Tendai Buddhism: a one-page summaryPosted: September 19, 2011
For Ohigan, I wanted to pass along this interesting article I read which summarizes Tendai Buddhism quite nicely in a single page, and touches about aspects of Japanese Buddhism in general. For most people not living in Japan, Zen and (sometimes) Pure Land Buddhism tend to dominate the dialogue. People are most familiar with them, and have very little exposure to other Buddhist sects from Japan.
However, Tendai’s role in Buddhism shouldn’t be ignored, for many reasons:
- Many of the famous Buddhists in Japanese history were former Tendai monks (e.g. Dogen, Honen, Eisai, Shinran, Nichiren, etc). Although they had their different teachings, they tend to still carry a “Tendai outlook”. IT’s hard to see this until you compare with something like Shingon Buddhism or Hosso Buddhism (or Nara Buddhism in general) which had different assumptions.
- For centuries, Tendai was the de facto state Buddhist sect in Japan. This changed when the Heian Period ended, and Buddhist gradually, gradually moved east (and newer sects gained prominence), but Tendai still is deeply rooted in the culture. Technically, I think it’s still the “official” sect of the Imperial Family, and the Tokugawa Shoguns, but I might be wrong here.
- Tendai still maintains a considerable presence in Japan, and many famous temples you visit are in fact Tendai temples. As reader “Jeff” pointed out, Sanjūsangendō with the famous images of Kannon Bodhisattva is one such example.
- Tendai’s broad approach to Buddhism, contrasted with narrowly defined sects like Zen and Pure Land, provides an alternative approach to Buddhism in Japan.
In order to get a more well-rounded picture of Buddhism in Japan, it helps to get familiar with other sects like Shingon, Tendai and Hosso which provide a counter-balance to the more familiar sects like Zen and Pure Land (Jodo Shu, Jodo Shinshu).
Also, one point in the article really caught my attention:
For instances, one priest of Dai-Ajari rank, but not a kaihogyo practioner asked me the following questions and then provided the answers as well: “Did Sakyamuni Buddha practice kaihogyo? No! Did he burn goma? No! Did he say prayers? No! Did he recite mantra? No! Did he speak the lotus Sutra? No! Was he a vegetarian? No!” …. The Mahayana tradition as it has come down to us may be understood as deriving from Sakyamuni’s final instructions to the Sangha: “Work out your own realization with diligence!” Many lineage holders have done just that over the last 2500 years, and what they have found to be true and beneficial, and in harmony with Sakyamuni’s words, that they have passed on to us.
It’s an interesting affirmation that Buddhism is broad, and within in it there are many people trying to follow the Dharma in their own way. I liked the command about the Buddha not reciting mantras, burn “goma“, etc. This is not meant to criticize existing practices, but rather to emphasize that no one sect or group has a monopoly on the Dharma and can’t dictate how things should be. Instead, in the spirit of flexibility and tolerance, people adapt the teachings in their own time/place.
A nice message for Ohigan I thought.
P.S. A double-post. I have a backlog of posts, and can’t get them out fast enough. ;p
P.P.S. A post on Tendai liturgy for those who are curious.