Pure Land Denominations and Schools in Japan
Pure Land Denominations and Schools in Japan
The first budding of the Pure Land concept was already seen at the time of Prince Shotoku (574-622), having been influenced by the Chinese Pure Land thoughts. This faith passed through the Nara and Heian periods and gradually went deep and wide, taking root in the minds of the Japanese people. It was, however, during the end of the Heian (794-1192) and the beginning of the Kamakura (1192-1336) periods when this belief was formed into independent denominations in Japan.
Pure Land is the land of where Amida Buddha lives. This land was, according to Scriptures, created by this Buddha in order to accomplish His original Vows to save the people from the world of suffering and sorrow. It is mentioned in the scripture that Amida Buddha, when he was still in the stage of a Bodhisattva, named Dharmakara, made a special vow to attain the state of Enlightenment not for his own sake but for those who were unable to become Buddha by their own practices and efforts.
a. Jodo Denomination
The worship of Amida Buddha gathering strength in the Heian Period was systematized in the Kamakura Period by Honen (1133-1212), and is worthy of particular attention as it is the first establishment of an indigenous Japanese Buddhist denomination, though we could see its forerunning thoughts both in China and Japan.
Honen, according to a legend, read all the Buddhist canons in existence at the time and became well acquainted with several teachings, but none of them gave him any satisfaction. After twenty years of study, he found that the Original Vows of Amida Buddha was the way he was seeking, namely simple teaching and practice which were applicable to all people. According to Honen, it is very difficult for any ordinary and ignorant person to reach the state of Enlightenment through one's practice and efforts. The only way for such a person is to take birth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha where he shall be enlightened. He insisted that the repetition of the name of this Buddha in the form of "Namo Amida Butsu" (I rely upon the Enlightened One who is Infinite Light and Eternal Life) is the best method of attaining birth in the Pure Land because it is supported by the power of Amida Buddha's Original Vow.
Thus, the teaching of Buddhism, for the first time in the history of Japanese Buddhism, became within the reach of everyone. Although he was accused and suppressed by the old denominations and schools during his life-time, Honen's teaching remained alive, and at present the Jodo Denomination is one of the largest Buddhist denominations in Japan, with several branches and many famous temples such as Chion-in Temple in Kyoto, and Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo.
b. Jodo Shin Denomination
Jodo Shin denomination, more often called simply "Shin-shu" or Shin Denomination, which is followed today by the majority of the Buddhist population in Japan, is traced back to its founder, Shinran (1173-1262).
Strangely enough, however, according to his own words, he had no intention of founding a denomination. He first encountered this Pure Land teaching through Honen, and became his disciple for life. Shinran simply tried to follow what his master Honen taught. Nevertheless, we can find a great difference between them, judging from the lives they spent and words they spoke.
Honen said: "Those who can recite the name of Amida Buddha in the form of Nembutsu (to recite a phrase "Namo Amida Butsu") without having wives, remain celibate; those who cannot recite the Nembutsu without having wives, marry." Honen himself, however, kept celibate throughout his life, while Shinran married. It must be noted that Shinran was the first Buddhist priest who officially married in the history of Buddhism.
The fact that he became married and acted like a common person encouraged lay people to enter into his faith. Shinran dedicated his life propagating the teachings which was so appropriate for the times.
Another difference between the teaching of Honen and that of Shinran exists in the fact that Honen's Nembutsu was regarded as a kind of practice for the followers, while Shinran's Nembutsu was understood to be the manifestation of the followers' thankfulness to the Compassionate Power of Salvation by Amida Buddha. In other words, to Shinran, the Nembutsu was not a practice, but the expression of gratitude to the all-embracing Compassion of this Buddha. It was not a necessity, therefore, to recite the Nembutsu for the followers to be saved by Amida Buddha, but the Nembutsu was a simply a spontaneous expressions of thanksgiving when one realized the great compassion of Amida.
After the death of Shinran, Jodo Shin denomination became independent of the Jodo Denomination of Honen. In its twelfth generation, it was split into two branches; "Higashi Hongwan-ji" School (Otani-ha School) and "Nishi Hongwan-ji" School (Hongwanji-ha School), because of differences in the problem of succession. Today teachings and faith of both are the same, with the only difference being in historical tradition. This Jodo Shin denomination has been the only stream of Japanese Buddhism which has descendants of the founder as its successors, since Shinran was the only one among founders of all Japanese Buddhist denominations and schools who had his own offsprings.
Besides the "Higashi" (East) and the "Nishi" (West) Hongwan-ji Schools, there are eight more sects in the Jodo Shin denomination with little differences in their teachings. Both the Head Temples of the "Higashi Hongwan-ji" School and "Nishi Hongwan-ji" School are in Kyoto.