Devotional sect of Mahayana Buddhism in China and Japan, centering on worship of the Buddha Amitabha (in Japan also known as Amida). According to the Pure Land Sutras, composed in India in the 2nd century A.D., Amitabha vowed to save all sentient beings by granting them rebirth in his realm, the "Western Paradise," a pure land endowed with miraculous characteristics ensuring its inhabitants easy entry into nirvana. Salvation can be attained by invoking the name of Amitabha with absolute faith in his grace and the efficacy of his vow. It was believed that Amitabha and his retinue would appear to the faithful at the time of death and convey them to his paradise.
In both China and Japan the movement gained impetus from the idea of the "end of the Dharma," which divided the development of Buddhism into three ages, that of the true, the counterfeit, and the decaying dharma, or Buddhist teaching. Those living in the present (the final, degenerate age) cannot attain enlightenment by the original means of self-effort, austerity, and superior knowledge and must rely entirely on faith. There were devotees of Amitabha in China as early as the end of the 3d century A.D; the sect was officially founded in 402 by its first patriarch, Hui-Yuan. Later masters spread the faith among the masses, sometimes using evangelical methods of contrasting the torments of hell with the bliss of the "Western Paradise." In Japan, Pure Land Buddhism was established as a sect by Honen (1133-1212), who taught that even those who had mastered Buddhist philosophy "should behave themselves like simpleminded folk" and renounce all practices except the nembutsu, recitation of the formula Namu Amida Butsu [homage to Amitabha Buddha]. His disciple Shinran (1173-1262) carried Honen's teachings to their logical conclusion by abandoning monastic celibacy and marrying. Shinran held that reliance on one's own effort or on any practice other than the nembutsu would show lack of faith in Amitabha. He broke with Honen's followers on these issues and became the leader of the True Pure Land Sect, which grew to be the largest Buddhist sect in Japan. The numerous representations of Amitabha with his attendant bodhisattvas and the depictions of hell testify to the influence of Pure Land Buddhism on Chinese and Japanese Buddhist art.
Buddhist sect of China and Japan. The name of the sect (Chin. Ch'an, Jap. Zen) derives from the Sanskrit word dhyana [meditation]. In early China the school was known for making its central tenet the practice of meditation, rather than adherence to a particular scripture or doctrine. The founder of Zen in China was the legendary Bodhidharma, who came to China from India in the late 5th century A.D. He taught the practice of "wall-gazing" and espoused the teachings of the Lankavatara Sutra(whose chief doctrine is that of "consciousness-only; which he passed on to his successor Hui-k'o (487-593). Little is known of the early development of Zen, but according to tradition, Hui-neng (638-713) became the sixth patriarch of Chinese Zen by superseding his rival in the intuitive grasp of the truth of enlightenment, although he was illiterate. The Platform Sutra, attributed to Hui-neng, defines enlightenment as the direct seeing of one's "original Mind" or "original Nature," which is Buddha, and this teaching has remained characteristic of Zen up to the present. A number of teaching lineages arose after Hui-neng, all claiming descent from him, and teaching the method of "sudden enlightenment" best known in the West by the term satori. In its formative period Zen was influenced both by Taoism and elements of Prajna-Paramita Buddhism (see sunyata). The 8th and 9th century were the "golden age" of Zen, producing such great masters as Ma-tsu, Nan-chuan, Huang-po, Lin-chi, and Chao-chou. The unique Zen teaching style was developed, stressing oral instruction and using nonrational forms of dialogue, from which the later koan was derived. In some cases even physical violence was used to jolt the student out of dependence on ordinary forms of thought and into the enlightened consciousness. Scholarly knowledge, ritual, and performing good deeds were considered of comparatively little spiritual value.
After the great persecution of Buddhism in 845, Zen emerged as the dominant Chinese sect, due partly to its innate vitality and partly to its isolation in mountain monasteries away from centers of political power. Two main schools of Zen, the Lin-chi (Jap. Rinzai) and the Ts'ao-tung (Jap. Soto), flourished and were transmitted to Japan in the 14th century The Rinzai sect placed greater emphasis on the use of the koan and effort to attain sudden enlightenment, while the Soto patriarch Dogen (1200-53) emphasized sitting in meditation (zazen) without expectation and with faith in one's own intrinsic state of enlightenment or Buddha-nature. The austere discipline and practical approach of Zen made it the Buddhism of the medieval Japanese military class. Zen monks occupied positions of political influence and became active in literary and artistic life. Zen monasteries, especially the main temples of Kyoto and Kamakura, were educational as well as religious centers. The Zen influence on Japanese aesthetics ranges from poetry, calligraphy, and painting to tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and landscape gardening, particularly the distinctive rock-and-sand temple gardens. Japanese Zen declined in the 16th and 17th century, but its traditional forms were revived by the great Hakuin (1686-1769) from whom all present-day Rinzai masters trace their descent. Zen thought was introduced to the West by the writings of D. T. Suzuki, and interest in the practice of Zen meditation has blossomed since World War II, resulting in the establishment of Zen centers in many parts of the United States.
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Last modified Nov. 12, 2001