Ganjin (Jianzhen) (鑑真)

Ganjin (688-June 25, 763) was a naturalized priest in the Nara period. He founded the Ritsushu sect in Japan. His surname was Chunyu.

Ganjin and Vinaya (the precepts of Buddhism)

Ganjin was born in Jiiangyang, Yangzhou in Tang. At the age of 14, he entered the priesthood, attending to Chiman, and studied the teachings of the Ritsushu sect and the Tendaishu sect under Daoan and Hongjing. The Ritsushu sect is a Buddhist school that transmits and studies Vinaya precepts which Buddhists, especially priests and nuns should comply with; Ganjin, a successor of the Nanzan-risshu sect based on Shibunritsu (Four-Part Vinayapitaka, which explains about regulations and prohibited matters of the priest) is said to have conducted Jukai (handed down the precepts) to more than 40,000 people. In 742, when he was a chief priest of Daming Temple in Yangzhou, he was implored to transmit the Vinaya precepts to Japan by Yoei and Fusho, priests dispatched to Tang from Japan.

In Buddhism, those who newly ordain as priests and nuns must take a vow to observe the Vinaya precepts. When the compound, Kai-ritsu (Vinaya precepts in Japanese) is used, 'kai' refers to self-imposed vows and 'ritsu' denotes vows among priests and nuns. To vow 'ritsu,' (meaning to vow to keep codes of discipline which govern the Buddhist monastic life), a rite must be performed in front of more than 10 qualified priests and nuns; this is Jukai. Although these Vinaya precepts governing the life and behavior of Buddhist priests and nuns are ones of the most important matters in Buddhism, the Japanese had not thought Jukai so important for a long time; for example, at first when Buddhism was introduced to Japan, Jisei Jukai (self-administered precepts) was permitted. In the Nara period, however, the Vinaya precepts gradually started to be recognized their importance to increase the need to institute orthodox monastic ordinations of the Jukai. Therefore, Yoei and Fusho went to Tang (China) to invite 10 duly ordained Chinese priests prescribed by the Vinaya, and visited Ganjin, who had already distinguished himself as a great Vinaya master.

Accepting the invitation of Yoei and Fusho, Ganjin asked his disciples to go to Japan, but had no volunteers. Then, he resolved to travel to Japan himself, accompanied by 21 of his disciples who had heard their master's resolution. After that, he attempted to have crossed the sea to Japan over five times, only to fail.

Crossing the sea to Japan

Ganjin's first attempt to cross the sea to Japan in summer of 743 ended up in failure since Japanese priests were deported from China by a false information to officers of the harbor that 'Japanese priests were, in fact, pirates,' which was told by some of Ganjin's disciples who desired to keep him in China. Ganjin was forced to stay in China. With careful preparations, Ganjin made the second attempt to sail for Japan in January, 744, but a heavy wind forced him temporarily return back to Yuyao, Mingzhou. In his replanning of the departure, a betrayal of someone who grudged Ganjin's leaving for Japan resulted in Yoei's arrest and Ganjin also failed his third attempt.

After arrested, Yoei succeeded in escaping from prison, pretending to die of disease, and then Ganjin and his party headed for Fuzhou, where they had planned to set sail for Japan because they thought it difficult to sail from Jiangsu or Zhejiang. Again this time, however, strong anxiety of Ganjin's disciplines, Lingyu, for his master's safety brought him to civil authorities to stop Ganjin crossing the sea to Japan. With Ganjin being stopped starting on a voyage by them, his fourth attempt to reach Japan was aborted, too.

In 748, Yoei visited Ganjin at Daming Temple again. Being implored to come to Japan by him, Ganjin decided to make his fifth attempt to reach Japan. Leaving in June, and waiting wind of change for a few months at the Zhoushan islands, Ganjin started on a voyage for Japan in November, but he encountered a severe storm and ended up drifting down to Hainan Island, far south from Japan, after 14-day drift. Ganjin stayed at Daiun-ji Temple of this place for a year, and transmitted a plenty of knowledge about medicine in Hannan Island. Therefore, there have been several remains honoring Ganjin for his achievement up to today.

In 751, Ganjin left Hannan Island to return to Yangzhou. On the way, Yoei passed away in Duanzhou. Being upset, Ganjin headed for Tenjiku (India) from Canton, but he was dissuaded from doing so by his disciples and devotees. During that return journey to Yangzhou, the climate in the southern region and exhaustion deprived Ganjin of his sight (one theory says that he didn't totally lose his sight).

In 752, Ganjin, who had decided to go to Japan without fail, promised FUJIWARA no Kiyokawa, who was a Kento-shi (a Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China) and visited him, to execute his decision. However, Emperor Hsuan Tsung (Tang Dynasty) of those days prohibited Ganjin from going to Japan because he thought it pity for China to lose Ganjin's brilliant brain. For this reason, in 753 when the Kento-shi returned to Japan, FUJUWARA no Kiyokawa, the chief envoy of Japan, refused Ganjin to get on board. Knowing that, OTOMO no Komaro, the vice-envoy, secretly let Ganjin board his ship. Soon after the departure on November 17, the Japanese envoy's ships hit by a heavy gale drifted to the southward, however the ship of vice envoy, Komaro, managed to keep its course to safely reach Bonotsu on December 20; indeed, it took as long as 10 years for Ganjin, who carried Buddha Relics with him, to finally realize his long-cherished desire to visit Japan.

Establishing the Vinaya precepts in Japan

In January, 754, Ganjin arrived at the Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara), and was welcomed by Emperor Shomu and others; by an imperial decree of Empress Koken, the establishment of Kaidan (Buddhist ordination platform) and Jukai were entirely left to Ganjin, and he resided at Todai-ji Temple. In April, Ganjin established an ordination platform at Daibutsu-den Hall (the Great Buddha hall) in the Todai-ji Temple, and conferred Bosatsu-kai (Bodhisattva Precepts) on 400 people, including from the retired emperor to priests and nuns. This was the beginning of todan-jukai (handing down the precepts). Kaidan-in of the Todai-ji Temple was also built for a permanent ordination platform, and after that, in 761, Kaidan platforms were constructed at Kanzeon-ji Temple in Dazaifu (present day in Fukuoka Prefecture in Kyushu) and at Yakushi-ji Temple of Shimotsuke Province (Shimotsuke City, north of present day Tokyo) so that todan-jukai might be conferred from the east to the west part of Japan; as a result, the Vinaya precepts system had rapidly developed.

In 758, Emperor Junnin showed his compassion for Ganjin by an imperial order of his, appointing him Daiwajo (honorific title for Ganjin) and relieving him from the member of Sogo (Office of Monastic Affairs), so that Ganjin might only transmit the Vinaya precepts as he wanted.

In 759, Ganjin was given the former residence of Imperial Prince Niitabe to build Toshodai-ji Temple and set up a Kaidan platform. In addition to the Vinaya precepts, Ganjin imparted his deep knowledge about sculptures and medical herbs to Japan. He also opened Hiden-in, (a facility for the elderly, disabled, sick and orphans), being actively involved in relief efforts for the poor.

In 763, he passed away at the Toshodai-ji Temple. Died at the age of 76. Ninki, one of Ganjin's disciples, who mourned his master's death, made the sculpture of Ganjin (Dakkatsu-kanshitsu [hollow dry lacquer: A method of making lacquer statues, popular in the Nara period], colored; a technique to form a framework of statue by layering of lacquered hemp cloth, and the both hands are carved in wood), which the Toshodai-ji Temple has preserved until today (Statue of Ganjin in Toshodai-ji Temple, national treasure) and is said the first portrait sculpture in Japan. Additionally, in 779, Ganjin's biography, "To Daiwajo Toseiden" (Eastern Expedition of Ganjin, the Great Tang Monk) was written by OMI no Mifune, which is a precious historical material to indicate Ganjin's achievement.