Chion-in Temple in Kyoto Celebrates the 850th Anniversary of the founding of Jodo Shu Buddhism

The Buddhist Channel, 10 April 2024

Kyoto, Japan -- Chion-in in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, the head temple of the Jodo Shu, began a service Tuesday to celebrate the 850th anniversary since the sect’s founding by Honen in 1175.

The service is scheduled to be held through Sunday. During the first service held on Tuesday in the temple’s Mieido Hall - a national treasure - Buddhist monks walked inside the hall where a wooden statue of Honen is enshrined, chanting a Buddhist invocation called nenbutsu.

Koga Nakamura who led Tuesday’s service said: “Now is the time for people to honor nenbutsu. I hope people can attain peace of mind by chanting nenbutsu.”

What is Jodo Shu Buddhism?

Jodo Shu, also known simply as the Pure Land School, 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 one of the most widely practiced branches of Buddhism in Japan.

The core practice of Jodo Shu is the recitation of the Nembutsu, which involves chanting the name of Amida Buddha (Amitabha Buddha), with the aspiration to be reborn in Amida's Pure Land, Sukhavati, after death.

This practice is seen as a way to express mindfulness and devotion, with the belief that through the power of Amida's compassion and vow, individuals can attain rebirth in the Pure Land and work towards enlightenment there.

Who was Honen?

Hōnen was born in 1133. He was originally named Seishimaru and became a monk at a young age following his father's assassination.

Hōnen's dissatisfaction with the teachings he encountered at Mount Hiei led him to devote himself exclusively to the practice of nenbutsu (nianfo), the recitation of Amitābha Buddha's name, influenced by the works of Shandao. This practice, which he believed was sufficient for rebirth in the Pure Land, marked a departure from the more complex practices prevalent in Tendai and Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.

Hōnen's emphasis on nenbutsu recitation as the primary practice for attaining rebirth in the Pure Land established the foundation of Jōdo Shū Buddhism. Despite facing criticism from the established Buddhist community in Kyoto, he amassed a substantial following and is respected for his knowledge and adherence to the Five Precepts.

Jodo Shu's impact on Japanese Buddhism

Jodo Shu, as one of the earliest schools of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. It has had a significant impact on Japanese Buddhism through its emphasis on the practice of nembutsu. This practice provided a simpler, more accessible form of Buddhist practice compared to the complex rituals and teachings prevalent in other forms of Buddhism at the time.

Here are some key impacts of Jodo Shu on Japanese Buddhism:

Jodo Shu made Buddhist practice accessible to all social classes, not just the elite or monastic communities. This inclusivity helped spread Buddhism among the general populace.

Influence on Other Schools
The emphasis on nembutsu in Jodo Shu influenced other Buddhist schools in Japan, including Jodo Shinshu, which also centers around nembutsu but interprets its practice and implications differently.

Cultural Integration
Jodo Shu contributed to the integration of Buddhism with Japanese culture, as seen in its interactions with Shinto practices through the honji suijaku theory, where kami were seen as manifestations of Buddhist bodhisattvas. This syncretism is evident in the presence of Shinto shrines within Buddhist temple grounds.

Spiritual Focus

By focusing on Amida Buddha and the Pure Land, Jodo Shu offered a hopeful and compassionate path to enlightenment that appealed to many, especially during times of social unrest and uncertainty.

Community and Social Services
Jodo Shu temples have played a role in community building and social services, reflecting the compassionate ideals of Pure Land Buddhism.
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