Haibutsu-kishaku (a movement to abolish Buddhism) (廃仏毀釈)
Haibutsu-kishaku (廃仏毀釈 in Chinese characters) means a movement to destroy Buddhist temples, Buddhist statues and Buddhist scriptures as well as to abolish the privileges entitled to Buddhist priests/nuns. It is also written as 排仏棄釈 (Haibutsu-kishaku) in Chinese characters. Although some literature writes '廃仏稀釈,' it is a miswriting.
Haibutsu-kishaku during the Meiji period
In general, 'Haibutsu-kishaku' means the destruction of Buddhist facilities caused by the policies of Shinto kokkyo (establishing Shinto as a state religion) and Saisei icchi (uniting Shinto and politics) including 'Shinbutsu Bunrirei' (Ordinance distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism), an edict of Dajokan (the Grand Council of State) dated on April 5, 1868 as well as 'Taikyo Senbu' (Establishment of Shinto), an Imperial edict dated February 3, 1870, which the new Japanese government established after the Meiji Restoration issued.
Although neither Shinbutsu Bunrirei nor Taikyo Senbu aimed boycotting Buddhism, both of them eventually gave rise to a civil movement called the Haibutsu-kishaku Movement (the Movement of Haibutsu). Under this movement, syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism was abolished, use of Buddhist statues for shintai (an object for worship housed in Shinto shrines) was prohibited and other Buddhism-like elements were dispelled from shrines. Because various actions were taken hastily, including the decision of enshrined deities, the elimination of temples, Buddist priests' conversion to Shinto priests, the destruction of Buddhist statues and Buddhist tools, the prohibition of Buddhist rites and the compulsion of citizens' conversion to Shinto, the society became chaotic. Although the storm of that movement calmed down around 1871, it took long to retrieve the normal system.
For example, Mt. Nokogiri (Chiba Prefecture) used to have five hundred statues of arhats (Gohyakurakan zo) but all of them were destroyed. To date, all of them have been restored, but some scars still remain on Rakan zo. In addition, graves of the peerages', including dukes' and marquises', were also forced to change from Buddhism-style to Shinto-style.
Under the Decree for the Restoration of Imperial Rule, the Meiji Government intended to pursue theocracy and use Shinto as its base. With the help of some scholars of Japanese classical literature who would take initiatives, the government led people to deprive the Buddhist force, which had significantly affected them until that time, of their properties and status, and to weaken the Buddhist influence.
Although Buddhist priests' meat-eating and marriage had been banned until the end of the Edo period based on the Act for Temples, the Meiji Government declared 'monks are free to eat meat and marry' and tried to make them depraved by violating the precepts of Buddhism
Shrine priests, who had been subordinated to Buddhist priests, under the shelter of Government, started the 'Haibutsu-kishaku' movement, which was to thoroughly deny and destroy Buddhism. Shrine priests destroyed temples and took over temples' land by taking advantage of the confusion. Some Buddhist priests became Shinto priests or soldiers and some sold off temples' land and/or treasures and ran away. The five-storied pagoda of Kofuku-ji Temple, which is currently designated as a national treasure, was to be sold off at only two yen (equivalent to about 50,000 yen in 2006 value) when it encountered the religious persecution of Haibutsu-kishaku.
Uchiyama Eikyu-ji Temple, which is said to have been a big temple and had its magnificent Garan (ensemble of temple building), was completely destroyed and no trace of it can be found
In the Satsuma Domain, where the Haibutsu-kishaku movement was thoroughly conducted, as many as 1616 temples were destroyed and as many as 2966 Buddhist priests returned to secular life, quitting the priesthood.
Since one-third of the former priests later became civilian employees of the army, it is sometimes said that confiscated properties and personnel from temples' estate were used for the purpose of strengthening the military. Behind the movement was the spread of Kokugaku (the study of Japanese classical literature) (study), which regarded mixture of Buddhism and Shinto as impure. Ordinary people had a strong antipathy against temples because the system of supervising people through Buddhist priests was enshrined into law in the Edo period by the Terauke system (compulsory temple registration of individuals) enforced by Jisha-bugyo (magistrates of temples and shrines) and because such a system had become a hotbed of corruption.
In addition, the Government-initiated fashion of regarding Shinto as superior and the Goverment policy of Datsua-nyuo (leave Asia and join Europe) also affected people. The movement to abolish Buddhism was strongly conducted especially in regions where Kokugaku of Atsutane HIRATA school or Mitogaku (the scholarship or academic traditions that arose in the Mito Domain) were popular.
Those movements led to the movement to establish Shinto as the national religion, which became the beginning of State Shinto.
Haibutsu-kishaku in India and China
The persecution of Buddhism in Ephthal of India and the abolishment of Buddhism by King Mihirakura
The attack of the Muslims troop against Vikramasila Temple, a leading Buddhist temple in India (persecution of Buddhism in India). Sanbu Isso no Honan' in China: the persecution of Buddhism conducted by Taiwudi of Northern Wei (Northern Wei), by Han Wudi of Northern Thou (Northern Thou), by Wuzong of Tang (Tang) and by Sejong of Later Thou (Later Thou). The policy of "Suju-haibutsu (revere Confucianism, abolish Buddhism) adopted by Seong-gye YI of the YI Dynasty in Korea. These are the examples of Haibutsu-kishaku.