Pure Land Buddhism

Doctrines The Pure Land, Nichiren and Zen schools in Japan initially emphasised different facets of Tendai teachings, but they soon outgrew their 'parent', Tendai.
Pure Land (Japanese: Jodo, Chinese: Ch'ing-tu) Buddhism in Japan was based on the same Pure Land Sutras and commentaries as in China, but a number of Pure Land teachers, most notable among them Honen (1133-1212) and his radical disciple Shinran (1173-1262) took Pure Land to the people as an exclusive faith for the laity. Honen was a learned and devotional monk who taught that reliance on the 'Original Vow' of Amida and constant, verbal recitation of the nembutsu (the phrase 'namu amida butsu', 'hail to Amida Buddha') was the only effective means of rebirth in the Pure Land. Once reborn in the Pure Land, the path to final enlightenment could be followed without the hindrances present in this world. Honen's close disciple Shinran reportedly abandoned the monastic life and married, thus demonstrating his raadical belief that in our 'degenerate age' (mappo), monastic discipline must give way completely to reliance on the saving power of Amida. Where Honen prescribed constant recitation, Shinran believed that even one utterance of the nembutsu was evidence that we are already guaranteed rebirth in the Pure Land by Amida's power, and the hallmark of the Pure Land devotee's life is thankfulness for the compassion of Amida.

History The 'New Buddhisms' of the Kamakura period were firmly rooted in traditional Chinese Buddhist doctrines. Evangelical Pure Land teachings spread rapidly among all classes of people. The pioneer Pure Land teachers and many of their followers suffered persection and exile. Pure Land was bitterly opposed as a heretical new religious movement by the 'establishment' forms of Buddhism such as Tendai, Shingon and the Nara sects. In time however Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhism came to dominate the Japanese religious landscape, with popular followings throughout the country. Pure Land fostered a particularly close relationship with the imperial court in Kyoto and drew its leading clerics from the aristocracy. Often entire villages would identify themselves as either Pure Land or Nichirenite, and during civil conflicts Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhists often took sides against each other.
In the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) the Pure Land denominations were among the Buddhist sects 'tamed' by incorporation into a nationwide Buddhist parish system designed to ensure religious peace and eradicate the common enemy, Christianity. Henceforth, Pure Land temples recruited adherents by birth in the parish rather than by evangelisation. After the Meiji restoration in1868 Buddhism was disestablished and temple priests of all sects were obliged to concentrate on funeral and memorial services as their main activity, so there is not much difference now between the activities of Pure Land and other Buddhist denominations. In the postwar period Pure Land sects have attempted to encourage personal faith in Amida among lay people in place of familial adherence to the parish temple.

Symbols Pure Land Buddhism tends to a populist approach in its symbolism, with colourful and evocative paintings of the horrors of hell and the delights of the Pure Land and attractive representations of Amida. The two most common symbols of the faith are scrolls showing the image of Amida surrounded by rays of light greeting his devotees at the time of rebirth in the Pure Land, and the nembuts 'namu amida-butsu' inscribed vertically in Chinese characters.

Adherents About 80% of today's approximately 120 million Japanese are Buddhist by birth or by choice, and Pure Land is the second largest denomination after Nichiren, with 25.8% of Buddhists. The number of Pure Land adherents in Japan is therefore approximately 25 million people. (Extrapolated from Hori (ed.) Japanese Religion, Kodansha 1972)

Main Centre
  Jodo Shu: Chion'in Temple, Kyoto
Jodo Shinshu Honganji-ha: Nishi Honganji, Kyoto
Jodo Shinshu Otani-ha: Higashi Honganji, Kyoto
There are numerous smaller sects of Pure Land with their own temple networks.