Development of Japanese Pure Land under Honen's Disciples

There are six basic factors which help us to determine the different streams of thought which evolved out of Honen's original teachings. These factors are: 1) the various teachings and experiences which each of his main disciples lived through in their years under Honen's tutelage, 2) the various backgrounds which his disciples originally came from, 3) the various interpretations by the disciples of Shan-tao's teaching which Honen proclaimed as the essence of his thought, 4) the various responses by each disciple to the persecutions of the sect by the Mt. Hiei and Nara orders, 5) the various regional differences which influenced the subsequent development of each stream, and 6) the various types of patronage and support each disciple gained for their stream, especially in terms of their own original social status (Tsukamoto, 242-258).

To better understand the development of these streams, it is helpful to understand the basic backgrounds of the disciples before meeting Honen. As each of the six disciples had training in the medieval Tendai tradition on Mt. Hiei, if we look more deeply into which of the two major Tendai streams they studied and other important aspects of their training, the nature of the subsequent Jodo sect streams becomes clearer. The disciples divided around the two medieval Tendai streams which either embraced or rejected the concept of innate enlightenment (hongaku). Those who adopted the hongaku view interpreted the concept freely as was common on Mt. Hiei at the time, meaning that one did not have to follow any practices or discipline since one was inherently enlightened. On the other hand, those who rejected hongaku stressed a greater reliance on the sutras and their meaning. Of the main disciples, four adopted the hongaku concept while two rejected it. The four were: 1) Shoku who developed the Seizan doctrine [and Ippen who came from the Seizan school and created the Ji sect], 2) Kosai who developed the Ichinen doctrine, 3) Shinran who formed the Jodo Shin sect (True Pure Land sect), and 4) Ryukan who developed the Chorakuji doctrine. The two were: 1) Bencho who developed the Chinzei doctrine and 2) Chosai who developed the Shogyohongan doctrine. In present day Japan, therefore, it is important to see that Japanese Pure Land Buddhism is divided along the lines of this concept of hongaku with the Jodo Shin sect embracing it and mainstream Jodo Shu rejecting it.

The disciples also further split along lines of those who emphasized faith and assurance in Amida's vow and those who emphasized the diligent practice of the nembutsu. Shoku, Kosai, Shinran, and Ryukan stressed the former, while Bencho remained relatively alone in his emphasis on the practice of the nembutsu. Although Honen always stressed that these two could not be separated, his disciples divided along such lines (Mochizuki, 251-60).

The seventy-five years from Honen's death in 1212 until that of Ryochu, the Third Patriarch of Jodoshu in 1287, is commonly divided by Jodoshu doctrinal studies into four periods. During the first period, 1213-1227, controversy raged between Honen's followers and the established Buddhist sects. During the second period, 1228-1247, disputes arose among Honen's direct disciples, which continued during the third period, 1248-1266. During the last period, 1267-1287, Honen's second-generation disciples assumed full leadership of the Pure Land movement. During the seventy-five years represented by these four periods, intense rivalries emerged among Honen's disciples as to whose faction would succeed to the orthodoxy of his teaching.

First Period 1212-1227

Second Period 1227-1247

Third Period 1247-1266

Fourth Period 1266-1287


Mochizuki Shinko, Ryakujutsu Jodokyorishi (Tokyo: Nihon Tosho Center).

Tsukamoto Zenryu, "Honen Shonin monkanobunryu: Tokuni shiryusetsuni tsuite," Senju Gakuho #2.