Where the Music of India and Japan Meet

On the Shichiseikai (Part Three)

NAKAGAWA Hiroshi

The Buddhist World : Full of Music (2)


As you will remember from the last installment, the Buddhist world has become filled with even more music. Having strong connections with the state and governmental policy, the main objective of Buddhist ceremonies and musical performances in the Nara Period was to act as a kind of prayer for the security and prosperity of the nation; music was neither limited only to memorial services, nor quite allowed to exceed the established boundaries of the tradition and become entertainment. However, as the country passed into a new era, interest in the Pure Land of the Jodo Sect not only grew, a greater emphasis began to be placed on the strong connections music had with Buddhist teaching. This is the third article in a four-part series.
After the Todaiji Temple Daibutsu-Kaigan-Kuyo-e

During the Nara Period (710-794), special attention was being given to the outward forms and appearances of the nation, and as such, Buddhism and its ceremonies provided Japan with an added measure of prestige. More than being a Buddhist ceremony, the Todaiji Temple Daibutsu-Kaigan-Kuyo-e (752), a kind of "great Asian music festival" with the Indian monk Bodaisenna as kaiganshi (master-of-ceremonies), was in effect a display of the imperial court's power. Since the ceremonies performed at the major temples were conceived in close connection with state policy, the music festivals that went along with them, as well as memorial services for the dead and for the Buddhist world in general were in large part designed to be prayers for the security and prosperity of the nation. The music was no doubt important, but perhaps more as an element of entertainment than as a ceremonial element.

Despite this, following the Todaiji Temple Daibutsu-Kaigan-Kuyo-e, it does seem to have become common to perform music at other major temples as the following records from the period make clear:

"Uta-Ryo performed Komagaku, Daianji Temple performed Rinyugaku, and Kofukuji Temple performed Tenningaku." (from the March 23, 874 entry in the Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku)

"The 107 members of Rinyugaku practiced music at Daianji Temple." (from the February 21, 883 entry of the same document)

These entries also show that besides four of the larger temples, Daianji, Yakushiji, Gangoji, and Kofukuji, Todaiji, Horyuji, Saidaiji, Shitennoji, Tachibana-dera, Uzumasa-dera, and Sengenji had come to consider music as a legitimate occupation and had musicians in their employ. Of the music that was performed, most was that of nearby countries such as China or Korea, but also included distinctive characteristics according to the temple.

Though it is not difficult to imagine the sound of monks chanting the sutra, numerous musicians practicing, the voices and sounds used in ceremonies, the soundscape surrounding the temples was markedly different from that of today. There was, of course, no automobile noise at all, and since the population was much smaller, the instant one stepped out into the street

it must have been possible to hear live music without the aid of speakers from every direction. (At the very least, for example, it must have been possible for those people who lived in the city or near a major temple to enjoy this sort of elegant soundscape on a daily basis. For my ancestors, as residents of Kotaki, Miyauchi-machi, Higashi-Okitama-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, the natural world remained almost untouched. In this northeastern mountain village, my ancestors, with the surname "Jinbo" (literally, "god protector"), were employed as Shinto priests for many generations and maintained a very circumscribed family lineage. The town actually dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185), when many of the residents made their living by attending to the needs of the aristocracy, which I know is taking us in an entirely different direction, but it is, I must say, quite difficult to imagine this situation.)

Jodo Philosophy and Music

Music in the Pure Land

Influenced by similar writings in China, toward the end of the 10th century the ojoden (literally, "legend of rebirth in the Pure Land") became a popular literary genre, and expressed well the concerns of the age. In one of these works, the Nihon Ojo Gokurakuki (985-6), there are many detailed descriptions of music. On his deathbed, the abbot of Enryakuji Temple, Zomei, describes the scene: "Golden light shines everywhere, purple clouds linger, music fills the air, fragrances fill the room. The head priest bows toward the west and prays to Amida." If this is the scene that we will actually be faced with, then rebirth doesn't look too bad.

There is also an example of the music performed by an actual group of musicians at the time of rebirth in the Nihon Kodai Ongakushiron by OGI Mitsuo. In this book, the author introduces a work called Honcho Shinshu Ojoden. According to it, just as an old Buddhist nun was about to be reborn, a musician commanded music to be played, and after a short time, the nun said, "My welcome is near at hand. I can hear the subtle strains of music. It is music that is impossible to compare with that of humans." After which, it is said, she sat erect and died. Concerning this passage, Ogi writes, "From this we can see the supernatural role that music plays by working to call forth music from the heavens through the performance of music in the material world at the time of rebirth....From our experiences of religion and music, the Japanese people have long...appealed to the Buddhist world through music and the miraculous power it possesses. As a result, a pattern of religious worship has been created around the acceptance of the music of the Pure Land and the blessing of Buddha's mercy and the welcoming of other sacred entities."

The relationship between Buddhism and music in the Jodo sect is not limited to "ojo music." Small groups formed to study Buddhist teachings that were led by musicians, composed and chanted wasan, Japanese-style religious songs, to the accompaniment of gagaku (Japanese Court music) or saibara, leading to a form ever closer to a Buddhist hymn. From this tendency, the idea that music itself was a form of Buddhist teaching began to be developed. Shingen, who established the Junji Ojo Koshiki in 1114, believed that the music used in rites of rebirth corresponded directly to the teachings of Buddha as found in the Jodo sect.

Even in the esoteric Buddhist teachings of Kukai (774-835), music was a vital element. In the Dai-Birushana-Jobutsu-Shinpen-Kaji-Kyo, according to KATAOKA Gido in the Eisho Ronko , all of the esoteric Buddhist ceremonies (Taizokai-Mandara-Ku, Kanjo-e) were proscribed to be large music festivals. Every ritual in the ceremonies was performed with music, and every type of song and dance was, in other words, a form of Buddhist mudra. Kataoka also explains that music and dance were thought of as indispensable, as well as being the most effective, means of achieving the ultimate goal in esoteric Buddhism, sokushin-jobutsu, becoming a Buddha while still occupying one's physical body, and that of course, the erotic elements found in secular music were soon included in the mixture. Once this happened, it is clear that the Buddhist world became absolutely full of music.

Shomyo, which might be thought of as the essence of Buddhist music, had already been transmitted to Japan by the Nara Period, but it wasn't until Kukai and Saicho (767-822) had journeyed to China and the Tendai and Shingon sects were introduced that full-fledged chanting began. In the development of Jodo thought that I have touched upon so far, and naturally, the music-filled Buddhist world as a whole, shomyo played an important role. As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, it is clear that the so-called the "Institute of Buddhist Music in Ohara," Shorinin (founded in 1014 by Jakugen) and Raigoin (founded in 1098 by Ryonin), were greatly influenced by the atmosphere that was created during this period. In this manner, from the late Heian Period to the early Kamakura Period, Buddhism at last began to adopt many of its musical aspects, while also becoming firmly established and spreading among the general populace as a belief system.

In India, during the same period, Jayadeva (12-13th century) was writing the Gita Gøvinda. Jayadeva himself set his own poetry to beautiful melodies, and wandered through various countries singing his work. The single largest religious activity in Hinduism, bhakti (religious devotion as a means of salvation), too spread like wildfire throughout India due to Jayadeva and other musicians and poets. During my stay in India, I once spent a night in a Hindu temple as a priest played the harmonium and sang hymns in praise of God and the faithful sang k·rtan (devotional songs). This tradition is alive and well in India today, and although the relationship between religion and music in Japan and India has its share of differences, there is something fascinating about discovering the similarities.

(to be continued next issue)

An Abundance of Music



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