Why is there a graveyard in the temple?
The grave is a place to fill the bodies and bones of the deceased person. A flat object is called a “grave,” a hilly one is called a “mound,” and a tall one is called a “burial mound.” The ordinary people were buried in graves, and the aristocrats were buried in burial mounds. Both have stones on top. It is said that the stone had the meaning of holding down the dead soul. In Japan, the graveyard was not in a fixed place, and when people died, it was buried in random places. It is said that the first tombs were built in the temple when Emperor Shotoku was buried in Saidai-Ji Temple in Yamato in the 4th year of Jingu Kageun (770). It wasn’t until the Heian era that the stone tower was built on the grave. In the Edo period, ordinary people began to organize their tombs as well. However, the tombstones of the ordinary people were specified how big the stone could be by the Tokugawa shogunate.
One of the most essential features of temple cemeteries is “the Danke system.” When entering a temple graveyard, you have to become a supporter of a temple most of the time. The word “Danka” comes from the Sanskrit word “dana,” which means “making an offering of money.” In other terms, “Danka” means a family that can access a temple to receive memorial service and management instead of financially supporting the temple.” This Danka system comes from the temple system that the Edo Shogunate conducted to eliminate Christians. People proved “not Christians” by always being the ancestors of some temple. When you become a Danka, you will belong to the denomination of the temple. You will receive all the memorial services at the temple. Instead of having a memorial service, the Danka plays a role in supporting the temple. Therefore, they will offer financial supports by participating in temple events.
Was it an abandoned funeral in the past?
In Japan, in the so-called ceremonial occasions, the concept is that “marriage” is Christianity, and “funeral” is Buddhism. On the other hand, the shrine functions as a prayer window for all requests, and few people hold formal weddings or funerals in shrines. Buddhism takes on the form of cremation, but why is the funeral ceremony established as a temple, not a shrine? This is because Shinto, an ancient Japanese religion, was reluctant to treat death. Since ancient times, the Japanese have hated the dead as apologies and feared the curse of the deceased. Therefore, when a person died, they carried the corpse to a mountain far away from their daily lives and left it there. Since many ancient tombs have been found in Japan, there was a custom of burying properly from that time. Still, only a part of the royal family and high-class people were buried carefully there, so it didn’t apply to the regular people. The majority of ordinary people died and were buried in the mountains that were the custom in Japan. If we dare to name the ancient Japanese funeral style, it would be an “abandoned funeral.” This started to change after Buddhism came into Japan.
Isn’t Buddhism afraid of corpses?
In Buddhism, the corpse was not the object of fear. Buddhism believes that everything in this world is made up of the four elements of “earth, water, fire, and wind.” When the human body dies, it will only be decomposed into these four and return to nature. In other words, our bodies are coincidental, only shaped in this world, and when they finish their role, they simply return to nature and are not a target of fear. As a result, temples have taken on the purpose of creating a graveyard and burying the dead. This is the reason why shrines don’t have cemeteries, although temples always have graveyards.