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GANJIN (Chin., Jianzhen; 688763) was a Buddhist Vinaya master from China who introduced procedures for ordaining Buddhist clergy into Japan and who established the Risshu, or Vinaya school, of Buddhism there. Ganjin's birthplace was Yangzhou, a prosperous shipping town in eastern China. There he underwent tonsure at a local temple in 701. Four years later he received the bodhisattva precepts, a set of vows administered as a sign of devotion to Mahāyāna Buddhist principles.

At the age of nineteen, Ganjin traveled to China's traditional capitals of Luoyang and Chang'an to study at the major centers of Buddhist learning. His primary field of training was Vinaya, the ancient rules and procedures governing the life and behavior of Buddhist priests and nuns. Interest in the Vinaya had peaked in China a century earlier, and a formal school, the Lüzong, was established to preserve and promote clerical practices based on the Sifenlü (T.D. no. 1428), the version of the Vinaya inherited from the Dharmaguptaka school of India. This Vinaya, which lists 250 precepts for priests and 348 for nuns, was Hīnayāna in origin, but it became the basis for ordination and clerical discipline in the overwhelmingly Mahāyāna schools of China and Japan. Ganjin himself took the 250 precepts at the time of his full ordination in 708, a year after his arrival in Chang'an. In 713, at the age of twenty-five, he returned to Yangzhou and began his own career as a Vinaya master. Over the next thirty years Ganjin distinguished himself as one of the most eminent Buddhist teachers in central China. He is said to have ordained more than 40,000 priests during his career and to have conducted formal lectures on the Vinaya on 130 occasions.

In 733 the Japanese imperial court sent two Buddhist priests, Eiei and Fushō, to China to enlist Vinaya masters to administer ordinations in Japan. There was great concern in Japan that all the ordinations performed up to that time were not valid, because the requisite number of duly ordained priests prescribed by the Vinaya had never been present to officiate. The Japanese felt it important to rectify this breach. Authentic ordination, they believed, made the clergy legitimate heirs of the Buddha's teachings and endowed them with religious and worldly power to act in behalf of Buddhism. Eiei and Fushō first succeeded in recruiting a young Vinaya master named Daoxuan from Luoyang. He arrived in Japan in 736, but was hampered in conducting ordinations for lack of the required number of ordained participants. In 742 they went to Yangzhou to seek Ganjin's assistance. He too was sympathetic, and he resolved to travel to Japan himself to oversee ordinations. But the path leading Ganjin to Japan was long and treacherous, involving five unsuccessful voyages thwarted by pirates, shipwreck, and arrest by civil authorities. During the course of these events Ganjin lost his eyesight and Eiei lost his life. Finally, in 753, on his sixth attempt, Ganjin reached the shores of Japan accompanied by twenty-four disciples whose participation would validate ordination ceremonies. Ganjin was sixty-five years old at the time.

In early 754 Ganjin and his entourage were welcomed into the Japanese capital of Nara with great fanfare. Within weeks he set up a temporary ordination platform at the Tōdaiji, the imperial temple in the capital, and performed the first proper ordination on Japanese soil. The following year he established a permanent ordination platform at the Tōdaiji, all according to the meticulous specifications of the Vinaya tradition in China. The establishment of specific locations for ordination had the effect of tightening control over the clergy, because entrance into the priesthood could be regulated by those overseeing ordination. This centralizing of authority, as well as the Vinaya's emphasis on strict discipline, suited the government's desire to harness Buddhism for its own interests. Ganjin, as the preeminent figure in this ordination process, was named to the Sōgō council, the ecclesiastical body responsible to the government for Buddhism's activities. He served in this capacity from 756 until his resignation in 758. A year later Ganjin was granted land on which to build his own temple. He constructed the Tōshōdaiji and spent the remaining four years of his life there instructing priests in the intricacies of the Vinaya. These followers formed the core of the Risshu in Japan. Ganjin died at the Tōshōdaiji in 763 at the age of seventy-five. His great contribution to Japan was the institution of ordination procedures and the delineation of clerical discipline. This model of discipline was later challenged by Saichō, who sought to substitute the bodhisattva vows of Mahāyāna for the clerical precepts of Hīnayāna. Nonetheless, Ganjin's system persisted alongside Saichō's as the traditional path of ordination in early Japanese Buddhism.

See Also

Saichō; Vinaya.


The most important work in Western languages on Ganjin is a French study by Takakusu Junjirō, "Le voyage de Kanshin en Orient, 742754," Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient 28 (1928): 141 and 29 (1929): 4762. This is a translation of a biography written in 779 by the Japanese scholar Mabito Genkai entitled Tō Daiwajō Tōsei den (T.D. no. 2089). In Japanese there are numerous studies of Ganjin, including Ishida Mizumaro's Ganjin: Sono shisō to shōgai (Tokyo, 1958) and Ando Kōsei's Ganjin Wajō, "Jinbutsu sosho," no. 146 (Tokyo, 1967).

James C. Dobbins (1987)