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The Journey of 鑒真 Jianzhen

Traditional Japanese Medicine originated from Traditional Chinese Medicine and was first introduced to Japan directly from the mainland of China.

One of the first men who brought Traditional Chinese Medicine to Japan was 鑒真 Jianzhen.

鑒真 Jianzhen was not proficient in medicine only. As a matter of fact, he is best known for his monkhood. In addition to teaching and practicing medicine and propagating Buddhism in Japan, Jiah Zhen greatly influenced Japanese architecture, sculpture, calligraphy and other aspects of its culture.

鑒真 Jianzhen​'s Origin Story

鑒真 Jianzhen lived during the Tang Dynasty of China (618 – 907 A.D.) and its golden age of arts and culture which spread across much of Asia. 鑒真 Jianzhen was born into a devout Buddhist family in 688 A.D. They resided in Jiangyin county in Guangling Prefecture (present day Yangzhou, Jiangsu) on China’s east coast, a major cosmopolitan center and economic powerhouse.

At the age of 14 years old on one of the trips to a Buddhist temple with his father, young Jian was so impressed and moved by massive statues of Buddha, that he decided to become a monk. Jian’s family did not oppose their son’s intent but instead welcomed it and supported the boy.

Jian’s journey began as a novice in the local temple where he spent six years studying Buddhist teachings. After Jian was ordained a monk at the age of 20, he went traveling far and wide. On his journey Jian closely studied the doctrines, sutras, Buddhist precepts (rules and etiquette governing the functions of the Buddhist congregation) and Vinaya (procedures and conventions of etiquette that support harmonious relations among monks as well as their followers and supporters) which deepened his understanding immensely.

At the age of 26 鑒真 Jianzhen began teaching Buddhist precepts. He was so well versed in the wisdom that he quickly became highly reputable even earning a “Master of Buddhist Precepts” title among his followers.

At the age of 40 鑒真 Jianzhen returned to his hometown where he spent the next 10 years promulgating Buddhism in the local temple. He also participated in building new temples and Buddha statues, authored written works and devoted himself to beneficence.

China's Golden Age

鑒真 Jianzhen was known to be an expert in medicine. When at the Daming Temple in his hometown, Jian opened a hospital and a place of healing for the community where he offered free medical care and herbs to those in need. He was highly intelligent, highly skilled, and very devoted.

Since China was going through its golden age at the time, many countries including Japan sent their scholars, doctors and monks to China to study medicine, Buddhism, the structure of government, architecture, literature, written language, customs and other arts and sciences.

That is how in 742 two Japanese priests, Yoei and Fusho, found their way to the abbot 鑒真 Jianzhen of Yangzhou. They were on a mission to bring Chinese monks to Japan to propagate Buddhism which had already began flourishing.

鑒真 Jianzhen quickly and willingly agreed to shoulder the important task of promoting the Buddhist precepts in Japan. However, it would take him and his disciples 11 years and six failed attempts to reach the shores of Japan and begin spreading the message of Buddha to the Japanese people.

The Journey to Japan

Traveling by boat overseas was illegal at the time. While facing elaborate challenges in an attempt to overcome that hurdle, enmity between two of Jian’s disciples led to the discovery of their plan by the authorities which put an end to their trip before it could even begin.

The next two attempts failed due to severe weather conditions at sea. On the third try the boat on which Jian was traveling was destroyed by a typhoon and he narrowly escaped death.

In Jian’s 4th attempt to travel to Japan his followers clang to him so strongly that they refused to let him leave. They informed the authorities about 2 Japanese priests’ plans to abduct master Jian and take him to Japan.

On the 5th try, one of Jian’s disciples was worried for his master’s frail health and felt a need to “protect” him from the dangerous journey. The disciple reported Jian’s intention of traveling to Japan to the authorities which put an end to the trip.

On the 6th attempt, Jian and his disciples managed to sail away, however, they underestimated the amount of food and drinking water they were going to need on their journey. They ran out of drinking water and in the end, their boat drifted far away from their destination and ran aground in Southern China. Shortly after Jian’s physical health weakened and he turned blind from an infection.

Still 鑒真 Jianzhen’s resolve to reach Japan and propagate Buddhism to the Japanese people never weakened and he never let go of his intent.

In 753 a group of Japanese emissaries visiting China offered to take 鑒真 Jianzhen to Japan on their ship. Under the cover of night and in strict secrecy, 鑒真 Jianzhen was finally able to sail to Japan. He was welcomed by the Emperor and Empress of Japan who put him in charge of preaching Buddhism in the country and bestowed upon him the title “Grand Master of Transmitting the Light”.

Medicinal Herbs & Treatments

鑒真 Jianzhen brought many books and cultural relics with him. He taught Chinese culture and medicine throughout the country, which significantly promoted the development of Japanese Buddhism and medicine. It is believed that Jian brought 36 kinds of herbs with him from China. They were the following:

  • 麻黄 Ma Huang, or Herba Ephedrae
  • 细辛 Xi Xin, or Herba Asari
    芍药 Shao Yao, or Radix Paeoniae
  • 附子 Fu Zi, or Radix Aconiti Carmichaeli
  • 远志 Yuan Zhi, or Radix Polygalae
  • 黄芪 Huang Qi, or Radix Astragali
  • 甘草 Gan Cao, or Radix liquiritiae
  • 苦参 Ku Shen, or Radix Sophorae Flavescentis
  • 当归 Dang Gui, or Radix Angelicae Sinensis
  • 柴胡 Chai Hu, or Radix Bupleuri
  • 川芎 Chuan Xiong, or Rhizoma Chuanxiong
  • 玄参 Xuan Shen, or Radix Scrophulariae
  • 地黄 Di Huang, or Rehmannia glutinosa
  • 紫苏 Zi Su, or Perilla frutescens
  • 丹参 Dan Shen, or Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae
  • 黄芩 Huang Qin, or Radix Scutellariae
  • 桔梗 Jie Geng, or Platycodon grandiflorus
  • 旋覆花 Xuan Fu Hua, or Flos lnuJae
  • 苍术 Cang Zhu, or Rhizoma Atractylodis
  • 知母 Zhi Mu, or Rhizoma Anemarrhenae
  • 半夏 Ban Xia, or Rhizoma Pinelliae
  • 芫花 Yuan Hua, or Flos Genkwa
  • 栀子 Zhi Zi, or Fructus Gardeniae
  • 五味子 Wu Wei Zi Fructus Schisandra chinensis
  • 黄柏 Huang Bo, or Cortex Phellodendri Chinensi
  • 杏仁 Xing Ren, or Fructus Almond
  • 厚朴 Hou Po, or Cortex Magnoliae officinalis
  • 和厚朴 He Hou Po, or Magnolia Obovata
  • 肉桂 Rou Gui, or Cortex Cinnamomi
  • 杜仲 Du Zhong, or Cortex Eucommiae
  • 木瓜 Mu Gua, or Fructus Chaenomelis
  • 大枣 Da Zao, or Fructus Zizyphi
  • 蜀椒 Shu Jiao, or Sichuan Pepper
  • 吴茱萸 Wu Zhu Yu, or Fructus Evodiae.

He taught the Japanese people how to distinguish medicinal herbs, collect and store them, how to extract their medicinal properties and how to use them in medicinal herbal formulas. By that time Master Jian was blind and used his acute sense of smell to distinguish each herb.

鑒真 Jianzhen actively advocated the medical classic 伤寒杂病论 Shang Han Za Bing Lun, or Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Diseases by the legendary Chinese physician 张仲景 Zhang Zhongjing and even compiled prescriptions he trusted and found most efficient in the 鉴上人秘方 Jian Shang Ren Mi Fang, or Treasurable Prescriptions by Master 鑒真 Jianzhen.

When the Japanese Empress dowager was critically ill, only 鑒真 Jianzhen’s prescriptions were efficient in helping her.

Master 鑒真 Jianzhen's Legacy

鑒真 Jianzhen is still considered one of the founding fathers of Japanese medicine and herbaceuticals. Many Japanese people still honor him as the ancestor of Japanese medicine. His image is still printed on the medicine bags of herbacies in Japan.

His life story is retold in the scroll, “The Sea Journey to the East of a Great Bonze from the Tang Dynasty.”

Here at Si Jin Bao we honor Master 鑒真 Jianzhen by sharing his legacy of devotion, determination, skill and perseverance.

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