From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chion-in, Grand Head Temple of the Chinzei Branch of Jōdo-shū
ClassificationPure Land Buddhism
ScriptureThe Three Pure Land Sutras and the Senchakushū
DivisionsChinzei, Seizan
LiturgyJōdo-shū Otsutome
HeadquartersChion-in (Chinzei), Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji (Seizan)
FounderHonen Shonin
Separated fromTendai
MembersApproximately 6,000,000[1]
Official websiteOfficial English Website of Jōdo-shū
LogoTsukikage Gyoyō (Moonlit Apricot Leaves)

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. In the general classification of Buddhism in Japan, the Jōdo-shū, the Jōdo Shinshu, the Ji-shu and the Yuzu Nembutsu shu are collectively classified into the lineage of Jōdo Buddhism. (Jōdo kei, 浄土系)[2][3]


The Founder: Hōnen[edit]

Hōnen (法然) was born in 1133, the son of Uruma no Tokikuni of a local ruling family in Mimasaka Province.[4] Hōnen was originally named Seishimaru after the mahāsattva Seishi (Sanskrit Mahāsthāmaprāpta). 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 teachings he learned at Mount Hiei. Influenced by the writings of Shandao, Hōnen devoted himself solely to Amitābha as expressed through the practice of 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[5] and fortune tellers. Hōnen also distinguished himself by not discriminating against women who were menstruating, thought at the time to be unclean. Some followers more strictly followed Buddhist conduct, whereas others assumed they were saved by Amida Buddha and behaved recklessly, earning criticism from established monastic communities such as Enryakuji and Kofukuji.

To counter these criticisms, Honen insisted his followers sign the Seven Article Pledge, or shichikajō seikai (七箇条制戒) in 1204, pledging not to disparage other sects, and to uphold the Buddha-Dharma. One-hundred and sixty-three followers, including Honen's chief disciples, signed the pledge.[6]

Protest and Banishment[edit]

The monastic communities were satisfied for a time, until in 1207, when Kofukuji temple made another petition to the Emperor. Meanwhile, two of Honen's disciples, Jūren (住蓮) and Anraku-bō (安楽房), were caught proselytizing to some of the ladies in waiting of Emperor Go-toba, who had then decided to take tonsure and leave the service of the Emperor. In anger, the Emperor decreed that Honen and several followers be defrocked and sent into exile, while Jūren and Anraku-bō were executed.

This is recorded in the Tannisho of Shinran's disciple, Yuien-bō, as follows:[7]

Master Honen and seven of his disciples were exiled, and four other disciples were executed. The Master was banished to a place called Hata in Tosa province and, stripped of ordination, given a secular name: the male Fujii no Motohiko; he was seventy-six years old. Shinran was exiled to Echigo province. His secular name was Fujii no Yoshizane, he was thirty-five. [Among the others exiled:] Jomon-bo, to Bingo province; Chosai Zenko-bo, to Hoki province; Kokaku-bo, to Izu province; Gyoku Hohon-bo, to Sado province. It was also determined that Kosai Jokaku-bo and Zenne-bo both receive banishment, but the former abbot of Mudo-ji temple took them under his custody.

Jūren and Anraku-bō were executed along with a few other disciples.

Eventually, Hōnen was pardoned and returned to Kyoto in 1211, but died soon after in 1212, just two days after giving his final testament, the One-Sheet Document to disciple Genchi.

Early Years After Hōnen[edit]

The remaining disciples in the capitol collected Honen's writings and erected a mausoleum, while doctrinal disagreements between Honen's disciples Ryūkan, Chōsai and Shōkú escalated.

When Hōnen's work, the Senchakushu, began to circulate in 1227, this enraged the monastic community on Enryakuji, and a force of sōhei warriors were sent to raid the tomb of Hōnen.[6] This is known as the Karoku Persecution (karoku no hōgan 嘉禄の法難) of 1227. Honen's body and copies of the Senchakushu were relocated thanks to advance warning, but other writings of Honen's were destroyed, and more disciples were exiled.[6]

Remote Disciples and Doctrines[edit]

Many, though not all, of the disciples of Honen were exiled to remote provinces in either 1207 by order of Emperor Go-toba, or later in 1227. Each established a local community in their respective provinces and with nuances in the teachings ("gi", 義), but only a two lineages survive today: the Chinzei-ha branch and the Seizan-ha branch (with 3 sub-branches). Other offshoots such as Jodo Shinshu and the Ji-shū sects are considered different enough to be separate from Jodo-shū.

Jodo-Shu Lineage Chart[8]
Chinzei branchSeizan,
Zenrinji branch
Komyoji branch
Fukakusa branch
Ji-shū sectJodo Shinshu sect

The largest branch of Jōdo-shū, the Chinzei-ha (鎮西派, "The Chinzei Branch"), named after the district of Chinzei in Kita-Kyushu, was originally established in the hometown of disciple, Benchō, who had been exiled in 1207, but grew through subsequent disciples. The rival Seizan-ha (西山派, "The Seizan Branch") and Kuhon-ji branches grew around the capitol of Kyoto, as Shōkū and Chōsai were among the few major disciples who were not exiled.

Finally, Shinran, another disciple established communities in Echigo Province, but the sect gradually differed enough from others to be considered a separate sect, Jodo Shinshu.

Other disciples of note:

  • Genchi, Honen's disciple and personal attendant who stayed in Kyoto. Later, met Ryōchū in 1248, and agreed to merge with the Chinzei branch after reaching an accord.[9] Was Hōnen's witness when he dictated the One-Sheet Document, his final testament.
  • Shinkū, helped to establish Hōnen's mausoleum, and later protect its relics during the Persecution of 1227.
  • Ryūkan, 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 in 1227, where he died en route.[9]
  • Kōsai, a disciple who advocated 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.[9]
  • Chōsai, the last of Hōnen's direct disciples. Where Honen and other Pure Land followers focused on the 18th, or Primal Vow, of Amida Buddha, Chõsai felt that the 20th Vow of the Immeasurable Life Sutra also applied, and thus taught that other practices in Buddhism would lead to birth in the Pure Land. This was the shogyō hongan (諸行本願, "Primal Vow for Miscellaneous Practices") teaching. Founder of the Kuhonji-gi branch (九品寺義), based around Kuhonji temple in Kyoto.[9][8]
  • Kujō Kanezane, an influential of the Fujiwara Clan, he helped defend and protect Honen from some political persecution. A number of letters and poetry exchanged Honen and Kanezane have been preserved.
  • Awanosuke (阿波介), the fortune-teller, is credited with the double-stranded Buddhist prayer beads used in Jōdo-shū, though he did not establish a branch of his own.


A generation later, Bencho's disciple, Ryōchū, became his disciple for a year, and then spread Benchō's and Hōnen's teachings throughout Japan before reaching the new capital at Kamakura. Ryōchū helped to legitimize the "Chinzei branch" of Jōdo Shū as the mainstream one, and is credited as the 3rd Patriarch accordingly. He also referred to Benchō, his teacher, as the 2nd Patriarch after Hōnen. Ryōchū also met with Renjaku-bo, whose own teacher Genchi, had been another disciple of Hōnen. Renjaku-bo felt that Genchi and Benchō had been in complete agreement, so he willingly united his lineage with Ryōchū's, helping to further increase its standing.[10]

Jōdo Shū 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.

Edo Period[edit]

In 1590, during the Azuchi–Momoyama period, Jōdo-shū was officially patronized by Tokugawa Ieyasu,[8][11] leading to an era of great prosperity for the sect that lasted throughout the Edo period and beyond. Zōjō-ji in Edo, previously a Shingon sect temple converted to a Jōdo-shū temple, became the family temple of the Tokugawa clan during the same year, receiving considerable patronage.[12] Several shoguns of the Tokugawa family are still interred in mausoleums at Zōjō-ji, though Ieyasu himself is interred at the Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine.

Meiji Period[edit]

Fukuda Gyōkai, an important Jōdo sect reformer during the Meiji Period.

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 marked a tumultuous period for Japanese Buddhism. The separation of Shinto and Buddhism unintentionally triggered the haibutsu kishaku, a nationwide movement targeting Buddhist institutions, in which temples were demolished, their properties revoked, and their monks forcibly defrocked.[13]

Jōdo-shū, having formerly received considerable patronage from the Tokugawa Shogunate, now embarked on a period of internal reform in which several monks emerged as important reformers.

Among these reformers was Tetsujō Ukai (養鸕徹定), a Buddhist historian and the head priest of Chion-in from 1885 to 1887. He became a staunch defender of Buddhism during this period, opposing both the attempts to eradicate Buddhism in Japan and the rise of Western criticism aimed at the religion. He also emphasized the importance of Buddhism in Japanese history and culture, underscoring its contributions to the nation's history.[14]

Another important figure within the reform movement was Fukuda Gyōkai (福田行誡), a Buddhist scholar, poet, and the head priest of Chion-in from 1887 to 1888.[15] He promoted both the preservation of Buddhist traditions and the modernization of social welfare systems based on Buddhist philosophy. He also promoted the creation of the League of United Buddhist Sects (諸宗同徳会盟), which united several Buddhist sects to follow the goals of modernization and preventing Christian influences on Japan.[16]

Shōwa Period[edit]

Before and during World War II, Jōdo-shū, along with other Buddhist sects, faced pressure to endorse the actions of Imperial Japan and its policy of State Shintō. This pressure met resistance from certain elements within the sect, such as a chief priest named Ono Onyū, who publicly critiqued the war effort by posting a quote by Benjamin Franklin on his temple's bulletin board: "There never was a good war or a bad peace. A reckless war destroys in one year what man took many years to create." This act of defiance led to Onyū's punishment.[17] Despite the protests of some members of the sect, the Jōdo-shū organization nevertheless complied with the policy of State Shintō. This included building several temples within Japan’s overseas colonies (all of which would later be destroyed in the years following the war) and providing memorial services to deceased soldiers as well as relief for their families. The school subsequently apologized for its wartime actions alongside the other Buddhist sects of Japan.[18]

After the Second World War, during the 1940s and early 1950s, several temples broke off from the main Chinzei Branch of Jōdo-shū, forming their own independent sects. However, this period of fragmentation proved to be relatively short-lived. In January 1961, on the 750th anniversary of Hōnen’s death, the majority of the breakaway sects of Jōdo-shū merged back into the primary Chinzei branch, which remains the largest branch of Jōdo-shū in the modern day.

Geographic Distribution[edit]

An artistic depiction of Hōnen publicly preaching.

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 and Brazil. The first Jōdo-shū temple built in Hawai'i was the Hāmākua Bukkyo Kaido, constructed in 1896 under the supervision of Reverend Gakuo Okabe.[19][20] The Jodo Shu North America Buddhist Missions was the first Jōdo-shū temple to be built in mainland America in 1936 in Los Angeles, California.[21][22]


Pure Land Buddhist teachings had been prevalent in Japan for centuries, particularly in the Tendai sect through Ennin, Genshin, and others, but what distinguished Honen's teaching was the notion senju nembutsu (専修念仏, "exclusive nembutsu"), whereby the only true means of achieving rebirth in the Pure Land was through reciting the nembutsu. In particular, Honen argued that it was through Amida Buddha's merit and compassion that one achieved rebirth, and since the nembutsu was explicitly called out in the Immeasurable Life Sutra in the 18th Vow (also known as the Primal Vow), it was the only practice that would work, especially in the latter age of Mappō, when people could no longer effectively put the teachings of the Buddha into practice anymore. Other practices would neither add nor detract from Amida Buddha's power.

Toward the end of the Immeasurable Life Sutra is the following passage:

The Buddha further said, "I have expounded this teaching for the sake of sentient beings and enabled you to see Amitāyus and all in his land. Strive to do what you should. After I have passed into Nirvāṇa, do not allow doubt to arise. In the future, the Buddhist scriptures and teachings will perish." But, out of pity and compassion, I will especially preserve this sutra and maintain it in the world for a hundred years more. Those beings who encounter it will attain deliverance in accord with their aspirations.

— Hisao Inagaki, translation

Since 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, it was felt that society had already reached the era of latter days of the Dharma, and that, based on the passage above, all other practices had ceased to have any efficacy.

Further, Hōnen sought to provide people a simple Buddhist practice that anybody could use toward enlightenment, no matter how degenerate the times because he was concerned that many people were excluded from existing sects:[23]

"The reason I founded the Jōdo [浄土, Pure Land] sect was that I might show the ordinary man how to be born into the Buddha’s real land of recompense [e.g. the Pure Land]. According to the Tendai sect, the ordinary man may be born into the so-called Pure Land, but that land is conceived of as a very inferior place. Although the Hossō [Yogacara] sect conceives of it as indeed a very fine superior place, they do not allow that the common man can be born there at all. And all the sects, though differing in many points, all agree in not allowing that the common man can be born into the Buddha’s land of real compensation....Unless I start a separate sect, the truth that the common man may be born into the Buddha’s land of compensation will be obscured, and it will be hard to realize the deep meaning Amida [Buddha]’s Original Vow [to provide a refuge for all beings]."

— Rev. Harper Coates and Rev. Ryugaku Ishizuka, translation

Since, according to Honen's line of reasoning, salvation was mostly due to Amida Buddha's power, there was no reason why anyone who sincerely recited the nembutsu couldn't be reborn in the Pure Land.


Recitation of the nembutsu, lit. namu amida butsu (南無阿弥陀仏, "Praise to the Buddha Amitabha"), is the most fundamental practice of Jōdo-shū, which derives from the Primal Vow of Amitābha. In home practice, or in temple liturgy, the nembutsu may be recited in any number of styles including:[24]

  • Jūnen (十念, "Ten Recitations") - reciting the nembutsu ten times, with eight recitations of "Namu Amida Bu," followed by one "Namu Amida Butsu," and one final drawn out "Namu Amida Bu," accompanied by a bow.
  • 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, followed by a bow. This is repeated twice more for a total of nine 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. Furthermore, Jōdo-shū practitioners are allowed to worship kami and visit Shinto shrines as long as they do not worship the kami as a means to enter the pure land.[23]

Chion-in, the highest temple of Jōdo-shū.

Of the entire Buddhist canon, Sutra of Immeasurable Life is the central Buddhist scripture for Jōdo-shū Buddhism, and the foundation of the belief in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. In addition to this, the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra and the Amitabha Sutra are important to the Jōdo-shū school. Collectively, these are known as the Sanbukyō (三部経, "Three Pure Land Sutras").

Further, the writings of Hōnen, contained mostly in the Senchaku-hongan-nembutsu-shū (often abbreviated to Senchakushū), 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 following century, the Senchakushū, and letters to his students and disciples. The One-Sheet Document is also read aloud in daily services as part of Jōdo-shū liturgy.

Head Temples and Clergy[edit]

Jōdo-shū, like other Buddhist schools, maintains a professional, monastic priesthood, based on the parent Tendai-sect monastic organization, with two "head temples", one at Chion-in in Kyoto, and one at Zojoji in Tokyo. The head of the Jōdo-shū school is called the monshu in Japanese, and lives at the head temple of Chion-in. For the Seizan branch, there are three sub-branches, each with their own head temple.[8]


  1. ^ "日本の主な宗教宗派". 文化庁. 1998.
  2. ^ 詳説 日本仏教13宗派がわかる本. Kodansha.
  3. ^ 宗派について. Kanetsu Seien.
  4. ^ 浄土宗西山禅林寺派宗祖法然上人立教開宗850年記念サイト. honen850.jp
  5. ^ "Nyorai-in in Settsu". Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  6. ^ a b c Jones, Charles B. (2021). Pure Land: History, Tradition, and Practice (Buddhist Foundations). Shambhala. pp. 123–135. ISBN 978-1-61180-890-2.
  7. ^ "TANNISHO: A Record in Lament of Divergences". Retrieved 2023-06-27.
  8. ^ a b c d 服部, 淳一 (2008). 日本人として心が豊かになる仏事とおつとめ 浄土宗 単行本. 青志社. pp. 36–38. ISBN 4-903853-24-1.
  9. ^ a b c d Traversing the Pure Land Path: A Lifetime of Encounters with Honen Shonin. Jodo Shu Press. 2005. pp. 89–94, 124–131, 150–153. ISBN 4-88363-342-X.
  10. ^ Traversing the Pure Land Path: A Lifetime of Encounters with Hōnen Shonin. Jodo Shu Press. 2005. pp. 152–153. ISBN 4-88363-342-X.
  11. ^ "JODO SHU English". www.jodo.org. Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  12. ^ "大本山 増上寺". www.zojoji.or.jp (in Japanese). Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  13. ^ John Breen (July 2000). Mark Teeuwen (ed.). Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-8248-2363-4. OCLC 43487317
  14. ^ "養鸕徹定". WEB版新纂浄土宗大辞典 (in Japanese). Retrieved 2024-01-23.
  15. ^ 知恩院, 浄土宗総本山. "福田行誡上人の足跡を訪ねて|浄土宗総本山 知恩院". 浄土宗総本山 知恩院 (in Japanese). Retrieved 2024-01-23.
  16. ^ "諸宗同徳会盟". WEB版新纂浄土宗大辞典 (in Japanese). Retrieved 2024-01-22.
  17. ^ Ienaga, The Pacific War, 1931–45, pp. 215.
  18. ^ Victoria, Brian (1992). ZEN AT WAR (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (published 2006).
  19. ^ HistoricHawaii. "Hāmākua Jodo Mission: Past, Present and Future". Historic Hawaii Foundation. Retrieved 2023-05-31.
  20. ^ "Our History". Hamakua Jodo Mission. 2019-12-14. Retrieved 2023-05-31.
  21. ^ "JODO SHU English". www.jodo.org. Retrieved 2023-05-31.
  22. ^ "Jodo Shu North America Buddhist Missions |". english.jodoshuna.org. Retrieved 2023-05-31.
  23. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Joseph A. (2006). Honen The Buddhist Saint: Essential Writings and Official Biography. World Wisdom. ISBN 1-933316-13-6.
  24. ^ "Teachings and Practice". Retrieved 2011-10-17.


  • Blum, Mark L. The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism: a Study and Translation of Gyōnen's Jōdo Hōmon Genrushō. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Matsunaga, Daigan, and Alicia Matsunaga. Foundation of Japanese buddhism, Vol. 2: The Mass Movement (Kamakura and Muromachi Periods). Los Angeles, Tokyo, Buddhist Books International, 1990.
  • The Three Pure Land Sutras. Rev. 2nd ed. Translated by Hisao Inagaki with Harold Stewart, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2003. PDF

External links[edit]