Jodo shu

From New World Encyclopedia

Jōdo shū (浄土宗 "The Pure Land School"), also known as Jodo Buddhism, is a branch of Pure Land Buddhism, derived from the teachings of the Japanese ex-Tendai monk, Honen (1133-1212 C.E.). The school was established in 1175 C.E., and is the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan, along with Jodo Shinshu.

Jodo shu sought to provide people with a simple Buddhist practice in a degenerate age, that anybody could use toward a favorable rebirth. This practice involved devotion to Amida Buddha as expressed in the nembutsu (repetition of the name of Amida). Through Amida's compassion, the religious sect believed that a being could be reborn in the Pure Land (Sukhavati in Sanskrit), where they could pursue Buddhist Enlightenment more readily. Honen did not believe that other Buddhist practices, such as meditation, were wrong, but rather, he thought they were impractical for the masses during the difficult times in which he lived. Furthermore, Jodo shu accepted marginalized segments of Japanese society into its community, including women, who had largely been excluded from serious Buddhist practice up until then. (For example, Honen did not discriminate against menstruating women, who were thought at the time to be unclean.) Additionally, Honen's Jodo shu sect accepted fishermen, prostitutes, and fortune tellers, underscoring its teaching that a future rebirth in the Pure Land was attainable by anyone who chanted the nembutsu through Amida's grace.

The founder: Honen

Honen was born in 1133 C.E., the son of a prominent family in Japan whose ancestry was traced back to silk merchants from China. Honen was originally named Seishi-maru, after the bodhisattva Seishi (Mahasthamaprapta in Sanskrit). After a rival official assassinated his father in 1141, Honen was initiated into his uncle's monastery at the age of 9. Thereafter, Honen lived his life as a monk, and eventually studied at the famous monastery of Mount Hiei.

Honen was well-respected for his knowledge and for his adherence to the Five Precepts, but in time, Honen became dissatisfied with the Tendai Buddhist teachings he learned at Mount Hiei. Influenced by the writings of Shan Tao, Honen devoted himself solely to Amitabha (Amida) Buddha, as expressed through the nembutsu (repetition of the name of Amida Buddha).

In time, Honen 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, prosititutes,[1] and fortune tellers. Honen also distinguished himself by not discriminating against women who were menstruating, who were thought at the time to be unclean. All of this caused concern among the religious and political elite of Kyoto, and eventually, the emperor Gotoba issued a decree in 1207, to have Honen exiled to a remote part of Japan, and given a criminal's name. Some of Honen's followers were executed, while others, including Shinran, were exiled to other regions of Japan away from Honen.[2]

Eventually, Honen was pardoned and returned to Kyoto in 1211, but died soon after, in the year 1212, just two days after writing his famous "One-Sheet Document."


Jodo Shu is heavily influenced by the idea of Mappo or The Age of Dharma Decline. The concept of Mappo is that over time, society becomes so corrupt, that people can no longer effectively put the teachings of the Buddha into practice anymore. In medieval thought, signs of Mappo included warfare, natural disasters, and corruption of the Sangha. The Jodo Shu 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. At the end of the Heian Period, warfare also broke out between competing samurai clans, while people suffered from earthquakes and series of famines.[3]

Honen, through Jodo Shu teachings, sought to provide people a simple Buddhist practice in a degenerate age, that anybody could use toward Enlightenment: Devotion to Amida Buddha as expressed in the nembutsu. Through Amida's compassion, a being may be reborn in the Pure Land (Sukhavati in Sanskrit), where they can pursue Enlightenment more readily. Honen did not believe that other Buddhist practices were wrong, but rather, they were not practical on a wide-scale, especially during the difficult times of the late Heian Period.[4]

Repetition of the nembutsu is a common feature of Jodo Shu, which derives from the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. 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 the compassion of Amida is extended to all beings who recite the nembutsu, so how one observes auxiliary practices is left to the individual to decide.

The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life is the central Buddhist scripture for Jodo Shu Buddhism, and the foundation of the belief in the Primal Vow of Amida. In addition to the Larger Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra (The Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life) are important to the Jodo Shu school. The writings of Honen are another source for Jodo Shu thought including his last writing, the One-Sheet Document (jp: ichimai-kishomon) among others.

Jodo Shu, like other Buddhist schools, maintains a professional, monastic priesthood, who help to lead the congregation, and also maintains the well-known temples such as Chion-in. The head of the Jodo Shu school is called the monshu in Japanese, and lives at the head temple in Kyoto, Japan, Chion-in Temple.

Jodu-Shu and Jodo-Shinshu

Jodo-Shu is often compared with the related sub-sect, Jodo Shinshu, which was founded by Honen's disciple, Shinran. Because Shinran was a devoted student of Honen, Jodo Shinshu differs little from Honen's Jodo Shu sect, but there are some doctrinal differences:

  • Jodo Shu believes in rebirth in the Pure Land through explicit recitation of the nembutsu, while Jodo Shinshu places more emphasis on the faith, and less on the act of the nembutsu. However, in Jodo Shu, sincere faith is still an important element.[5]
  • Jodo Shu believes that the desire to recite the nembutsu comes from one's own efforts, while Jodo Shinshu views that the nembutsu is a gift from Amida Buddha.[6]
  • Jodo Shu considers Amitabha Buddha to be the Trikaya, or all three bodies of the Buddha[7], while Jodo Shinshu considers Amitabha to be Dharmakaya-as-compassion.[8]

Both sects view that even people who have committed grave acts can still be reborn in the Pure Land, and that the nembutsu should be the primary devotional act for a Pure Land Buddhist.


The main branch of Jodo Shu was maintained by the so-called "Second Patriarch," Shoko, a disciple of Honen after Honen passed away. However, other disciples of Honen branched off into a number of other sects with different interpretations of Jodo Shu thought, particularly after they were exiled in 1207:[9]

  • Shoku founded the Seizan branch of Jodo Shu, which structured the Buddhist teachings into a hierarchy with the nembutsu at the top.
  • Ryukan taught that faith in Amida Buddha mattered, not so much the actual practice of the nembutsu. He was exiled to eastern Japan.
  • Kōsai taught the idea that a single recitation of the nembutsu was all that was necessary. He was exiled to the island of Shikoku.
  • Chosai, the last of Honen's direct disciples, felt that all practices in Buddhism would lead to birth in the Pure Land.
  • Awanosuke, the fortune-teller, was credited with the double-stranded rosary, or juzu used in Jodo Shu sects, though he did not establish a branch of his own.
  • Shinran founded the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, which diverges somewhat doctrinally, but otherwise is heavily influenced by Honen and his teachings. In Jodo Shinshu, Honen is considered to be the Seventh Patriarch. Depending on one's viewpoint, Jodo Shinshu is sometimes considered to be another branch of Jodo Shu.

Geographic distribution

Although Jodo Shu is found mainly in Japan, a sizable Jodo Shu community exists in Hawaii, as well as a few temples in the continental United States.


  1. Jodo Shu Research Institute, Nyorai-in in Settsu. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
  2. Jodo Shu, About Honen Shonin. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
  3. Sho-on Hattori, A Raft from the Other Shore: Honen and the Way of Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shu Press, 2001). ISBN 4883633292
  4. Ibid., pg. 52.
  5. Jodo Shu: Teachings and Practice. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
  6. Sho-on Hattori, A Raft from the Other Shore: Honen and the Way of Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shu Press, 2001). ISBN 4883633292
  7. Ibid., pg. 28
  8. Shinran Works, The Collected Works of Shinran. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
  9. Jodo Shu Research Institute, The 4 Era's of Honen's Disciples. Retrieved February 25, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Honen. Honen's Senchakushu: Passages on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow. University of Hawaii Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0824820251
  • Fitzgerald, Joseph A. Honen The Buddhist Saint: Essential Writings and Official Biography. World Wisdom, 2006. ISBN 978-1933316130
  • Hattori, Sho-on. A Raft from the Other Shore: Honen and the Way of Pure Land Buddhism. Jodo Shu Press, 2001. ISBN 4883633292
  • Machida, Soho. Renegade Monk: Honen and Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0520211797
  • Watts, Jonathan and Yoshiharu Tomatsu, eds. Traversing the Pure Land Path: A Lifetime of Encounters with Honen Shonin. Jodo Shu Press, 2005. ISBN 978-4883633425

External links

All links retrieved August 1, 2022.


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