Major School of Japanese Buddhism
(by period)


(Capital at Nara)

Prince Shotoku (Shotoku Taishi, 573-621):

  •  first Japanese patron of Buddhism
  •  built Horyuji, first Buddhist temple in Japan
  •  "Seventeen Article Constitution" (actually principles of government, mostly Confucian but some Buddhist)
  •  commentary on Lotus Sutra

Kegon-shu (sect)

  •  Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple), built by Emperor Shomu (r. 724-249), containing Daibutsu (Great Buddha) -- largest bronze sculpture, of Dainichi Buddha
  •  center of network of provincial temples



(Capital at Heian-kyo, or Kyoto)


  •  Chinese founder:  Zhiyi (538-597) of Tiantai (mountain) monastery
  •  Brought to Japan by Saicho (767-822), or Dengyo Daishi (Great Teacher who Spreads the Teachings)
  •  Mt. Hiei temple complex (NE suburb of Kyoto):
    • Enryakuji monastery on Mt. Hiei, the sole official ordination center: Honen, Shinran, Eisai, Dogen, Nichiren all first studied there.

Shingon-shu  (Shingon = "True Word" ( < Ch. Zhenyan  <  Skt. mantra)

  •  Brought to Japan by Kukai (774-835), or Kobo Daishi (Great Dharma-Spreading Teacher)
  •  Mt. Koya monastic complex (3 hours by train south of Kyoto) and Toji (Eastern Temple,  Kyoto)
  •  Esoteric (mikkyo): Vajrayana rituals and meditation
    • mudra (hand gestures):  body
    • mantra (changed syllables):  speech
    • mandala (visualized and painted pictures):  mind
    All used as foci of meditation
  •  hongaku: original enlightenment

    From the Dainichi-kyo (Dainichi Sutra):
    "Enlightenment is to know your own mind as it really is.... Seek in your own mind enlightenment and all-embracing wisdom.  Why?  Because it is originally pure and bright."  Thus:  "To attain enlightenment in this very body, in this very mind."

"Where is the Dharmakaya? It is not far away; it is in our body. The source of wisdom?  In our mind."



Kamakura Shogunate: Military government (bakufu) based in Kamakura (south of present-day Tokyo);
  Imperial government still in Kyoto

New schools of Kamakura Buddhism: Pure Land

Pure Land sects:

Sutras:  (Larger) Sukhavati-vyuha (Muryoju-kyo)
  (Smaller) Sukhavati-vyuha (Amida-kyo)
  Amitayur-dhyana (Kammuryoju-kyo)

 Nembutsu: "Namu Amida Butsu" (Hail to Amida Buddha)

Three Ages of the Law (Dharma): True Law (Shobo)
  Counterfeit Law (Zobo)
  Decline of (Degenerate) Law (Mappo):  people no longer capable of achieving enlightenment
Jodo-shu (Pure Land Sect)
  • Founder:  Honen (1133-1212)
  • Nembutsu alone is sufficient to reborn into Pure Land
  • "Even a bad person will be received in a Buddha's Land; how much more a good person."

Jodo-shinshu (True Sect of Pure Land)

  • Founder:  Shinran (1173-1263)
  • Emphasis on faith and gratitude for Amida's compassion
  • "Even a good person will be received in Buddha's Land; how much more a bad person."

Nichiren-Shoshu (Orthodox Sect of Nichiren)

  • Founder:  Nichiren Daishonin (Great Holy Sage) (1222-1292)
  • Lotus Sutra as object of devotion itself
  • Daimoku: "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo" ("Hail to the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law")
  • Gohonzon: mandala centered on title of Lotus Sutra
  • Japan is where true Buddhism will prevail; other forms of Buddhism (even in Japan) are false
  • 30-40 sub-sects today
  • Soka Gakkai ("Value-Creation Society"), founded 1951, split with Nichiren-Shoshu 1991

Zen-shu (See separate handout)