Buddhism was the world’s first great missionary religion. During precisely those same centuries when China was most divided politically, a vast swath of the planet, including much of South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and portions of Southeast Asia, came to be united by a shared religious faith in Buddhism. Buddhism had originated, of course, in South Asia. The historical Buddha (the “Enlightened One”), Siddhartha Gautama, who is also called the “Sage of the Sakya tribe” (Sakyamuni), was born in the vicinity of present-day Nepal around the sixth century BCE. His breakthrough realization is said to have been that, although the realm of material existence continues endlessly (the cycle of birth and death and rebirth that the Indians called samsara), nothing within it is permanent, and it is devoid of any higher purpose. ... After you die, there is no permanent personal identity that is passed on to future incarnations. ... Existence is therefore ultimately empty, and meaningless, and the truly enlightened goal can only be to escape this endless cycle of misery. (A History of East Asia, 72)
The Four Noble Truths
1. Life involves “suffering or unsatisfactoriness”

2. Suffering/unsatisfactoriness is ultimately due to attachment and desire

3. Suffering/unsatisfactoriness can only be stopped by the cessation of attachment and desire

4. There is an “Eightfold Path” that leads to the cessation of suffering/unsatisfactoriness

Buddhism Arrives
Conflict Follows


The theory known as honji suijaku developed in the Heian period and later became the keystone of combinatory kami-buddha religion. Honji suijaku refers to a theory regarding the relationship of kami and buddhas that builds on the Tendai school’s theory of hon-jaku-nimon (honmon or “original gate” and shakumon or “provisional gate”). This draws on the Nyorai juryobon (The [Eternal] Life of the Thus-Come One, Chapter Sixteen) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which expounds on the contrast between a meta-historical eternal Shakyamuni and the historical Shakyamuni of the first half of the Lotus Sutra. According to honji suijaku theory, the Japanese kami are understood as provisional manifestations of buddhas, appearing in temporal forms in order to save sentient beings in Japan. In short, kami were considered the suijaku (provisional manifestation or “manifest trace”) of buddhas, while buddhas were the honji (“original ground”) of the kami. Unlike the kami-buddha combinatory theories of the Nara period, the honji suijaku theory went so far as to identify kami and buddhas with each other, rendering them indivisible. (Encyclopedia of Shinto)
Sanno Mandara of Mt. Hiei
Tendai Syncretism



How is this type of “religious syncretism” similar to and/or different from what is typically seen in Western religious traditions?


Iitoko-dori appeared as a phenomenon very early in Japanese history, and it has greatly affected the Japanese way of thinking. This process means taking in the most convenient parts of other systems, and it is now part of the cultural identity of the Japanese. It has been one of the most important factors in the rise of Japanese economic power, because new technologies and their underlying value systems are implemented easily. ... Hence, we can see that, at least in part, iitoko-dori is responsible for the flexibility of the Japanese people. (The Japanese Mind, 130)