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JŌDOSHŪ . The Jōdoshū, or Pure Land Sect, is a school of Japanese Buddhism founded in the twelfth century by the monk Hōnen (11331212), who took as the centerpiece of his religious teaching sole reliance on the power of the Buddha Amida (Skt., Amitābha) to save all beings. The Jōdoshū was the first of a series of independent Pure Land traditions to flourish in Japan, and continues to this day as a major force in the religion and culture of the nation.

In both China and Japan, Pure Land (Chin., Jingtu ; Jpn., jōdo ) practices and doctrines existed both as adjuncts to the teachings of most Buddhist sects and as independent traditions in their own right. Pure Land devotion emphasized faith in the salvific power of Amida, the desirability of attaining rebirth in his Pure Land, Sukhāvatī ("land of bliss"), and the efficacy of nembutsu practices (i.e., the recitation of the name of, or meditation on, Amida Buddha) for attaining salvation. For the precursors of the Jōdoshū, including Eikū, Ryōnin, and Genshin (9421017), nembutsu meditation (Jpn., nembutsu zammai ) involved the invocation of Amida's name while visualizing his body and circumambulating his image. Some, like Genshin, also advocated the practice of invoking Amida's name while engaging in the accompanying meditative exercise. While nembutsu meditation and invocation (although the latter was considered an inferior practice) were practiced by many monks of the Tendai sect, they were regarded at best as complements to other established practices. It was not until the Kamakura period (11851333), when Hōnen founded the Jōdoshū, that the invocation of the Nembutsu (here conceived as the formulaic recitation of the name of Amida) became the sole practice advocated by a sect as the superior method of attaining salvation.

Basic Texts

Pure Land practices are founded upon a cycle of texts that emphasize either a technique of visualizing Amitābha and his Pure Land or that outline Amitābha's spiritual career, his vows to create a haven for suffering sentient beings, and the methods for winning rebirth there. A scripture of the first type, the Pratyutpannasamādhi Sūtra, was translated into Chinese as early as 179 ce and became the basis for the early Chinese worship of Amitābha on Mount Lu under the direction of the famous literatus-monk Huiyuan (334416). By the fifth century another "meditation" scripture, the Kuan wu-liang-shou-fo ching (Skt., Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra* ; T.D. no. 365) was also available in Chinese. Unlike the aforementioned Pratyutpanna Sūtra, which has as its aim the bringing into one's presence in meditation the "Buddhas of the ten directions," this text was devoted exclusively to meditation on Amitābha and his Pure Land. Techniques advocated in both of these texts were introduced to Japan principally through the Tiantai (Jpn., Tendai) system of meditation formulated by the Chinese monk Zhiyi (538597). The scriptures of the latter type, those having to do with Amitābha's spiritual career and the glories of Pure Land, are two in number: the "larger" Sukhāvatīvyuha Sūtra, translated as many as five times into Chinese but known best to the Pure Land schools through Buddhabhadra's fifth century translation (traditionally attributed to Saghavarman), the Wuliangshou jing (T.D. no. 363), and the "shorter" Sukhāvatīvyuha Sūtra, first translated into Chinese as the O-mi-t'o-fo ching (T.D. no. 366) by Kumārajīva (343409). The Kuan-ching, known in Japanese as the Kanmuryōjukyō, and the Larger and Smaller Sukhāvatīvyuha Sūtras, known as the Muryō-jukyō and the Amidakyō, respectively, together constitute the "triple Pure Land scripture," the core sūtra literature of the Chinese and Japanese Pure Land traditions.

The teachings of the Jōdo sect (and of its sister school, the Jōdo Shinshū) also draw their inspiration from the Sukhāvatīvyuhopadeśa* (Chin., Wuliangshou jing yu-p'o-t'i-che yüan-sheng chi ; T.D. no. 1524), a collection of hymns (gāthā ), with autocommentary, on Pure Land topics by the eminent Indian ācārya Vasubandhu. The Ōjōron, as this text was known in Japan, was usually read in conjunction with the Wang-sheng lun-chu (Jpn., Ōjōronchū ; T. D. no. 1819), a commentary on Vasubandhu's work by the Chinese Pure Land thinker Tanluan (476542). Tanluan's commentary opens with reference to an "easy path to salvation" (Jpn., igyōdō) suitable to an era of the "five corruptions." This doctrine of an "easy path," worship of the Buddha rather than the more traditional practices of mental cultivation, Tanluan attributes to Nāgārjuna, the Mādhyamika thinker and alleged author of a treatise on Pure Land.

The Life and Thought of HŌnen

Hōnen began his formal Buddhist training at the Tendai center on Mount Hiei, where he was ordained at the age of fourteen. Three years later, discouraged by the decadent and somewhat militaristic behavior of his fellow monks, Hōnen went to Kurodani to study under Eikū, a charismatic proponent of Pure Land devotion. For the next twenty-five years Hōnen studied Pure Land texts and practiced nembutsu zammai as advocated by Eikū, in accordance with Genshin's Ōjōyōshū (Essentials of Pure Land rebirth). During this period Hōnen also studied the doctrines, scriptures, and practices of the six Buddhist sects of the Nara period, Shingon (Vajrayāna), and Zen. Hōnen became convinced that Japan had entered the age, foretold in scripture, of mappō (the "latter days of the Law"), a period when Buddhist teachings had so degenerated that the attainment of salvation by one's own efforts was deemed all but impossible. In 1175, while reading the great Chinese Pure Land master Shandao's commentary on the Kanmuryōjukyō, Hōnen had a realization that the only path to salvation was to declare one's absolute faith in Amida's vow to save all sentient beings and to engage in "single-practice nembutsu " (senju nembutsu ), which for Hōnen meant placing sole reliance on the invocation of Amida Buddha's name as a means to salvation. That year Hōnen left Kurodani for Kyoto, where he began to disseminate his teachings. This move marks the founding of Jōdoshū.

In 1197 at the request of the prime minister, Kujo Kanezane (11491207), Hōnen wrote his influential Senchaku hongan nembutsushū (Collection of passages on the original vow of Amida in which Nembutsu is chosen above all). This work establishes Hōnen's essential teachings as the foundation of the Jōdo sect. Following Daochuo (562645), another Chinese Pure Land master, Hōnen divided Buddhist teachings into two paths, the shōdōmon ("gate of the sages") and the jōdomon ("gate of Pure Land"). Because it advocates reliance on one's own power and capabilities (jiriki ) to attain salvation, Hōnen characterized the shōdōmon as the more difficult path. He argued that during mappō few people were able to attain rebirth in the Pure Land through the arduous practices of traditional Buddhism (e.g., adherence to the Vinaya, meditation, and study). Instead, he considered the Jōdomon as the easy path to salvation. Owing to its complete reliance on "other power" (tariki ; i.e., dependence on Amida's saving grace), the Jōdomon is open to all people, masses and aristocracy alike. Hōnen argued that to be saved one need only make the "choice" (senchaku ) to place absolute faith and trust in Amida's vow. In discussing Other Power and Self Power Hōnen agreed with Tanluan, who asserted that during this degenerate era reliance on Other Power is the easy but nevertheless superior path to salvation. However, he disagreed with Tanluan's characterization of diverse Buddhist practices as reliance on Other Power. For Hōnen, the only practice representing faith in Amida's grace was the invocation of Amida's name.

In addition to outlining these larger doctrinal issues, Hōnen discussed the need to repeat the invocation over a prolonged period of time. Constant repetition of the Nembutsu, he held, ensures the continual purification of one's mind and body and the dissolution of doubt. Moreover, it leads to a moment of awakening (satori ) in this lifetime and, eventually, to rebirth in the Pure Land. To those detractors who argued that repeated recitations signified reliance on Self Power Hōnen answered that the necessary requisite of each invocation was the proper concentration and sincerity of the mind that comes only from absolute faith in Amida's salvific power. However, he never fully explicated the relation between faith, the Nembutsu, and Other Power.

Because of its appeal to members of all social classes, Hōnen's school soon gained widespread popularity. The monks of the established Buddhist sects, threatened by this popularity, sent a petition to the government charging the monks of the Jōdo sect with breaking the Vinaya precepts. In 1204 Hōnen, along with his main disciples, was compelled to compose and sign a seven-article pledge that would act as a guideline for his conduct. This quieted his enemies until 1205, when another petition was presented to the retired emperor, Go Toba, calling for the prohibition of senju nembutsu. In 1206 the situation was further aggravated when two of Hōnen's disciples were accused of attracting the attention of two court ladies while the emperor was absent from Kyoto. The emperor thereupon banned the teachings of the Jōdo sect and exiled Hōnen and most of his main disciples. Five years later Hōnen was pardoned and returned to Kyoto, where he died in 1212.

Early Schisms

After Hōnen's death his disciples were unanimous in calling for faith in Amida's vow and in promoting the invocation of the Nembutsu as a valuable practice for attaining rebirth in the Pure Land. However, they were left to grapple with many of the doctrinal and methodological issues that remained ambiguous in Hōnen's writings and in his way of life. As the debate over the correct interpretation of Self Power heightened, Hōnen's disciples became divided into two groups: those who moved toward the purest form of senju nembutsu, some of whom held that ichinen ("a single invocation") was sufficient for salvation, and those who compromised with other Buddhist sects, advocating the use of a variety of practices in conjunction with the Nembutsu. Benchō (11621238), considered the most orthodox of Hōnen's disciples, and Shōkū (11771247), who had helped compile the Senchaku hongan nembutsushū, both stressed the importance of repeated invocations of the Nembutsu, but disagreed on the value they accorded of other practices. The subsect founded by Benchō, the Chinzei-ha, advocated senju nembutsu and became the main school of Pure Land. Today, the Chinzei-ha is synonymous with Jōdoshū. Shōkū, on the other hand, in incorporating elements of Tendai and Esoteric Buddhism into his practice, argued that he was merely following the example of Hōnen, who engaged in meditative and ceremonial practices throughout his life. Because Shōkū was not an advocate of senju nembutsu, his sect, the Seizan-ha, was instrumental in gaining acceptance of Pure Land doctrines among other Buddhist schools.

The debate among the second group of disciples centered on the question of the relative value of one invocation of the Nembutsu, performed with absolute faith and sincerity, over and against repeated and continual recitation. Ryūkan (11481227), founder of the Chōrakuji subsect, argued that prolonged recitation was required as a prelude to salvation, which was attained only at the time of death. During the fifteenth century his sect was absorbed into the Jishū. Kōsai (11631247), founder of the Ichinengi sect, was perhaps the most controversial of Hōnen's disciples. Kōsai held that the continual invocation of the Nembutsu was futile since salvation was attained in one moment only, that is, that rebirth in the Pure Land was assured at any moment that the Nembutsu was chanted. Because many of Kōsai's followers were accused of excessively amoral conduct the sect did not enjoy the favor of other Buddhist sects. After Kōsai's death the school declined and many of his followers became members of Shinran's Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land sect).

Another form of Pure Land devotion to develop during the Kamakura period is best exemplified by Ippen (12391289), founder of the Jishū (Time Sect). Ippen began his Pure Land training at the age of fourteen when he went to Daizaifu to study under the Seizan-ha teacher Shōtatsu. According to legend, while visiting the Kumano shrine in 1276 Ippen had a divine revelation in which a kami told him that it is Amida's enlightenment that determines humankind's salvation and that an individual's faith was, therefore, inconsequential. Thereafter, Ippen traveled through the country, handing out nembutsu tablets and performing nembutsu dances, obtaining for himself the name Yugyō Shōnin ("wandering sage"). Believing that Amida existed everywhere, Ippen's disciples did not associate themselves with a particular temple but rather followed Ippen's example by wandering through the countryside. For Ippen, the name Jishū implied that the practice (i.e., the Nembutsu) accorded with the age (the "time"), that is, that the Nembutsu was the only appropriate practice in an age of mappō ; for his followers, however, it came to mean that Nembutsu was to be chanted at all time and in all places. From its inception, the Jishū was an independent tradition, doctrinally related to, but unaffiliated with, the Seizan-ha.

Brief mention should be made of Shinran (11731263), founder of the Jōdo Shinshū, who considered himself the true successor to Hōnen's teachings. Shinran, however, rejected the Vinaya precepts (the code of monastic discipline), which the Jōdo sect had retained. Declaring himself "neither monk nor layman" he set an example for his disciples by marrying, eating meat, and otherwise living as a layman. While Shinran held that faith in Amida was an essential requisite for salvation, he also argued that such faith could not be ascribed to the individual's will but was entirely a result of Amida's grace as demonstrated by his vow to save all sentient beings. Unlike Hōnen, who claimed that one must make the "choice" to believe in Amida, Shinran was emphatic in stating that it is Amida who "chooses" all beings to be saved. Today, the Jōdo Shinshū is the largest Buddhist sect in Japan.

The Tokugawa, Meiji, and Modern Eras

During the Tokugawa period (16001868) Buddhism was particularly favored by the shoguns, who wished to minimize the influence of Christian missionaries. The Tokugawa rulers made Buddhism an integral part of the government organization, lavishly supporting the monks and temples of the established Buddhist sects. But the government also controlled ordinations, temple administration, and other activities, and prohibited sectarianism and factionalism. Thus, despite government patronage, Buddhism became spiritually stagnant. Within this context, the Jōdoshū was the personal favorite of the shoguns; the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was a devotee of Jōdoshū, and his successors followed his example. The monks of the sect, however, indulged in this patronage and gradually became more corrupt and devoid of spiritual depth. Among the few who attempted to infuse new life into the Jōdoshū was Suzuki Shōsan (15791655), a practitioner of both Nembutsu and Zen. He combined Pure Land devotion and Zen notions of the value of work, teaching farmers that by reciting the Nembutsu while working in their fields they could sever their ties to earthly passions and ensure their attainment of the final awakening. Suzuki firmly believed that only by practicing in one's workplace could one attain salvation.

The Meiji era (18681912) saw a reversal in the government's attitude toward Buddhism. Shintō was adopted as the state religion, and neo-Confucianism continued to hold strong influence over the state ideology. Without the revitalization and modernization of its doctrines and practices, the very survival of Buddhism was threatened. Two trends that developed in the Jōdo sect during the Meiji period still continue to exert an influence on Pure Land practice today. The first stressed the attainment of salvation through the personal religious experience of Nembutsu practice. A representative of this position was Yamazaki Bennei (18591920), founder of the Kōmyōkai, who advocated intensive recitation of Nembutsu to attain an awakening in this very life. The members of his sect gather to invoke the Nembutsu continually for a few days at a time. Owing to its promise of salvation in this world and during this lifetime, Kōmyōkai practices became popular among adherents of Jōdoshū. However, because it demanded that members devote extended periods of time to their practice, the movement proved ultimately not suited to the lives of most lay people. The second trend emphasized that salvation is attained through social action. Shiio Benkyō (18761971), founder of Kyōseikai and a leading scholar of Buddhism, advocated purification and salvation of the entire world rather than the individual's rebirth in the Pure Land. The members of this movement place little emphasis on personal religious experience and instead participate in social work and welfare activities.

In the 1980s the total number of Jōdoshū temples and nuneries was approximately seven thousand. The Jōdoshū supports two Buddhist universities, many women's colleges and high schools, and has established numerous houses for the aged and orphaned.

See Also

Amitābha; Benchō; Buddhist Meditation; Genshin; Hōnen; Huiyuan; Ippen; Jingtu; Jōdo Shinshū; Mappō; Nāgārjuna; Nianfo; Pure and Impure Lands; Shandao; Shinran; Suzuki Shōsan; Tanluan; Worship and Devotional Life, article on Buddhist Devotional Life in East Asia; Zhiyi.


Works in Japanese

Chionin Jōdo Shūgaku Kenkyūjo, eds. Jōdoshū no oshie: reki-shi, shisō, kadai. Tokyo, 1974.

Chionin Jōdo Shūgaku Kenkyūjo, eds. Hōnen bukkyō no kenkyū. Tokyo, 1975.

Fujiyoshi Jikai. Jōdokyō shisō no kenkyū. Kyoto, 1983.

Fujiyoshi Jikai, ed. Jōdokyō ni okeru shūkyō taiken. Kyoto, 1979.

Hattori Eijun. Jōdokyō shisōron. Tokyo, 1974.

Katsuki Jōkō. Hōnen jōdokyō no shisō to rekishi. Tokyo, 1974.

Katsuki Jōkō, ed. Jōdoshū kaisoku no kenkyū. Kyoto, 1970.

Takahashi Kōji. Hōnen jōdokyō no shomondai. Tokyo, 1978.

Tamura Enchō. Hōnen Shōnin den no kenkyū. Kyoto, 1972.

Todo Kyōshun. Hōnen Shōnin kenkyū. Tokyo, 1983.

Tsuboi Shunei. Hōnen jōdokyō no kenkyū. Tokyo, 1982.

Works in English

Coates, Harper H., and Ishizuka Ryūgaku. Hōnen, the Buddhist Saint. 5 vols. Kyoto, 1949. An introduction to Hōnen's life and thought.

Cowell, E. B., et al., eds. Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts (1894). Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49. Reprint, New York, 1969. Includes English translations of the Pure Land scriptures.

New Sources

Amstutz, Galen. Interpreting Amida: History and Orientalism in the Study of Pure Land Buddhism. Albany, 1997.

Blum, Mark Laurence. The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism: A Study and Translation of Gyōnen's 'Jōdo Hōmon Genrushō.' New York, 2002.

Hasegawa Masatoshi. Kinsei no nenbutsu hijiri Munō to minshū. Tokyo, 2003.

Itō Yuishin. Jōdoshū-shi no kenkyū. Kyoto, 1996.

Kleine, Christoph. Hōnens Buddhismus des Reinen Landes : Refirnm Reformation oder Hāresie? Frankfurt am Main, 1996.

Machida, Sōhō. Renegade Monk: Hōnen and Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. Berkeley, 1999.

Noda Hideo. Meiji jōdoshūshi no kenkyū. Kyoto, 2003.

Payne, Richard K., and Kenneth K. Tanaka. Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitabha. Honolulu, 2004.

Sakazume, Itsuko. Asobi to kyōgai: Hōnen to Shinran. Tokyo, 1990.

Terauchi Daikichi. Hōnen sanka: ikiru tame no nenbutsu. Tokyo, 2000.

Unno, Taitetsu. River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism. New York, 1998.

Fujiyoshi Jikai (1987)

Revised Bibliography