ENCHIN (814/5–891/2), posthumously known as Chishō Daishi, was the sixth patriarch (zasu ) of the Tendai school of Japanese Buddhism and one of the so-called nittō-hakke, or "eight (Esoteric) masters who studied in China." Enchin, a distant cousin of Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi, 774–835), founder of the Shingon sect, was born on the island of Shikoku. From the age of fifteen he studied under Gishin, a direct disciple of Saichō (Dengyō Daishi, 767–822), founder of the Tendai sect, at the Enryakuji on Mount Hiei, the center of the Tendai monastic establishment.
Enchin was sent by the government to China, where he studied from 853 to 859, first on Mount Tiantai (center of the Tiantai sect), and then at the Qinglong Monastery in the capital, Chang'an, thus absorbing the teachings and practices of both Tendai and Esoteric Buddhism. Upon his return to Japan he was sponsored by the court (he established an initiation hall within the precincts of the imperial palace) and by the leaders of the Fujiwara clan, and took up residence in the Onjōji in Shiga prefecture, at the foot of Mount Hiei. In 868 he became zasu of the Tendai sect, a position he held until his death. Together with Ennin (Jikaku Daishi, 794–864), he was a central figure in the development of classical Japanese Tendai Buddhism.
Enchin's contributions gave rise to a movement that resulted in the complete esotericization of Tendai thought and practice, leading to the creation of "Tendai Esotericism" (Taimitsu, as opposed to "Shingon Esotericism," or Tomitsu). Enchin believed that the teachings of Tendai and Shingon were of equal value (in contradistinction to various hierarchical gradings fashionable at the time), but he also believed that the praxis of Shingon was superior (ridō-jishō ). He also stated that the transcendental Buddha appearing in Tendai's major scripture, the Lotus Sūtra, was the same as Mahāvairocana, the main figure of the pantheon of Shingon Buddhism. Enchin was also the first proponent of the hongaku ("original enlightenment") theory, according to which all sentient and nonsentient beings are from the outset fully endowed with complete awakening. This theory played a central function in the evolution of Tendai doctrine and Buddhism at large, and was also instrumental in the theoretical interpretations of the associations between Shintō and Buddhist divinities (shinbutsu-shūgō ). Finally, Enchin was also, according to the tradition, a key figure in the development of the Tendai branch of mountain asceticism (Shugendō), especially in the Kumano region.
In the generation after Enchin, the Onjōji came to be known as the Jimon branch of the Tendai sect, in opposition to the Sanmon branch located in Enryakuji. The Jimon branch was run by the disciples of Enchin, the Sanmon branch by Ennin's disciples. The patriarchs of the Tendai sect were to be chosen from either Ennin's or Enchin's lineage. This and other questions ultimately led to friction between the two institutions, and then to armed attacks, provoked largely by political considerations. During the late Heian period the so-called warrior monks (sōhei ) of these great monasteries battled the government and each other mercilessly in a quest for privileges, land, domains, and power. This situation resulted in the demise of the Tendai institutions at the end of the medieval period, and in the total destruction of the monasteries by Oda Nobunaga in 1571.
Enchin had many disciples and composed a large number of doctrinal treatises, among which the Dainichikyō-shiiki (The final truth of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra) and the Kōen-hokke-gi (Lectures on the rites of the lotus blossom) are noteworthy. After his death, Enchin became the object of a cult centered around a sculptured representation holding his ashes.
Chishō Daishi. Ōtsu, 1937. Published under the auspices of the Onjōji (Miidera).
Murayama Shūichi. Hieizan to Tendai bukkyō no kenkyū. Tokyo, 1975.
Tsuji Zennosuke. Nihon bukkyōshi; jōsei-hen, vol. 1. Tokyo, 1944.
Allan G. Grapard (1987)