Buddhism Comes to Japan Part 2

The Tendai sect, which was based on the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Punฺdฺarika) and emphasized the capacity of alt beings to attain Buddhahood, was founded as a synthesis of the doctrines and practices of Tien-Tai, Zen, esoteric Buddhism and the Vinaya sect. Shingon was a form of Mantrayana, esoteric Buddhism which taught secret doctrines and mystic rituals. It taught both the spirit of the original esoteric teachings and the rituals of chanting Mantras. As these two sects were reactions against the degenerate practices of the city monks of Nara, their monastic centres were established in remote and secluded places on the mountains. Their philosophies and ceremonies were still too complex to be easily understood by the common people. Therefore, in the latter part of the Heian period the popular doctrine of salvation by faith through devotion to Amida Buddha began to develop. As regards the two sects themselves, the common people would accept only superstitions attached to them. Shingon even degenerated into the praying cult practised only for worldly benefits. At last the monastic centres of the two sects also became worldly and corrupt. There were even priest-warriors in leading. temples, who fought against each other.

The Three Sects of Kamakura
Much warfare added by social disorder and natural disasters brought to an end the imperial rule in B.E. 1699 (1156 C.E.) and also the Heian period in B.E. 1728 (1185 C.E.). This was followed by the rise of feudalism and the Kamakura period of shogunate which lasted till B.E. 1876 (1333 C.E.). The great distress which the people suffered during the period of disorder roused the need for the simplification of religious theories and practices to suit religious needs of the common people. This led to the arising of three major forms of Buddhism which still flourish in Modern Japan.

1. Pure Land Buddhism or Amidism believes in salvation by faith. It teaches the reliance upon the grace of Amitabha Buddha to be reborn in the Western Paradise of Jodo or Sukhavati. This rebirth can be achieved by faith in Amida’s power to save and by the calling of his name in faith, that is, the saying of the Nembutsu; ‘Nauru Amida Butsu’ – Homage to Amida Buddha, Its faith is symbolized by the Daibutsu or great image of Amida Buddha erected at Kamakura in B.E. 1795 (1252 C.E.). There are two sects of this form, which were closely related historically, viz.,
1.1 Jodo, founded by Honen who organized his followers around the recitation of the Nembutsu;
1.2 Shin or Jodo-Shin (True Pure Land), founded by Shinran, a disciple of Honen, as a reform of Jodo. Shinran emphasized the absolute reliance on the external power of Amida and the equality of all beings before the Buddha. Any practice that was a sign of trust in one’s own powers and lack of trust in Amida’s grace must be rejected. Therefore, the Shin sect gives up monastic discipline and all acts of self-effort such as doctrinal study, meditation and rituals, and also any concern for lucky and unlucky times, astrology and prayers. There is no division between the monkhood and the laity. Shinran and later leaders of the sect married and led ordinary lives among the people.

2. Zen is a meditative sect which emphasizes the existence of the original Buddhahood in every being and believes in the sudden enlightenment through mind-to-mind instruction without dependence on the words and letters of scriptures. Meditation practices (Zazen), moral discipline, actions in daily life and earnest work for mankind are required in order. to attain Satori or the Enlightenment. Of the two chief branches of Zen, Rinzai Zen, which prescribes stricter discipline and the use of paradoxes (Koan) in meditation, has had greater appeal for members of the military and ruling class such as the samurai, while Soto Zen, which emphasizes ethical precepts, Bodhisattva practices and silent sitting-and-waiting meditation, has had larger following among the common people.