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Japan philosophy is characterized by two main religions, which provide people with a chance to evaluate their places in this world, to accept this life with its all challenges and demands, and to comprehend what can make this world better and safer. These two great religions are Buddhism and Shinto. More than 90 million Japanese are considered to be Buddhists or, to be more exact, Zen Buddhists.
The impact of Zen Buddhism became considerable for each sphere of life: poetry, painting, tea ceremonies, and even architecture. Japanese temples are regarded as the places of worship, where the supporters of Zen Buddhism spend much time and distribute their teachings. Zen temples in Kyoto may serve as one of the most significant religious and educational centers, where everyone may get a chance to plunge into the peculiarities of these traditions.
Though many temples have been destroyed during the wars, some of them have been rebuilt in order to prove how devoted and pure Buddhists and their intentions could be. Each Zen temple is not only a simple building, where Zen Buddhism is taught and explained; it is the place, where the essence of Buddhism is depicted by means of each stone, detail, and color; it is the center, where those, who seek for support and understanding, can find necessary help and get a chance to learn themselves better.
The essence of Zen Buddhism and its significance for Japanese people. Zen Buddhism was originated in India at the end of the 5th century B.C.E; but it came to Japan from China.
The essence of this religion is “seeing into one’s own nature” (Dumoulin, Heisig, and Knitter 2005, 380); this concept plays a very important role for those, who want to grasp the essence of this life, this is why each detail has its special meaning. Japanese people are regarded as one of the most religious people who pay much attention to such concepts like worship and faith.
Buddha and his experience. The teachings and experience of Siddhartha Gautama also known as the Buddha (Deal 2007, 202) became the grounds for Zen Buddhism. This wealthy Indian prince was considerably troubled because of human suffering that he was able to observe at the age of 29.
He made a decision to forget about his prosperity and richness and devote the rest of his life to seeking for understanding. After 6 years past, he achieved the desirable purpose and became free from suffering. His example was successful for other people, who decided to follow this way and promote Zen Buddhism.
Zen Buddhists proclaimed that “all existence is suffering. Suffering is caused by desire. Cessation of desire results in cessation of suffering, the Eightfold Path lead to liberation” (Deal, 2007, 202). This religion emphasizes that people are able to achieve enlightenment by means of meditation in order to deprive themselves of suffering and pain.
With time, the basics of Buddhism became influential in different spheres of like. Due to Zen activities, Japanese people become able to improve their philosophical theories, political influence, and religious grounds, those aims to make human lives better and easier provide people with a chance to believe in changes and enlightenment.
The importance of Zen Buddhism temples is evident and clear. As nay other religion, Zen Buddhism has its own peculiarities and features, which make its supporters unique and noticeable. As it was mentioned above, the essence of Zen Buddhism was connected to mediation and the possibility to achieve enlightenment. Within a short period of time, it becomes clear that mediation should happen in special places, where people can feel protected and comfortable.
“What makes Japanese houses unique is that they are created by an individual working within a highly codified system. The tension of the individual within a tight form creates subtle variants in style while keeping harmony of the form” (Discoe, Quinn, and Banish 2008, 24). When the Japanese start building a new temple, they try to take into consideration every single detail.
This is why Japanese temples have many functions and pursue considerable purposes. As a rule, each Japanese city should have at least one temple in order to provide people with the possibility to worship and find out people with the same faith.
However, such cities like Kyoto or Kamakura have thousands of such temples being some kind of cultural centers. The history of Japan is divided into several significant periods like Yajoi, Nara, Kamakura, Heian, Edo, Bakumatsu etc. This periodical division has its impact on the development of Zen temples and their creation. For example, the Nara and Kamakura periods presented the most beautiful and magnificent Zen temples.
In spite of the fact that the Onin Wars, which happened from 1467 till 1477 (Baroni 2002, 305), was the main cause of the destruction of the vast majority of Zen temples, brave and devoted Japanese people found powers, efforts, and support to restore some temples and provide their generations to observe and use these buildings and continue traditions.
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Structures that are inherent to Zen temples have their particular functions and predestinations. Nowadays, Zen temples are divided into several groups in accordance with the purposes of these temples’ creation. Main halls, lecture halls, pagodas, gates, bells, and cemeteries are the main structures of any ancient Japanese Zen temple. Japanese created these structures in order to clear up what functions should be performed and even the order of their performance.
Main halls are the structures, where the main relics can be found. Usually, they are called Kondo/Hondo/Amidao. “Morning and evening services are generally held in the Hondo” (Baroni 2002, 136), this is why architectures pay special attention to this part of the Zen temple. Lecture halls are aimed at teaching and discussing the basics of Zen Buddhism; these parts are also named Kodo.
The structure that keeps the symbol of Zen Buddhism, the Buddha, is called a pagoda and is composed of three or five stories. The wooden pagoda of Daigo-ji Temple is one of the oldest ones; it was built in 951. The variety of gates of Zen temples is another peculiar feature of these constructions.
Any holy building should have an entry that symbolizes the essence of the chosen temple, the experience that may be shared, and the teaching that may be got. A person, who wants to enter the world of Zen Buddhism, is able to pass the main gates of the chosen temple and plunge into the beauty and uniqueness of this religion.
Finally, everything as well as a human life comes to its end. And it is very important to create a place, where the souls of dead people may find calm and quiet. Cemeteries are the places, where the Japanese go to visit the graves of their ancestors and demonstrate their respect and memory. The vast majority of cemeteries are located in temples, and people have a chance not only to visit the graves but also to go to the main hall or to the lecture hall in order to listen, speak, or pray.
Zen templates may be found in almost each part of Japan. They usually demonstrate the political power of priests. The most powerful examples of Japanese Zen Buddhism temples may be found in Kamakura (Engakuji, Jufukuji, and Kenchoji), Kyoto (Daigoji, Hokoji, and Enkoji), and Nara (Daianji, Todaiji, and Kofukuji).
It may be noticed that almost all names of Zen temples end with “ji” or “dera”; these suffixes indicate main temples. Gardens of the temples are marked by “en” suffixes, and sun-temples have “in” suffix. Such attention to names proves once again that the Japanese are careful to each detail that concerns their temples.
In general, the Zen temple is one of the most remarkable symbols of Japanese religion, Zen Buddhism. This nation demonstrates one of the perfect ways that any believer has to follow. Their practices, experiences, and knowledge have to be respected and recognized by people around.
Though nowadays not many Zen temples are built, the ancient temples serve as the best evidence of Japanese faith. It is almost impossible to comprehend Zen Buddhism by means of books and video tapes; this is why it is better to visit the Zen temple, observe its richness and power, and realize that this religion is worthy attention and recognition. If Japanese people devote so much time to the creation or re-creation of Zen temples, it is hardly imagine how careful they can be to other details, which fulfill their religion.
Baroni, Helen, J. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2002.
Deal, William, E. Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan. New York: Oxford University Press US, 2007.
Discoe, Paul, Quinn, Alexandra, and Banish, Roslyn. Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2008.
Dumoulin, Heinrich, Heisig, James, W., and Knitter, Paul, F. Zen Buddhism: A History: Japan. Bloomington: World Wisdom, Inc, 2005.