Heian period c. 800 -1200
(with the mid-point being 1000 CE, the millennial year)
followed by the
Kamakura period
(technically 1185 - 1333)
This places the 400 years of the Heian Period centering on the year 1000 in the midst of two other periods of c. 100 years each -- the Nara Period before and the Kamakura Period after. Each of these three periods is named for a city.                     (N)     800         - H -          1200     (K)

500 CE ---------------------------(------------1000 ------------)---------------------- 1500 CE
(when TB & MB
enter Japan)

From 800, the capitol of Japan is in Heian Kyo -- the City of Peace and Tranquillity -- current name Kyoto.

A) The early years of the Heian Period:

        Two monks from the early period in Kyoto deserve our attention, each is associated with a mountain.

    Mt Hiei                                                                 Mt Koya

Saicho (c. 800)                                     younger contemporary Kukai
friend of                                                             friend of next
Emperor Kammu                                             Emperor Saga

Tendai <--- both are Mikkyo = esoteric Buddhism ---> Shingon

Tendai is named                                                     Shingon (= True Words)
for T’ien-T’ai Mountain                                             It is very Indian in style
Heavenly Terrace Mountain                                     Uses Mandala paintings,
in China.                                                                     Esoteric rites and

    H                                                                                     K
    S                                                                                     K
    T                                                                                     S

moral, monastic, esoteric,                                 mudras, dharani (mystical
Zen within the Lotus Sutra                                             yoga
finds meaning in the world of                                 Great Sun Buddha
appearances                                                     called on Amida Buddha

Buddhahood open to all,
universality of salvation

In more detail:

        The Buddhism of this period is largely Mahayana. Both Tendai and Shingon are both Mahayana sects -- stressing universal salvation and the Buddha-nature in all. You work to develop your Buddha-nature so as not to be reborn.

    a) Saicho:

      The priest-monk Saicho was the one who established the Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei, north-east of Kyoto. Tendai is named for T’ien-T’ai (Heavenly Terrace) Mountain in China.

        Tendai was closely associated with members of the Fujiwara family. Its basic scripture was the Lotus Sutra. In their temples could be found images of Sakyamuni (Gautama Buddha), the Cosmic Buddha (Vairocana) of the Shingon sect, Amida Buddha, Kannon (the bodhisattrva of compassion) and many more. This sect also developed a way of ordering Buddhist material according to stages of development in the hearers. The Lotus Sutra contained the most complete teaching.

        Saicho wanted to get rid of the Hosso Buddhism because it stressed hierarchical degrees of attainment; He also wanted to have a line of Tendai ordinations.

b) Kukai:

         The priest-monk Kukai is seen as a founder of Shingon which had its center on Mount Koya south of Kyoto. Kukai is also credited with inventing the phonetic syllabary for writing Japanese. Shingon (= True Words) was Indian through and through. Used mandala paintings. Passed on secret teachings -- magic and tantric. Developed very elaborate rituals and ceremonies, fostered a love of art and learning. Called upon Amida Buddha.
Back to general history of the Heian Period:

        For a very brief time -- the Emperors have control. Very soon the FUJIWARA family emerges as the power behind the throne. By 850 CE, the Fujiwara family was in full control of the government. The family filled almost all ministerial posts, served as regent when an emperor was still a minor and as a kind of regent-counselor when the emperor was of age. Furthermore the family established the custom that the emperor would only marry a Fujiwara daughter.

B) Around the millennial year 1000, the high point of Heian Culture:

        At the high point of Heian culture, the Fujiwara family’s greatest and most powerful minister was Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027). Michinaga had a flair for siring five daughters and several sons. He was an astute, though not particularly a likable, man.

        Two women of the court achieved fame as writers:
                Murasaki Shikibu, author of first novel in world, The Tale of Genji and
                Sei Shonagon, author of the Pillow Book.

Indeed, the high Heian culture can be seen as expressing the taste of intelligent and sophisticated women.

For a wonderful book on the background of this high culture, see Ivan Morris' The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan (New York: Kodansha International, 1964, 1994). Here are some excepts:

            "When Murasaki was born in the seventies of the tenth century [900’s], official relations with China and Korea had been in a state of abeyance for almost a hundred years. [end of T’ang dynasty] Merchants and priest continued to risk the dangerous sea voyage to the continent, but other types of travel were forbidden. No ambassadors were sent abroad; nor any received. " p. 15 [Japan was looking inward, shaping a culture of its own.]   "Autumn is the season par excellence in The Tale of Genji and in much of Japanese classical literature. For it is the autumnal images -- the silently falling leaves, the rain gently moistening the last fading flowers, the doleful cry of the deer from the windswept hills, the gathering mists -- that most poignantly evoke the pathos of human existence . . . ." (p. 21)

Heian Kyo was a rectangular in shape -- about 2 1/2 miles across from west to east and about 3 1/2 miles long from north to south. A stone wall about 6 foot high with a 9 foot ditch on both sides surrounded the city.

The main avenues running east and west were called "jo."
They were numbered from north to south from First Avenue (Ichi Jo) to Ninth Avenue (Ku Jo). The avenues varied from about 80 to 170 feet across. The main streets running north to south were equally spacious. The city had two rivers running (N-S) at its edges -- the Kamo on the east side and the Katsura on the west side curving toward one another south of the city. Beyond the rivers, mountains ring the city on the east, north and west sides. Mount Hiei lay at the NE corner of the city.

"Directly in the north centre of the city was an area of three hundred acres known as the Nine-Fold Enclosure. This was the Greater Imperial Palace, a little town in itself, which contained both the palace buildings and the government offices, and which, as in China, opened to the auspicious southern direction." (pp. 24-25)

The poets called Heian Kyo (modern Kyoto) the "City of Purple Hills and Crystal Streams."

The nobility got around the city in "unwieldy ox-drawn carriages that lumbered along the streets at about two miles an hour." (p. 35) There sometimes as many as 500 carriages on the streets at one time. The nobility were arranged in ranks: 1 a & b; 2 a & b; and 3 a & b were the court nobles. Ranks 4 and 5 were appointed by the emperor. Below the fifth rank were the lesser ranks 5 - 10.

All of Japan in Murasaki’s time might have contained some 5 million people. Of these, probably 50 thousand lived in Heian Kyo. Perhaps less than 5 thousand were in the rank hierarchy.

The upper class world that we see in The Tale of Genji is a society where of high aesthetic sensibility. Poetry, calligraphy, music, perfume, dress. A cult of beauty, making (as Sir George Sansom has put it) "religion into an art and art into religion."

The ever-observant Sei Shonagon in her Pillow Book writes:

"A preacher should be good-looking. For, if we are properly to understand the worthy sentiments of his sermon, we must keep our eyes fixed on him while he speaks; by looking away we may forget to listen. Accordingly an ugly preacher may well be the of sin . . . ." (quoted page 106)

[Amida Buddhism was popular among the masses. Forms of Mahayana Buddhism with its sutras were in vogue with the upper classes. Yet Mahayana Buddhism as a content -- interpreted in a fairly literally way. Above all, a sense of the transitory nature of worldly things (mujokan).This plays in with the Japanese love of nature. The native religious strand (later named Shinto) with its stress on ritual purity co-existed with different understandings of Buddhism with its advocacy of cremation. - JGS]

The ideal of feminine beauty especially among the court women -- whiten skin, plucked eyebrows (then "drawn in a curious blot-like set either in the same place or about an inch above"). Small, rose-bud mouth.  Blackened teeth. Very long black hair.

A woman was often described indirectly "by her poetic style, her manner of folding a letter, the way a young man reacts to her on seeing her for the first time." By her handwriting (more accurately brush writing). By her taste in clothing and the matching of colors. Etc. She was hidden largely from the male gaze -- in the ox-drawn carriages, behind a "screen of state" in the dimly illuminated houses.

Morris writes: "Despite her low status in religion, the Heian women enjoyed a remarkably favourable position in law." (p. 205)

Fujiwara Michinaga’s son Yorimichi (992-1074) succeeded him, yet by 1050 the Fujiwara fortunes were falling. (See G. Mosher, Kyoto: A Contemplative Guide,
p. 72 ff. for more.)

The upper class cult of beauty was yielding to a more masculine cult of the warrior.

Two military clans were gaining power -- the Taira in west and the Minamoto (also called the Genji) in the east.

C) Endgame: the last years of the Heian Period:

        One hundred years later -- around 1150 -- Taira Kiyomori would succeed as chieftain of his clan and the stage was set for two "showdowns."

        The first occurred in 1160 when the Minamoto leader, Yoshitomo, was killed with some of his many sons. Kiyomori spared three of the Minamoto children:

                the 13 year old Minamoto Yoritomo because he said he desired to pray for
                                                                                   the souls of his massacred family.
                the 5 year old, Noriyori, and
               the youngest, Yoshitsune.

The youngest child, Yoshitsune, was saved by his mother, the beautiful Tokiwa Gozen -- once a lady of the Emperor’s court and later Minimoto Yoshitomo’s concubine. Tokiwa Gozen offered herself to the eager Kiyomori on the condition that the baby Yoshitsune be allowed to enter a monastery. Kiyomori agreed.

                               This, it will turn out, was a big mistake!

Twenty years pass -- it is now 1180 -- the young Minamoto princes who were spared have grown up.

        Here is how things stand.

        One of the Minamoto clan (Yorimasa) had been an ally with the Taira but became disgusted when Kiyomori put his own grandson on the throne as Emperor Antoku in 1180. This Minamoto planned to raise a different prince to the throne.

        First Battle of Uji Bridge.(south of Kyoto).

100 Minamoto followers against 20, 000 Taira. The Minimoto all perished. The prince, Yorimasa, escapes to Nara but is soon captured and killed. A failed rebellion.
       The Taira defeat the Minimoto.

        The next year Kiyomori no Taira died [see his death wish, Mosher, p. 82].
He was succeeded by his son, but the clan was weakened. Within two years the whole clan including the infant Emperor had been driven out of Kyoto by a Minamoto army led by Yoritomo’s cousin, Yoshinaka. Yoshinaka got on well at first with the retired emperor who remained in Kyoto. But later they quarreled and the retired emperor secretly sent word to Yoritomo to come to his rescue. Yoritomo obliged by sending an army of 60, 000 against his cousin, led by his brothers Noriyori and the famous Yoshitsune.

        [Noriyori attacked at the Seta bridge; Yoshitsune attacked at the Uji Bridge. This time it was Minamoto against Minamoto. Yoshitsune, with his usual brilliant tactics, forded the river and broke through the lines and surged on to Kyoto. It was the 19th of February, 1184. The cousin was killed in the Seta battle.

        Having taken Kyoto, Yoshitsune and Noriyori pressed on to the west to eliminate the Taira once and for all. The end came in April 1185 when the opposing forces met for the last time in a naval battle at Dan-no-ura, a bay near the western end of Honshu. Here the Minamoto cut down their foes to a man, and it is said to this day that the strange designs on the faces of the crabs and fishes of the bay are none other than the ghostly faces of the slaughtered Taira clan.

        As to the infant Emperor Antoku, his grandmother, Kiyomori’s widow, seeing that all was lost, leaped into the sea with him in her arms. Both drowned. The ex-empress, Antoku’s mother Kenrei-mon-in also leaped into the sea, but she was snagged by her hair and pulled out. She became a lonely survivor on the side of the Taira, was brought back to Kyoto where she shaved her head and became a Buddhist nun. She was 29. [See Mosher p. 86.]

        The Minamoto ruled and their headquarters were in Kamakura. The age of the samurai had begun and, with it, the adoption of Zen in Japan.

The Kamakura Period: c. 1200 -1333,
            more precisely from 1185 (Defeat of the Taira by the Minamoto) to 1333
                                                                                                    (shift to the Ashikaga)

        Life goes on in Kyoto -- the Emperor is still there. But the center of power had shifted 300 miles to the east -- to the city of Kamakura (about an hour’s train ride today south of Tokyo which was then an unimportant village called Edo).

        Minamoto Yoritomo -- the eldest of the three heirs who were spared -- sets up his capital there -- his bakufu (Army Headquarters) and he takes the title Shogun.

[The Bakufu was a system of military government as well as a kind of headquarters.] Soon the power would pass to another family (ironically, a branch of the Taira!) the Hojo family who would act as sort of regent/counselor to the Shogun much as the Fujiwara had done with the Emperor.

        The first invasion came in November of 1274 in Kyushu at the port of Hakata on the island’s north-west coast. A storm scatters the fleet.

        Kublai Khan sent another mission ordering the King of Japan to come to his court at Peking to do homage. The members of the mission were beheaded on the Shogun’s orders at Kamakura beach.

        The Japanese construct a stone rampart along the shores of Hakata Bay -- this took 5 years to build. In 1281, the Mongols tried again. The defensive line held for nearly two months, but the winning blows were struck by a typhoon on August 15, 1281, The typhoon came to be known as the divine wind or kamikaze. The Mongols lost a great part of their fleet and tens of thousands of men in attempting to withdraw.

A) The Rise of the Samurai and the Rise of Zen Archery and Swordsmanship

 Thomas Hoover in his book Zen Culture writes:

             “The form of government Yoritomo instituted is generally, if somewhat inaccurately, described as feudalism.  The provincial warrior families managed estates worked by peasants whose role was similar to that of the European serfs of the same period.  The estate-owning barons [called daimyo] were mounted warriors, new figures in Japanese history, who protected their lands and their family much as did the medieval European knights.  But instead of glorifying chivalry and maidenly honor, they respected the rules of battle and noble death. Among ther fiercest fighters the world has ever seen, thyery were masters of personal combat, horsemanship, archery, and the way of the sword.  Their principles were fearlessness, loyalty, honor, personal integrity, and contempt for material wealth.  They became known as samurai and they were the men whose swords were ruled by Zen.“  (pp. 58-59)

B) Two Battles during the Kamakura Period:
                                Japan will be invaded by Mongols in 1274 and 1281,

 Here is Thomas Hoover’s account:

            “In 1268 [Kublai Khan] whose Mongol armies were in the process of sacking China, sent envoys to Japan recommending tribute. The Kyoto court was terrified, but not the Kamakura warriors, who sent the Mongoils back empty-handed.  The sequence was repeated four years later, although this time the Japanese knew it would mean war.  As expected, in 1274 an invasion fleet of Mongols sailed from Korea, but after inconclusive fighting on the beachhead of Kyushu, a timely storm blew the invaders out to sea and inflicted enough losses to derail the project.  the Japanese had, however, learned a sobering lesson about their military preparedness.  In the century of internal peace between the Gempei War [between the Taira and Minamoto] and the Mongol landing, Japanese fighting men had let their skills atrophy.  Not only were their formalized ideas about honorable hand-to-hand combat totally inapproriate to the tight formations and the powerful crossbows of the Asian armies (a samurai would ride out, annoucne his lineage, and immediately bee cut down by a volley of Mongol arrows), the Japanese warriors had lost much of their moral fiber.  To correct both these faults the Zen monks who served as advisors to the Hojo inisted that military training, particularly archery and swordsmanship, be formalized using the techniques of Zen discipline.  A system of training was hastily begun in which the samurai were conditioned psychologically as well as physically for battle.  It proved so successful that it became a permanent part of Japanese martial tactics.”  (p. 60)

 The Japanese construct a stone rampart along the shores of Hakata Bay -- this took 5 years to build.  In 1281, the Mongols tried again.  The defensive line held for nearly two months, but the winning blows were struck by a typhoon on August 15, 1281,  The typhoon came to be known as the divine wind or kamikaze.  The Mongols lost a great part of their fleet and tens of thousands of men in attempting to withdraw.

 From this time on, Zen became associated with the ability to face death without fear and it became identified with a warrior spirit.

 “The symbols of the Zen samurai were the sword and the bow.” (Hoover, p. 61) Samurai carried a long sword and a short sword.  The long sword was believed to have a spirit all its own.  “The swordsmith was an almost priestly figure, who after ritual purification, went about his task clad in white robes.”  A kind of tutored instinctive action and the complete identification of the warrior with his weapon are key to the way of the sword.

 In one story:  Disciple to Zen swordmaster:  How long to learn the art?
                               Ten years.
                               But if I work diligently?
                               Thirty years.
                               But if I devote every moment to study?
                               Seventy years.
   The young man is speechless but agrees to give his life over to the  master.  For three years he is put to work hulling rice and practicing Zen  meditation.  One day the master creeps up and gives his student a wack with a  wooden sword.  Thereafter he is attacked daily.  He must be on guard every  moment.  “When the master saw that his student’s body was alert to everything  around it and oblivious to all irrelevant thoughts and desires, training began.”
“Zen training,” Hoover writes, “also renders the warrior free from troubling frailties of the mind, such as fear and rash ambition -- qualities lethal in mortal combat.” (p. 64)

             “Whereas swordsmanship demands that man and weapon merge with no acknowledgment of one’s opponent until the critical moment, archery requires the man to become detached from his weapon and toconcentrate entirely upon the target.  Proper technique is learned, of course, but the ultimate aim is to forget technique, forget the bow, forget the draw and give one’s concentration entirely to the target.  Yet here too there is a difference between Zen archery and Western techniques:  The Zen archer gives no direct thought to hitting the target.  He does not strain for accuracy, but rather lets accuracy come as a result of intuitively applying perfect form.”  (p. 64)

 “The first Zen archery lesson is proper breath control, which requires techniques learned from mediation.
   C) Religious Figures of the Kamakura Period

       (a) Early part of Kamakura period --

             (i) Two forms of Zen are brought from China to Japan by 2 monks:

                 Rinzai Zen by the monk                            Soto Zen by the monk
                  EISAI (1141-1215)                                      DOGEN (1200-1253).

             Rinzai Zen is of the lineage of Rinzai (Lin Chi) at the end of the T’ang period in China. Lin Chi  spoke of “the true person without label in this mass of raw flesh”  Rinzai Zen might be thought of as “drill sergeant Zen”  with koans and zazen and interviews with the master the pressure is unrelenting.  As if the idea was to STRIVE!  STRIVE! STRIVE!  until you realize that you can’t get there by striving and you let go and experience sudden breakthrough, sudden enlightenment.

             Soto Zen is a gentler Zen.  Sitting zazen is enlightenment, daily practice is enlightened practice.  As if the fruit ripens on the tree and drops by itself.

             EISAI (1141-1215)  brought Rinzai Zen from China to Japan [this time it “took”].  He also popularized the drinking of tea.  Trained at Mii-dera, he twice went to China -- at 1st for 6 months;  2nd time, for 4 year, returning to Japan in 1191. The samurai were still new to power.  Eisai wrote Propagation of Zen as Defense of Nation. He spent 10 yrs in the western part of Japan before being invited to Kyoto by the Shogun.  There he became master of the city’s first Zen temple, Kennin-ji.  Once in Kyoto, the sect was quickly adopted by the samurai in Kyoto and in the Shogun’s seat at Kamakura.

             DOGEN-ZENJI (1200-1253)  brought Soto Zen back from China to Japan.  Of nobility, he lost his parents early.  Seems to have from his youth desired to be a priest.  Started training on Mt. Hiei which was corrupt at time.  Then studied under Eisai’s successor Myozen at Kennin-ji.  Went with Myozen to China where he spent 5 years in China (1223-127). [Story of the old temple cook.]  He returned certified to transmit Soto teachings.

             He was a strong critic of other ways -- Zazen alone was true gate and was an “easy and pleasant practice.” Early on, he taught that Zen enlightenment was open to all; later, he concluded that only clerics had the time and direction to practice Zen correctly. Driven from Kyoto, he established the monastery Eihei-ji in a mountainous province away from both Kyoto and Kamakura.  Wrote masterpiece: Shobogenzo -- Treasury of Eye of True Teaching -- though it would be 500 years before this great work would be known widely.

One of Dogen’s sayings:  To study the Way is to study the Self.
                                             To study the Self is to forget the Self.
                                             To forget the Self is to be enlightened by all things.
                                             To be enlightened by all things is to remove the
                                                                        barrier between Self and Other.

    (ii)  Two Devotional (Salvation-based) Strands of Buddhism Emerge

                  Pure Land                                             Nichiren Buddhism

     Started by the monk Honen and                      Like one of the Hebrew prophets,
     his disciple, Shinran,  contemporaries                   Nichiren --
     of Eisai. Though others had practiced            from a fisherman’s family,
     a prayer to Amida Buddha, Honen                  took the Lotus Sutra as the
     made thepractice of “Nembutsu”                      one and only key to salvation.
     a separate sect.

     Repeat numerous times (with sincere              He too devised a mantra:
      heart):  Namu Amida Butsu.                           Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
        Homage to Amida Buddha                             Glory to the Sutra of the Lotus
                                                                                    of the Supreme Law.

     Shinran was the most radical of Honen’s.         Uncharacteristically intolerant,
     disciples.  He broke his monk’s vows,              Nichiren was concerned with
     married, had a family AND continued to           society as a whole as well as
     preach. Even one heartfelt invocation                the individual.
     could cause the believer to be taken                   “Woe to the  nation,”  he
     to the Pure Land                                                   preached.  Avoiding death
     This strand of Buddhist is called                         in seeming miraculous
                                                                                     fashion, he was exiled.  He
         Pure Land Sect (Jodo-shu) of Honen              returned, started up again,
         True Pure Land Sect (Jodo Shinshu)              was exiled again -- this time
                of Shinran                                                    to the island of Sado.

       (b) Late in this period (overlapping the next) -- 2 monks who learned
                                                            their Zen not in China but in Japan:

       National Teacher DAITO (1282-1337) became abbot of Daitokuji in 1324.

Daito practiced a stern form of Rinzai Zen. Legend has it that after his enlightenment, he lived for 20 years with beggars under the Fifth Street
Bridge in Kyoto, until the Emperor discovered him.  He went on to found
the Zen monastery Daitoku-ji in northern part of Kyoto.
        [100 yrs later Ikkyu would see himself in Daito’s lineage and rebuild
                                        Daitokuji after Onin Wars.]

      National Teacher MUSO SOSEKI (1275-1351) the more politically active of the

Muso was the advisor to shoguns and to Emperors.  He  was called to
Kyoto where he was abbot of the key Zen monastery of Nanzen-ji  -- in southeastern Kyoto.  He also served in Kamakura and founded several monasteries himself   He planned several Zen gardens of the first rank.
For more on Zen masters Daito and Muso Soseki, see the enrichment material on the Ashikaga period at www.elon.edu/sullivan/ashikaga.htm

         In 1333, one of the emperor’s generals, Ashikaga Takauji, took advantage of antagonisms between the warrior supporters to seize power.  He had set up his headquarters in Kyoto, not at Kamakura in the east, in order to meet the military challenges of his opponents.  His successors remained in Kyoto and forty years after the founding of the regime built suitably grand buildings in the suburbs of Muromachi.

The next period -- (1333 -- 1573) -- is called the Ashikaga Period (for the family ) or the Muromachi Period (for the suburb of Kyoto where the family had its palace.


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