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This article is about Shan-tao (Zendō), an influential 7th century Buddhist writer. For other uses of Zendo see Zendo (disambiguation)

Shan-tao (Chinese: 善導大師; pinyin: shàn dào dà shī; Japanese: Zendō) (613-681) was an influential writer for the Pure Land school of Buddhism, prominent in China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan. His writings had a strong influence on later Pure Land masters including Hōnen and Shinran in Japan.

In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, he is considered the Fifth Patriarch.


Shan-tao was born at Tzu-jou in the present Anhui Province. When he was young, he entered the priesthood and devoted himself to the study of the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life and the Vimalakirti Sutra. One day, in the year 641, he visited the temple of the famous Pure Land master, Tao-cho, who happened to be giving a lecture on the Contemplation Sutra. This lecture ultimately inspired him to follow, and then spread the Pure Land Teachings.[1]

Shan-tao dwelt at the monastery of Xiangji Temple (Chinese: 香积寺; pinyin: xiāng jī sì) in Shaanxi, which continues to honor his memory and contributions. In his lifetime, Shan-tao wrote five major works on Pure Land Buddhism, with his commentaries on the Contemplation Sutra being among the most influential.


Shan-tao was one of the first to propose that salvation through Amitabha Buddha could be achieved simply through his name. The practice known as the nianfo as a way of singular devotion to Amitabha Buddha was all that was needed. In one of his more famous writings, Shan-tao spoke at great length about how simply saying the name of Amitabha Buddha was sufficient for salvation. Centuries later, Shan-tao's writings would have a strong impact on Hōnen and the Pure Land Buddhist movement in Japan, particularly the Commentaries on the Contemplation Sutra (Chinese: 觀經四帖疏; pinyin: Guān jīng sì tiè shū; Wade–Giles: Kuan-wu-liang-shou-fo-ching-shu), particularly this statement:[2]

Prior to this, Amitabha was incorporated into wider practices such as those found in the Tien Tai school of Buddhism, as part of complex and often difficult practices. Shan-tao often used imagery such as the "Light and Name of Amitabha" which "embraces" all beings. Ultimately, such writings marked a change in the way Buddhists viewed salvation through Amitabha.

The Three Minds and Four Modes of Practice[edit]

Among Shan-tao's teachings are the Three Minds and Four Modes of Practice for Pure Land Buddhism. In the Commentaries, sincere devotion to Amitabha Buddha over the long-term leads to three minds, or states of mind:

  1. The Utterly Sincere Mind
  2. The Profound, or Deeply Believing, Mind
  3. The Mind which dedicates one's merit (or good works) toward rebirth in the Pure Land.

In Hymns in Praise of Birth (Wang-sheng-li-tsan ), Shan-Tao taught the Four Modes of Practice that develop through devotion to Amitabha Buddha:

  1. Reverence shown to Amida Buddha and bodhisattvas in the Pure Land: Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta.
  2. Wholehearted and exclusive practice of reciting Amitabha's name.
  3. Uninterrupted, as in routine, practice.
  4. Long-term practice.


  1. ^ "About Pure Land Buddhism". Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  2. ^ Coates and Ishizuka (1949). Honen the Buddhist Saint, vol. II. Kyoto : Society for the Pub. of Sacred Books of the World. p. 184. 


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