released today so people are already planning.

Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto is the moon god in the Shinto religion and in Japanese mythology.  This deity is male unlike in ancient myths of Greece or Rome, and its creator also male. Tsukuyomi was the second of the ‘three noble children’ born when Izangi-no-Mikoto, the god who created the first land of the Japanese archipelago.  It is said that he was born from Izangi’s right eye. After climbing a celestial ladder, Tsukuyomi lived in the heavens with his sister Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who also became his wife. Japanese myths are primitive and not limited by worldly classifications. The very origins of Japan are fantastical in a very eastern way which fascinates westerners.

I love Kinoshita’s painting and feel honoured to be helping this artist edge into the wide world. It is easy to see her unconscious heritage in the stillness and silent joy.

                                    Images courtesy of Mariko Kinoshita and Linden Thorp