World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Jodo Shu

For other uses, see Jodo (disambiguation).

Template:JapaneseBuddhism Jōdo-shū (浄土宗?, "The Pure Land School"), also known as Jōdo Buddhism, is a branch of Pure Land Buddhism derived from the teachings of the Japanese ex-Tendai monk Hōnen. It was established in 1175 and is the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan, along with Jōdo Shinshū.


The Founder: Hōnen

Hōnen was born in 1133, the son of a prominent family in Japan whose ancestry could be traced back to silk merchants from China. Hōnen was originally named Seishi-maru after the bodhisattva Seishi (Mahasthamaprapta in Sanskrit). After a rival official assassinated his father in 1141, Hōnen was initiated into his uncle's monastery at the age of 9. From then on, Hōnen lived his life as a monk, and eventually studied at the famous monastery of Mount Hiei.

Hōnen was well respected for his knowledge and for his adherence to the Five Precepts, but in time, Hōnen became dissatisfied with the Tendai Buddhist teachings he learned at Mount Hiei. Influenced by the writings of Shan-tao, Hōnen devoted himself solely to Amitābha (Amida) Buddha, as expressed through the nembutsu.

In time, Hōnen gathered disciples from all walks of life, and developed a large following, notably women, who had been excluded from serious Buddhist practice up to this point. This included fishermen, prostitutes[1] and fortune tellers. Hōnen also distinguished himself by not discriminating against women who were menstruating, who were thought at the time to be unclean. All of this caused concern among the religious and political elite of Kyoto and eventually the emperor Gotoba issued a decree in 1207 to have Hōnen exiled to a remote part of Japan, and given a criminal's name. Some of Hōnen's followers were executed, while others, including Bencho, Ryukan and Shinran, were exiled to other regions of Japan away from Hōnen.[2]

Eventually, Hōnen was pardoned and returned to Kyoto in 1211, but died soon after in 1212, just two days after writing his famous One-Sheet Document.

After Honen

Because Honen and his disciples were largely exiled to remote provinces, and due to differences in background and monastic training, the teachings began to take on regional differences. Some sub-sects died out quickly, while others survive through the modern era. The main branch of Jodo Shu started under Honen's disciple Benchō who was exiled to Chinzei on the island of Kyushu. There, Bencho actively preached Honen's doctrine while refuting what he considered deviations taught by other disciples (particularly Kosai's controversial "once-calling" teaching).

Another monk named Ryōchū became his disciple for a year, and then spread Bencho's and Honen's teachings throughout Japan before reaching the capital at Kamakura. Ryōchū helped to legitimize the "Chinzei branch" of Jodo Shu as the mainstream one, and is credited as the 3rd Patriarch accordingly. He also referred to Bencho his teacher as the 2nd Patriarch after Honen. Ryōchū also met with Renjaku-bo, whose own teacher Genchi, had been another disciple of Honen. Renjaku-bo felt that Genchi and Bencho had been in complete agreement, so he willingly united his lineage with Ryōchū's, helping to further increase its standing.[3]

Jodo Shu through the Chinzei lineage continued to develop until the 8th Patriarch, Shōgei (聖冏, 1341 - 1420) who formalized the training of priests (rather than training under Tendai or Shingon lineages), thus formally establishing it as an independent sect.


Jōdo-shū is heavily influenced by the idea of Mappō or The Age of Dharma Decline. The concept of Mappō is that over time society becomes so corrupt, that people can no longer effectively put the teachings of the Buddha into practice anymore. In medieval thought, signs of Mappō included warfare, natural disasters and corruption of the Sangha. The Jōdo-shū school was founded near the end of the Heian Period when Buddhism in Japan had become deeply involved in political schemes, and some in Japan saw monks flaunting wealth and power. At the end of the Heian Period warfare also broke out between competing samurai clans, while people suffered from earthquakes and series of famines.[4]

Hōnen, through Jōdo-shū teachings, sought to provide people a simple Buddhist practice in a degenerate age, that anybody could use toward Enlightenment: Devotion to Amitābha Buddha as expressed in the nembutsu. Through Amitābha's compassion, a being may be reborn in the Pure Land (Sukhavati in Sanskrit), where they can pursue Enlightenment more readily. Hōnen did not believe that other Buddhist practices were wrong, but rather, they were not practical on a wide-scale, especially during the difficult times of the late Heian Period.[4]

Repetition of the nembutsu is the most fundamental practice of Jōdo-shū, which derives from the Primal Vow of Amitābha Buddha. In home practice, or in temple liturgy, the nembutsu may be recited in any number of styles including:[5]

  • Jūnen (十念?, "Ten Recitations") - reciting the nembutsu ten times, with the last drawn out.
  • Nembutsu Ichie (念仏一会?, "Nembutsu Gathering") - reciting the nembutsu as many times as possible in a sitting, regardless of number.
  • Nembutsu Sanshōrai (念仏三唱礼?, "Three Intonations of Praise") - a style involving three drawn-out recitations of the nembutsu, follow by a bow. This is repeated twice more for a total of 9 recitations.

However, in addition to this, practitioners are encouraged to engage in "auxiliary" practices, such as observing the Five Precepts, meditation, the chanting of sutras and other good conduct. There is no strict rule on this however, as Jōdo-shū stresses that the compassion of Amitābha is extended to all beings who recite the nembutsu, so how one observes auxiliary practices is left to the individual to decide.

The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life is the central Buddhist scripture for Jōdo-shū Buddhism, and the foundation of the belief in the Primal Vow of Amitābha. In addition to the Larger Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra (The Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life) are important to the Jōdo-shū school. The writings of Hōnen, contained mostly in the Senjaku-hongan-nembutsu-shū (often abbreviated to 'Senchaku-shū'), are another source for Jōdo-shū thought as is his last writing, the Ichimai-Kishōmon (一枚起請文?, "One-Sheet Document"). Most of what is known about Honen and his thought is attributed through sayings collected in the follow century, the Senchakushū, and letters to his students and disciples.

Jōdo-shū, like other Buddhist schools, maintains a professional, monastic priesthood, who help to lead the congregation, and also maintain the well-known temples such as Chion-in. The head of the Jōdo-shū school is called the monshu in Japanese, and lives at the head temple in Kyoto, Japan, Chion-in Temple.


The main 'Chinzei' branch of Jodo Shu was maintained by the so-called "Second Patriarch" and disciple of Honen, Shoko, also known as ’’Benchō. However, other disciples of Hōnen branched off into a number of other sects and interpretations of Jodo Shu thought, particularly after they were exiled in 1207:[6]

  • Shoku founded the Seizan branch of Jodo Shu, which structured the Buddhist teachings into a hierarchy with the nembutsu at the top. Because Shoku's teachings were compatible with the dominant Tendai sect, Shoku was not exiled.
  • Ryukan, one of Honen's more elderly disciples, emphasized the efficacy of the nembutsu as practice, and encouraged its frequent recitation, leading to his teachings being called the "many callings school" or tanen-gi (多念義). He was exiled to eastern Japan where he died en route.[7]
  • Kōsai taught the idea that a single recitation of the nembutsu was all that was necessary. His doctrine of "once-calling" or ichinen-gi (一念義) provided considerable controversy, and Honen eventually disavowed Kōsai and his teachings. He was later exiled to the island of Shikoku.[8]
  • Chosai, the last of Hōnen's direct disciples, felt that all practices in Buddhism would lead to birth in the Pure Land.
  • Awanosuke, the fortune-teller. He is credited with the double-stranded rosary, or juzu used in Jodo Shu sects, though he did not establish a branch of his own.

Another disciple, Shinran founded the Jōdo Shinshū sect of Buddhism, which diverges somewhat doctrinally, but otherwise is heavily influenced by Hōnen and his teachings. In Jōdo Shinshū, Hōnen is considered the Seventh Patriarch. Depending on the viewpoint, Shinran and Jōdo Shinshū are considered another branch of Jodo Shu.

Geographic distribution

Although Jōdo-shū is mainly found in Japan, a sizable Jōdo-shū community exists in Hawaii as well as a few temples in the continental United States.



  • Matsunaga, Daigan, Matsunaga, Alicia (1996), Foundation of japanese buddhism, Vol. 2: The Mass Movement (Kamakura and Muromachi Periods), Los Angeles; Tokyo: Buddhist Books International, 1996. ISBN 0-914910-28-0
  • Hisao Inagaki, Harold Stewart (transl.): The Three Pure Land Sutras, Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2003. PDF

External links

  • English Language Site for Jodo Shu - The official website for Jodo Shu. Also contains information on Pure Land Buddhism in general.
  • The Jodo Shu Research Institute - Responsible for providing research and English-language resources on Jodo Shu, as well as publications.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.