Jōdo Shū

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The ‘Pure Land school’ founded by Hōnen (1133–1212), which was the first new school of Buddhism to be founded in Japan outside of and without the sanction of imperial authority. Hōnen was a Tendai monk who grew despondent over the failure of his religious practices to provide him with the assurance of liberation. After 30 years of practice, he reached a crisis point during which he came upon a passage in Shan-tao's commentary to the Meditation Sūtra stating that even the most unworthy will achieve rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitābha (Jap., Amida) by relying on the power of Amitābha's vow to save all beings who call upon his name. Convinced by Shan-tao's assertions of the superiority of the practice of calling Amitābha's name (as opposed to other practices aimed at the attainment of rebirth in the Pure Land such as visualization and esoteric rituals), Hōnen began preaching to lay and monastics alike the wisdom of choosing this practice to the exclusion of others. While Hōnen's own conduct was irreproachable, this teaching led to problems among his followers. The exclusion of traditional Buddhist precepts led some to advocate an antinomian position, claiming that since Amitābha saved even the worst sinners, then conduct did not matter as long as one relied on his grace. This led to scandals, and in 1207 two of his disciples passed a night in the ladies chambers of the retired emperor's palace. In his anger, the retired emperor executed four followers, and banished Hōnen himself along with his other disciples. Many, including Shinran, were forced to revert to lay status.

Hōnen's own views on the practice of reciting the nembutsu (name of the Buddha Amitābha), its relation to other practices, and the relation of self-power (jiriki) to other-power (tariki) were vague. He advocated the recitation of the nembutsu as the only practice conducive to rebirth and the eventual attainment of Buddhahood, but in his own religious life he engaged in many other practices and advocated the maintenance of traditional Buddhist morality. He denigrated self-power, saying that in the age of the decline of the teachings (Jap., mappō), people did not have any ability to effect their own liberation. Instead, he urged reliance on the ‘other-power’ of Amitābha to bring this about. However, he himself recited the nembutsu 60,000 to 70,000 times daily, saying that it was a powerful tool for purifying the mind. Thus, after his death.disputes broke out among his disciples over the nature of proper teaching and practice. The largest and most successful branch, the Chinzei-ha.owed its existence to Hōnen's disciple Shōkōbo Benchō (1162–1238). In his works, he stressed the compatibility of the single practice of reciting the nembutsu with other methods of attaining rebirth in the Pure Land that had been preserved in the Tendai school. He established several temples around the capital, and his willingness to accommodate other practices within the framework of Jōdo Shū teachings facilitated good relations with other temples and schools. The Chinzei-ha continues to advocate nembutsu recitation as a continuous practice, stressing the need to recite as many times as possible in order to maximize the purification of one's mind and the chance of attaining rebirth at the moment of death.


Subjects: Buddhism.

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