Thursday, January 14, 2010

Buddhist Warrior Monks - the Ikko Ikki

Throughout history, religious fanaticism has been found in varying degrees and for various causes. Many fanatics often used religion and politics to build up sects of loyal followers in order to fulfill their aims. One such group was the Ikko-Ikki rebels of medieval Japan.

The Ikko-Ikki was a massive group of Buddhist fanatics, whose main goal was to topple the feudalist government that controlled Japan and spread the teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Being united by religion allowed the Ikko-Ikki to be more organized than other rebel group at that time.

The origins of the Ikko-Ikki can be found in the 1400’s, where small groups who followed the Jodo-Shinshu or “Pure Land” sect of Buddhism had united as one. They followed the belief that only wholehearted devotion to Amida Buddha would bring salvation. This single union permeated throughout their ranks, even in their name, which means “single minded league”

Their role as a military force reached its peak when they gained control of the entire province of Kaga in 1488, a territory they managed to hold for 100 years. In 1528, the Ikko-Ikki were so sure of their might they decided to attack the capital of Japan : Kyoto.


For the next 50 years the Ikko-Ikki grew in strength and numbers, recruiting many peasants who shared the groups views. The rebels soon became troubling to the various samurai Daimyo, among them was Oda Nobunaga, the first of the three unifiers of Japan. Nobunaga would commit a good portion of his military career to destroying the Buddhist fanatics.

The Ikko-Ikki had been very troubling to him. Through force they restricted his movements, not allowing him to gain control of Japan as he wanted. The rebels also used economical warfare to battle Nobunaga, such as withholding tax and rent.

They had also turned their temples into self-sufficient towns, concentrating them in all the places Nobunaga needed to control. Nobunaga infuriated by the Ikko-Ikki vowed to fight them "Yama yama, tani tani" : on every mountain and in every valley.

In 1570 after 11 years of battling with the Ikko-Ikki, Oda Nobunga took the fight straight to their temple fortresses. Although his first few attempts at crushing the rebels were disastrous, Nobunaga managed to first isolate the Ikko-Ikki and destroy their allies. Nobunaga was not tender. After restricting the inhabitants of Nagashima fortress to the inner buildings he ordered the whole thing to be set on fire. 20,000 men, women and children perished

In 1580 the Ikko-Ikki faced Nobunaga for the last time. Nobunaga managed to push the Ikko-Ikki back into the innermost part of their fortress. The samurai army waited, letting the rebels run out of ammunition and food. Eventually the abbot of Hongan-Ji surrendered. The terms of the surrender were bloodless. After 100 years of violence the Buddhist fanaticism that lead the Ikko-Ikki was no more.

Fanatical militant groups can be found in every culture and religion. And a group with a whole-hearted devotion to their religion and cause can be just as powerful as any army with a general, which makes this type of religious and political fanaticism a frightening phenomena.

From a lecture by Mike Maikeru Baker on Samurai Archives.Com

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