BENCHŌ (1162–1238), also known as Shōkōbō; posthumous name, Benʾa; founder of the Chinzei branch of the Japanese Jōdo (Pure Land) sect, the dominant branch of this sect. He is presently counted the second patriarch of the Jōdoshū.
Born in the province of Chikuzen in northern Kyushu, Benchō became a novice monk at the age of seven. At the age of twenty-two he left Kyushu and entered the head Tendai monastery of Enryakuji on the northeastern outskirts of Kyoto, then the capital of Japan. After six years of study there under the erudite scholar-monk Hōchibō Shōshin he returned to Chikuzen. Three years later, deeply shocked by the death of his stepbrother, he underwent a religious crisis in which he came to feel keenly the impermanence of things. On a trip to Kyoto in order to obtain a statue for a pagoda he had helped to reconstruct, Benchō met Hōnen and became his disciple. After delivering the statue to Chikuzen he returned to Kyoto in 1199 to study the Nembutsu (Chin., nianfo ) teachings under Hōnen.
Five years later he returned again to Kyushu, and from this time on was active in propagating the Pure Land Nembutsu teachings throughout the northern portion of Kyushu. Among his many disciples was Ryōchū (1198–1287), who was designated the heir of Benchō's transmission when the latter gave official sanction to Ryōchū's work, Ryōge matsudai nembutsu jushuin shō. Ryōchū was later instrumental in establishing Benchō's lineage as the dominant branch among the many offshoots of Hōnen's teaching.
Benchō held that practices other than the Nembutsu (the recitation of the words "Namu Amida Butsu") do not fundamentally accord with Amida's Original Vows (hongan ). However, he did state that it was possible to attain birth in the Pure Land through non-Nembutsu practices insofar as they are performed in good faith. Thus he held that both Nembutsu and non-Nembutsu are qualitatively identical in that they can be the cause of birth in the Pure Land. He also emphasized the idea of "unperturbed mind at the deathbed" (rinjū shōnen ). For Benchō, it is of utmost importance to recite the Nembutsu with an undisturbed mind at the time of one's death. Under these circumstances, the practitioner is said to be able to see the Buddha arriving to lead him to the Pure Land. This deathbed vision of the Buddha is considered crucial to one's birth in the Pure Land and eventual enlightenment there. Finally, Benchō placed strong emphasis on the actual recitation of the Nembutsu. This ultimately places him among the ranks of those who advocate "many-calling" (tanen ), the constant repetition of the Nembutsu, and "self-power" (jiriki ), the position that the Nembutsu is recited through one's own conscious effort.
Hōnen to sono monka no kyōgaku. Kyoto, 1972. Sponsored by Ryukoku Daigaku Shinshu Gakkai.
Kodo Yasui. Hōnen monka no kyōgaku. Kyoto, 1968.
Bando ShŌjun (1987)