The name Buddha means ‘Enlightened One.’ Buddhism was founded in India in the 500s BCE, and by the time it made its way into Japan in 552 CE, it was already well-established. However, Buddhism had evolved and the type that reached Japan was called Mahayana, which stressed the importance of family and ancestral worship, ideals already in Japanese culture. It is sometimes considered a “religion of the dead” as it held funerals and ceremonies and priestly duties included care of temple graveyards.

Mahayana believed that requests (e.g. recovery, wealth) involved reciting sutras, performing rituals and spiritual exercises, and using special objects (amulets). Tantrism believes that absolute truth is present in all phenomena, as in mandala – sacred diagrams or statues, mantra - sacred utterings (‘Om’), and mudra – ritual gestures. Buddhas are often shown making mudras, each of which has special meaning. All of these had a big influence on Buddhist iconography (statues) in Japan.

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