TENDAISHŪ . The Japanese Tendai School takes its name from the Tiantai (Japanese, Tendai) School in China, which was located on Mount Tiantai. Japanese monks carefully studied the Tiantai texts they obtained in China, but after the ninth century ce relatively little exchange occurred between the Chinese and Japanese schools. As a result, Japanese Tendai developed in ways that were frequently distinct from its Chinese antecedent. In the following paragraphs the institutional development of the school is discussed, followed by some of its doctrinal developments.
Tendai was initially based on writings by the Tiantai exegetes Zhiyi (538–597 ce) and Zhanran (711–782 ce) that had been brought to Japan by Jianzhen (Japanese, Ganjin, 688–763 ce). The de facto founder of the school, Saichō (767–822 ce, also known by his posthumous title Dengyō daishi) was able to obtain these texts while he was practicing on Mount Hiei and was so impressed by them that he traveled to China to obtain better copies. When Saichō returned from China in 805 ce, he found that the court was more interested in the Esoteric Buddhist (mikkyō) doctrines he brought back than in Tiantai doctrine. As a reward for performing Esoteric rituals to heal the emperor's illness, Saichō was awarded two yearly ordinands by the court; this marks the establishment of the school. Saichō's understanding of Esoteric Buddhism did not equal that of Kūkai (774–835 ce), founder of the Shingon school, who returned to Japan in 806 ce. As a result the Tendai monks Ennin (794–864 ce) and Enchin (814–891 ce) traveled to China, where they spent more time studying Esoteric Buddhism than Kūkai, brought back more texts than Kūkai, and introduced new rituals that appealed to patrons from the imperial family and the noble classes. Consequently, the school flourished and successfully competed with Shingon.
Still a small group of monks 120 years after Saichō's death, the Tendai school was significantly less influential than its long-time rival, the Hossō school. Although it had enjoyed sporadic successes, particularly under Ennin and Enchin, the school had sunk into a period of decline. Tendai was revived and came to dominate the Japanese Buddhist world during the administration of Ryōgen (912–985 ce). When many of the buildings on Mount Hiei burned down in 966 ce, shortly after he had assumed the leadership of the school as zasu, Ryōgen obtained funding to rebuild them from Fujiwara Morosuke (908–960 ce), the power behind the throne. In return for Morosuke's support, Ryōgen ordained Morosuke's son Jinzen (943–990 ce) and designated him as the next Tendai zasu. Jinzen's relatives later assumed many leadership positions in the Tendai school and controlled many of the lands that Morosuke had given to Tendai; they performed Esoteric rituals to insure their clan's continuing domination of the Japanese political scene.
Ryōgen also renovated Tendai education through a system of debate. Tendai scholar-monks were expected to memorize vast amounts of literature, to be able to recite passages relevant to doctrinal problems, and then to resolve any contradictions between the texts. Monks who excelled at this were given high appointments by the court. As a result Tendai finally came to dominate Hossō and Shingon. Ryōgen was also responsible for improvements to Tendai Esoteric rituals, making them more elaborate or using them in new ways to attract the patronage of the nobility.
The introduction of the nobility into the governance of Tendai resulted in a number of significant changes in Tendai. Noble lineages came to control a number of cloisters, called monzeki, thereby limiting access for commoners to the positions of authority in Tendai. The transmission of special Esoteric rituals and secret doctrines within such lineages contributed to increasing factional tendencies within Tendai. Separate lineages representing both Esoteric and Exoteric teaching formed. In addition, the lands controlled by Tendai institutions had to be administered and protected, resulting in special classes of monks who performed these functions.
Tendai monks had engaged in factional disputes with Hossō and Shingon monks from early in Tendai history. These factional tendencies eventually turned inward, partially because of competition among lineages for patronage and control of the Esoteric rituals that appealed to the nobility. The origins of this particularly virulent dispute began with a debate over who should succeed Saichō's disciple Gishin (781–833 ce) as zasu. The factions eventually coalesced around those who traced their lineages back to two of the great figures of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism, Ennin and Enchin. The connection with Esoteric Buddhism was not accidental, because this tradition valued the integrity of ritual lineages that preserved secrets connected with the performance of rituals. Because the rituals were conducted for the nobility, considerable economic advantages accrued to those who could preserve the secrecy of their lineage. Arguments continued to revolve around appointments as zasu and abbots of major temples until the monks in Enchin's lineage were forced to withdraw from Mount Hiei and make Onjōji (also known as Miidera), located at the foot of Mount Hiei, their base late in the tenth century, near the end of Ryōgen's tenure as zasu. The tensions between the two groups continued to erupt sporadically in subsequent centuries, occasionally resulting in bloodshed and the burning of each other's temples. Both groups were further subdivided into ritual and doctrinal lineages that used oral transmissions (kuden ) to propagate their teachings and ritual practices.
The Tendai educational system was so influential during the medieval period that virtually all of the founders of the Kamakura schools of Buddhism received their early training in Tendai institutions. Several, such as Hōnen (1133–1212) and Eisai (1141–1215), remained Tendai monks for most of their lives.
The end of much of Mount Hiei's secular power came in 1571 as part of Oda Nobunaga's (1534–1582) efforts to reunify Japan. To do so he had to eliminate rival political and military powers. Because Tendai had long been involved in Japanese politics through the many monks with noble lineages, Oda ordered his troops to make an example of Mount Hiei. They burned all of the mountain's monasteries and killed as many monks, women, and children as they could find. Tendai influence was eventually reestablished, though never to the extent it had enjoyed earlier, by Tenkai (1536?–1643), who obtained the support of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616), the first military ruler of the Tokugawa period. Tenkai gathered many of the surviving Tendai texts, reinstituted the Tendai educational system and its associated rituals, established Nikkō as a mausoleum for Ieyasu and his descendants, and founded Kanʾeiji as the equivalent of Mount Hiei in the new capital, Tokyo.
During the middle of the Tokugawa period, a movement to reform the Tendai school by changing the ordination system was begun by Myōryū (1637–1690), a monk who had first been ordained in the Rinzai Zen tradition and then converted to Tendai after reading through the Buddhist canon. Myōryū noted that Saichō had stated that bodhisattva monks should first be ordained with the Mahāyāna bodhisattva precepts from the Brahmā's Net Sūtra (Fanwangjing ), a Chinese Buddhist apocryphal text. According to Saichō, monks were then to be ordained with the 250 precepts used by all monks in East Asia from Four-Part Vinaya (Sifenlu ) after they had finished twelve years of practice on Mount Hiei. Until that point almost all Tendai monks had rejected the Sifenlu precepts. Myōryū and his disciple Reikū (1652–1739) gained the patronage of ordained members of the imperial family and the military government to advance their case. Another monk, Shinryū (b. 1711), eventually criticized the reform movement, and the military government ordered that all Tendai monks were to be ordained with only the bodhisattva precepts. Even though the effort to reinstitute Hīnayāna ordinations failed, other parts of the reform movement succeeded, including a 1689 prohibition on an Esoteric ritual and oral transmission that affirmed that all desire, just as it is, was ultimate truth (homage to the profound tenet, genshi kimyōdan ). The decline of hongaku thought and a renewed emphasis on Chinese Tiantai doctrine followed.
Following World War II and the installation of laws allowing more freedom to religion, Tendai split into approximately twenty groups, largely because of institutional and economic reasons, the most important of which is still called Tendaishū. It maintains two colleges that contribute to the training of its monks, Taishō University in Tokyo and Eizan gakuin at the foot of Mount Hiei. In addition, a few monks still practice assiduously on Mount Hiei, with an occasional monk undergoing twelve years of seclusion at the Pure Land Chapel (Jōdoin), the site of Saichō's mausoleum. Others circumambulate Mount Hiei (kaihōgyō ), treating it like a maṇḍala, for periods ranging up to seven years. Those who complete the seven-year practice (an average of one person a decade) are lionized as living buddhas. The Tendai constantly walking meditation, a continuous ninety-day circumambulation of Amida Buddha, has also been revived. Since the 1990s, women have been playing a more significant role, receiving training and occasionally becoming abbesses of temples. On a more popular level, the school has instituted a campaign with the slogan "Light up your corner," based on a quotation from one of Saichō's works. It also sponsored a number of interfaith peace conferences while Yamada Etai (1895–1994) was head of the school.
Like other schools of Japanese Buddhism, modern Tendai is beset by a number of basic problems. The school must figure out a means to educate and inspire young monks, many of whom become monks because they come from temple families, not because they are excited about Buddhism. Poor temples in the country need better support and are short of monks. The role of women, both temple wives and nuns, is not clear. Tendai needs to find better ways of reaching out to both current and potential parishioners. Tendai programs in social welfare are not clearly defined. Such problems are not unique to Tendai, but their solutions will certainly affect the future of the school.
After Saichō returned from China, he wrote a document describing the lineages of the teachings he received in China: Tendai, Esoteric Buddhism, bodhisattva precepts, and Chan. Besides these, several other doctrinal movements came to play important roles within Tendai, including Pure Land, Shinto (Sannō Shintō), and an extension of Tendai doctrine that is referred to by twentieth-century scholars as "original enlightenment thought" (hongaku shisō ). In the following discussion these are surveyed under the rubrics of Tendai and original enlightenment, Esoteric Buddhism, bodhisattva precepts, and Pure Land.
Chinese Tiantai doctrine regarded the Lotus Sūtra as the Buddha's highest teaching. In fact, the school was sometimes called the Tendai Hokkeshū (Tendai Lotus school). This sūtra was used to harmonize the various teachings within Buddhism (kaie ), demonstrating that all other forms of Buddhism were expedient means leading up to the universal teaching of One-vehicle to salvation. However, the Lotus Sūtra could also be used to reject expedient teachings in favor of the ultimate teaching (haigon ryūjitsu ). Much of later Tendai doctrinal history consists of how monastic scholars combined other Buddhist teachings with those of the Lotus Sūtra, using both the inclusive and the exclusive approaches to expedient teachings.
The majority of Saichō's writings were polemical, defending his position against the claims of Hossō monks. When he died at the comparatively young age of fifty-five, he had not systematized his views on a variety of issues, including the interpretation of the bodhisattva precepts and how Esoteric and Exoteric Buddhism had the same purport. His successor, Gishin, who had accompanied Saichō to China, did not even mention these issues in a handbook of Tendai doctrine he submitted to the court. Some of Saichō's disciples tried to remedy these deficiencies by writing sets of questions to their Chinese counterparts (Tōketsu), but in many cases the two sides seemed to be talking past each other. The unfinished quality of Saichō's positions turned out to work in Tendai's favor. The ninth century was marked by remarkable creativity as Tendai monks traveled to China in search of new teachings and clarification.
Although much of Japanese Tendai doctrine is based on the three major works by Zhiyi and their commentaries by Zhanran, Japanese monks did much more than simply write commentaries that reflected Chinese concerns and interpretations. Instead, they had their own concerns in reading and interpreting Chinese texts, sometimes taking passages out of context and pushing them in new directions. Most of Saichō's writings had been polemical attacks on Hossō and defenses of Tendai in which he sometimes took terms from Chinese texts and gave them a new emphasis. Occasionally he used terms that had not appeared before. For example, terms such as sokushin jōbutsu (the realization of buddhahood with this very body), jikidō (direct path), and sōmoku jōbutsu (the realization of buddhahood by trees and grasses) were found in Chinese Tiantai texts, but in Japanese Tendai they received a new emphasis. At first Japanese monks attempted to enlist Chinese help in clarifying these teachings, writing letters to China in which they asked about doctrine, but eventually Japanese Tendai doctrine developed in unique ways, helped by the paucity of direct contact between Chinese Tiantai and Japanese Tendai after Enchin's travels. Japanese monks explored these issues through a debate system in which they might take issues out of context and develop them in new ways.
From the late Heian period to the middle of the Edo period, much of Tendai thought was concerned with a movement that has been called hongaku thought by twentieth-century scholars. The locus classicus of the term hongaku, often translated as "original enlightenment," is in a Chinese apocryphal text, the Dasheng qixin lun (Awakening of faith in the Mahāyāna), where it is found with two other terms, shikaku (realized enlightenment) and fukaku (nonenlightenment). Hongaku referred to the concept that all sentient beings had an intrinsic quality of enlightenment that provided the bases for both realized enlightenment and nonenlightenment. Through assiduous practice a person could realize enlightenment and leave nonenlightenment. The term hongaku thought is a modern term used to refer to Japanese Tendai texts that discuss the implications of original enlightenment, often adopting a position that affirms this world just as it is without any need for practice. The dissociation of original enlightenment and realized enlightenment is epitomized by the mythical claim that Ryōgen bestowed hongaku teachings on his student Genshin (942–1017) and teachings about realized enlightenment on his student Kakuun (953–1007), thereby suggesting that hongaku could be interpreted as an independent term instead of in association with practice.
The development of hongaku thought has often been characterized as a degenerate phase of Tendai because it is characterized by the flagrant disregard of historical precedent, the production of texts attributed to major Tendai figures of the past, and a seeming disregard for traditional (and sometimes for all) forms of practice. However, hongaku texts exhibited a wide variety of attitudes toward traditional doctrine and practice. Some, such as those written by Kōen (1263–1317) of the Kurodani lineage (discussed below) advocated the reestablishment of Saichō's twelve-year period of seclusion. Other texts, such as the Shinnyokan (Discernment of suchness) required little more than a firm belief that one was already a buddha. A number of strategies were employed in hongaku texts to justify creative doctrinal positions, including the creation of sources, secret oral transmissions, word play, and associations of unrelated terms. These innovative teachings were justified by regarding subjective interpretations (often called mind discernment or kanjin ) above doctrines that relied on Scripture.
More traditional forms of Tendai scholarship continued to survive during this period. Figures such as Hōchibō Shōshin (1131?–1215?) and Jitsudō Ninkū (1307–1388) wrote commentaries, essays, and debate manuals that displayed meticulous care with historical sources. Shōshin in particular was known for his careful differentiation of Chinese and Japanese doctrinal views.
Tendai Esoteric Buddhism
Tendai's most immediate problem after Saichō's death was competing with the Esoteric Buddhist tradition represented by Kūkai's Shingon school. The Tendai school occasionally used the term Shingon school to refer to its Esoteric teachings. The two Esoteric traditions are sometimes differentiated by calling Tendai Esoteric Buddhism "Taimitsu" and Kūkai's school "Tōmitsu"; however, Tōmitsu is usually referred to as the Shingon school. Much about the Esoteric traditions Saichō received in China and his understanding of them remains obscure; in fact, the texts Saichō is said to have received in China may have been written by Annen (841–889? ce) to bolster Tendai claims to Esoteric lineages. However, Saichō's insistence on the agreement of the purport of the Perfect Teaching and Esoteric Buddhism has been a hallmark of Taimitsu. The inferiority of Saichō's transmission of Esoteric Buddhist ritual led to Tendai monks such as Ennin traveling to China, where he studied for nine years, from 838 to 847 ce. He collected 508 texts in 802 fascicles, more than Kūkai, studied the Sanskritic siddhaṃ script, and brought back new rituals. He also established a Dhāraṇī Hall in which the ritual of Abundant Flames (shijōkōhō ) was to be performed to protect the emperor and the state, thus giving Tendai the ritual apparatus to compete successfully with Tōmitsu at court. Ennin also wrote the first major commentaries on the Vajraśekhara Sūtra and the Susiddhikara Sūtra. Along with the Mahāvairocana Sūtra, these three major texts form the basis of the threefold system of Esoteric Buddhism upon which Taimitsu was based. Enchin studied in China from 853 to 858 ce under the Chinese Esoteric Buddhist master Fazhuan, the same master Ennin had trained under, and also brought back a large number of texts and ritual traditions. Enchin was the author of a number of texts that explained the connection between Esoteric Buddhism and Tendai. For example, he argued that the Mahāvairocana Sūtra should be classified with the Lotus Sūtra in the Tendai system of five periods.
Esoteric Buddhism was eventually systematized by Annen. Although he did not travel to China, Annen collected all of the texts and practices he could and strove to explain and reconcile the differences he encountered. In addition, he was acutely aware of Kūkai's tradition and defended Tendai interpretations against criticisms from Tōmitsu sources, even as he borrowed elements of Kūkai's teachings.
Tendai Esoteric Buddhism is marked by several factors that differentiate it from Shingon. While Shingon argues for the nonduality of the Womb and Diamond-realm maṇḍala s, Tendai added another tradition, that found in the Susiddhikara Sūtra (Soshitsujikyō ). This gave Taimitsu added elements of practice that helped it compete with Tōmitsu. Saichō had argued that the Lotus Sūtra and Esoteric Buddhism had the same import; in contrast, Kūkai had given Tendai and the Lotus Sūtra relatively low rankings in his classification of doctrine. Later Tendai monks had striven to clarify the Tendai view. Saichō's student Kōjō (779–858 ce) developed an Esoteric ritual for the Lotus Sūtra. Ennin argued that all of Buddhism could be encompassed in "One Great Perfect Teaching" (ichidai engyō ), a classification that identified the essence of all teachings. However, he also needed to differentiate teachings in a hierarchical manner. Because the Lotus Sūtra claimed that it was a hidden teaching revealed only as the end of Śākyamuni's life, it could be interpreted as a hidden or Esoteric teaching. At the same time, because the Lotus Sūtra did not have the ritual elements found in Esoteric texts, Ennin argued that, although both the Mahāvairocana Sūtra and the Lotus Sūtra were doctrinally the highest teaching, only the Mahāvairocana Sūtra included the most superior practices.
Annen further refined these teachings with a classification called the "four ones": one Buddha, one time, one place, and one teaching. Like Ennin's One Great Perfect Teaching, Annen stressed the unity of Buddhist teachings. This teaching was based on the identity of the dharmakāya with the entire cosmos and the teaching that the dharmakāya preached. Annen also had to explain how Buddhism could be classified in a hierarchical fashion, which he did by adding a fifth category—Esoteric teachings—to the traditional fourfold Tendai doctrinal system: Hīnayāna, shared, distinct, and Perfect teachings. Esoteric teachings were thus given the highest position. Annen so identified Tendai with Esoteric teachings that he used the term Shingon (mantra) to refer to his teachings.
The agreement of the Lotus Sūtra and Esoteric Buddhism can be seen in Tendai discussions of several doctrines. Saichō based his argument on the realization of buddhahood with this very body (sokushin jōbutsu ) on the story of the realization of the eight-year-old Nāga girl in the Lotus Sūtra. In discussions by later Tendai monks, the definition of this rapid realization changed to become more radically sudden, with Esoteric elements sometimes added. Tendai discussions of the preaching of the dharma -body (hosshin seppō ) emphasized how the various bodies of the Buddha were ultimately combined; thus the preachings of Śākyamuni could be included as aspects of the preaching of the dharma -body. In both of these doctrines the Tendai position differed from that found in the Shingon school. Although Annen's work marks the high point of the systematization of Taimitsu thought and practice, later monks continued to refine it, and a number of separate ritual lineages emerged.
The most important text for Taimitsu has been the commentary of Yixing (683–727 ce) on the Mahāvairocana Sūtra. Tendai used a different recension of the text, the fourteen-fascicle Darijing yishi, than the Shingon school, which used the twenty-fascicle Darijing shu. Although the two recensions did not differ significantly doctrinally, ritual differences were evident.
Esoteric Buddhism also decisively influenced two other traditions: the practice of circumambulating mountain peaks (kaihōgyō ) and the Sannō tradition of Shinto. Kaihōgyō is said to have begun with the monk Sōō (831–918 ce), who established a temple called Mudōji on Mount Hiei as the base for the practice. In its fully developed form a practitioner (only men perform this practice) takes a vow to travel on set courses for one thousand days spread over seven years. Traveling the course is compared to traveling through a maṇḍala, with the practitioner paying homage to deities at around three hundred sites. After seven hundred days of circumambulation, the practitioner undergoes a nine-day period without food, water, sleep, or lying down. He then completes the practice, extending his circumambulation down to Kyoto. Upon completing the practice, he is received by the emperor. Once a practitioner has taken a vow to begin the practice, he is not permitted to end his austerities early. In fact he carries a knife to end his life if he cannot finish the practice.
The Tiantai school in China honored a deity who protected its headquarters. In a similar manner, Hie taisha was established at the foot of Mount Hiei as the focal point of a cult to honor the deities that protected the Tendai school on Mount Hiei. As time passed the numbers of shrines and deities increased. By the Kamakura period deities were considered manifestations of various buddhas and bodhisattvas. Tendai doctrine was used to give the system more coherence. The term Sannō (mountain king) by which this form of Shintō was known consisted of two characters, the first made up of three vertical strokes joined by a single horizontal stroke and the second consisting of three horizontal strokes and one vertical stroke. The very name of the cult called to mind the unity of the three truths. The separation of Shintō and Buddhism during the Meiji Restoration resulted in the independence of the Sannō cult from Tendai.
Precepts and monastic discipline
Near the end of his life, Saichō proposed that the Four-Part Vinaya ordination traditionally used throughout East Asia be abandoned as inferior Hīnayāna and that a Mahāyāna ordination based on the Mahāyāna bodhisattva precepts found in the Brahmā's Net Sūtra and Lotus Sūtra be substituted for it. Neither source had been compiled with the objective of serving as the basis of monastic discipline. Perhaps in recognition of this, Saichō had proposed that his monks receive a "provisional Hīnayāna ordination" after spending twelve years on Mount Hiei. This would have enabled the monks to participate in monastic assemblies with monks from other schools. One week after his death the court approved Saichō's proposal, but his premature death had prevented him from specifying how this change was to be implemented.
During the subsequent centuries the precepts were interpreted in a variety of ways based on these sources. For example, Questions and Answers on the Rules for Students (Gakushōshiki mondō ), a later text attributed to Saichō, claimed that the precepts were primarily based on the Lotus Sūtra, a text that actually contained little in the way of explicit instructions concerning monastic discipline. Monks could violate the precepts as long as they adhered to the Lotus Sūtra, a vague requirement. During the late Heian period and the Kamakura period a number of monks attempted to introduce stricter interpretations of the precepts. Shunjō (1166–1227) traveled to China, learned that Tiantai monks were still ordained with the precepts from the Four-Part Vinaya, and returned to Japan to introduce the practice to Tendai. He was criticized by other Tendai monks for deviating from Saichō's plan and had to make his headquarters at Sennyūji in Kyōto.
The monks in the Kurodani lineage of Tendai combined the Lotus Sūtra with the precepts of the Brahmā's Net Sūtra. Ejin (d. 1289) and Kōen revived monastic discipline by following Saichō's instructions for a twelve-year period of sequestration on Mount Hiei. At the end of that period a monk received a "consecrated" ordination (kaikanjō ), which was based on hongaku thought. Sitting side by side with his teacher in a scene reminiscent of the two buddhas that appeared together in the Lotus Sūtra, the student was told that he had realized buddhahood with his current body. The tradition, however, carried the seeds of its own degeneration because the new "buddha" was told that he could create new precepts and teachings as needed.
Ninkū, who was active in both the Tendai and Seizan sect of the Jōdo School, relied on a commentary on the Brahmā's Net Sūtra by Zhiyi and detailed sets of temple rules to restore monastic discipline. A key part of his agenda was identifying the Brahmā's Net precepts as a Perfect teaching and thus as profound as the Lotus Sūtra. He also argued that the Brahmā's Net precepts should not be interpreted in terms of Esoteric Buddhism and Pure Land, thereby preserving the integrity of the precepts. When they had been interpreted in terms of these other traditions, the argument could be made that the recitation of the Buddha's name (nembutsu) or a magical incantation (dhāraṇī) would vanquish huge amounts of bad karma.
Finally, as mentioned above, during the Tokugawa period several monks from the Anrakuritsuin on Mount Hiei attempted to require all Tendai monks to undergo ordinations based on the Four-Part Vinaya but were eventually defeated. Thus Saichō's reform of monastic discipline led to a wide variety of interpretations of the precepts, many of which contributed to the lax observance of monastic rules.
The ninety-day constantly walking meditation, one of the four meditations described by Zhiyi, focuses on the circumambulation of an image of Amida (Amitābha) accompanied by the recitation of Amida's name, progresses to a visualization of the Buddha, and concludes with a contemplation on emptiness. This meditation provided the ritual basis of Tendai Pure Land but was performed only infrequently according to Zhiyi's directions on Mount Hiei. Although Saichō had specified that all four of Zhiyi's types of meditation be practiced on Mount Hiei, he did not live long enough to put the constantly walking meditation into effect. Ennin brought the first Pure Land practices used on Mount Hiei when he returned from China, a practice called the Uninterrupted Recitation of the Buddha's Name (fudan nembutsu ) from Wutai Shan, China, that was based on rituals instituted by Fazhao (d. 820? ce). These practices consisted of the recitation of the Omituojing (Sūtra on Amitābha) rather than the much simpler recitation of the Buddha's name mentioned in the constantly walking meditation. The practice generally lasted only seven days, shorter than the ninety days required by Zhiyi, and became popular in Japan. It was more concerned with extinguishing the karmic effects of wrongdoing and being reborn in the Pure Land than with the discernment of emptiness. Thus from the beginning Tendai Pure Land ranged over a variety of possible practices and goals, from meditations that focused on a realization of emptiness or the Pure Land in this life and world to oral recitations that resulted in rebirth into a paradisiacal Pure Land when one died. This ambiguity was reflected in the term nembutsu, which could refer to either a meditation on the Buddha or the recitation of his name.
Genshin, the most able Tendai exegete of the tenth century, systematized Tendai Pure Land thought. Although he was skilled in doctrinal topics, including Hossō and logic, he is primarily remembered for his authorship of the Ōjō yōshū (Essentials of rebirth in the Pure Land), a text that included many of the ambiguities in practice and goal mentioned above because the practices could be used by a variety of people. The text included vivid descriptions of the hells and Pure Land that influenced many. Temples such as the Byōdōin reflected efforts to create architectural images of the Pure Land. Genshin's text also included discussions of deathbed rites and doctrinal issues connected with Pure Land. It had an immediate effect leading to the formation of several organizations devoted to Pure Land practice, including the Assembly for the Advancement of Learning (Kangaku-e) and the Assembly for the Concentration on the Twenty-five Bodhisattvas (Nijūgo zanmai-e), groups that included both lay and monastic practitioners. Pure Land practices were later spread by a variety of men with Tendai affiliations, including Kōya (903–972 ce) and Ryōnin (1072–1132), founder of the Yūzū nembutsushū. Hōnen, founder of the Jōdoshū, spent most of his life as a Tendai monk, and Shinran (1173–1263), founder of the Jōdo Shinshū, was trained on Mount Hiei.
Some Tendai practitioners considered Pure Land practices easier because the recitation of the Buddha's name could be done by anyone and vanquished large amounts of bad karma. For other practitioners, Pure Land practice was difficult. Uncertainty about whether one's rebirth into the Pure Land was assured led some to focus incessantly on the purification of their thoughts. Salvation was only ensured at death when the practitioner died comfortably with a mind focused on the Buddha. Such fervent practice sometimes led to vivid dreams and visions of the Pure Land, events that were often recorded in the biographies of those reborn in the Pure Land (Ōjōden ).
Pure Land practices in Tendai were not conducted separately from other practices. A popular saying, "Recitation of the Lotus Sūtra in the morning and the recitation of the Buddha's name (nembutsu ) at night," reflects the typical Tendai attitude. Esoteric Buddhist practices were sometimes mixed with Pure Land rituals because Amida was found in various maṇḍalas. Moreover when Tendai followers stressed the oral recitation of the nembutsu, the contemplative aspect was also present. The emphasis on creating a Pure Land in this world coexisted with beliefs in rebirth in a Pure Land located far from this one. In addition, Tendai monks such as Ninkū and Shinzei (1443–1495) emphasized that the precepts must be observed while the nembutsu is chanted. Tendai views of Pure Land thus differed in important ways from Jōdo and Jōdo Shin traditions, which argued that the recitation of the Buddha's name was the only way to salvation.
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Paul Groner (2005)