Japan, Daoism in To Jodo-Shu (Buddhism)

Japan, Daoism in

The precise time of the arrival of Daoism in Japan is not clear. There are records of an effort to seek immortality in the Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan, 720 c.e.) which are similar to Daoism’s central theme of the search for immortality. Concrete evidence of Daoism in Japan, however, is found in the use of such practices as talismans and yin-yang divination. In addition Daoist influences can be found in early Japanese literature.

Kukai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon school of Japanese Vajrayana Buddhism, was well aware of the differences among Buddhism and Daoism and Confucianism. An esoteric Buddhist text, the Gorin kuji hishaku (Secret formula of the five chakras and nine worlds), from the 12th century describes mantras and MUDRAs within a mystical body composed of the five organs, a common conception in Daoism as well as Chinese medicine. In addition such Daoist gods as the Great One (Taiyi) and Leigong (lord of thunder) were worshipped from an early period in Japan.

Daoism also exerted strong influence on Shu-gendo, an ascetic practice founded in the sixth century that integrates mountain shamanic worship with Buddhist and Shinto elements.

The belief in the three worms (sanshi) led in Japan to the development of the Koshin cult. The koshin (in Chinese, gengshen) referred to the day the three worms ascend to heaven to report on the person’s sins. If people take ritual precautions prior to that day the three worms can be prevented from ascending. And if this happens seven times the worms will all die together. This form of vigil was practiced in Tang China and was known in ninth-century Japan. In Japan the event became an excuse for a banquet. And by the Tokugawa period (1600-1964 c.e.) it had become an occasion for lectures.

One final point: Daoism has a close though often unrecognized connection with Zen Buddhism, for instance, the Zen emphasis on harmony with nature. Overall, Daoism, with Shinto and popular Buddhism, is present in Japanese culture in many ways. There are today a few overtly Dao-ist congregations and temples, usually associated with overseas Chinese or Japanese who have lived in Chinese society. But more important, Daoism’s influence is found beneath the surface in many areas of Japanese life, for instance, in considerations taken regarding the location of buildings, in folk medicine, and in Japanese shamanistic rituals.

Japan Buddhist Federation

An association of established Buddhist groups in Japan, numbering 103 denominations and many regional associations, the Japan Buddhist federation claims to include more than 90 percent of all Buddhist institutions in Japan. In 1900 a loosely organized group called "Buddhist Inter-faith" formed to oppose the government’s efforts to control religion. This group later became the Buddhist Confederation of Japan and, in 1957, the Japan Buddhist Federation. The federation is active in such projects as the restoration of the Lumbini Sacred Garden, the Buddha’s birthplace, and education efforts to fight discrimination against the Buraku minority in Japan. In 2001 the federation also voiced criticism of Prime Minister Koizumi’s controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shinto Shrine. The visit was heavily criticized in Asia because Yasukuni houses the remains of 14 major war criminals from World War II. The federation criticized the act as counter to the principle of separation of state and religion.

The federation publishes a periodical, Zen-butsu, thrice annually.

Jataka Tales

The Jatakas are a series of hundreds of legendary stories about the past lives of Shakyamuni Buddha prior to his life in the fifth century b.c.e. in India. These were collected in the first few hundred years following the Buddha’s PARINIRVANA (death). They helped to popularize Buddhism in Indian culture in those periods.

Each of the 547 stories includes an associated moral point. For instance, "Buried Treasure" relates the story of a servant who refuses to disclose the location of a deceased father’s inheritance. It illustrates the point that "a little power soon goes to the head of one not used to it."

These stories are now included in both the Theravada and Mahayana sutra and Vinaya collections. They may have been the basis for parts of Aesop’s Fables, Sinbad the Sailor, and The Arabian Nights.

Jayavarman VII

(1125?-1215?; r. 11811220) great Angkor king

Jayavarman VII was the Cambodian chief who rose out of relative obscurity to become the ruler of medieval Angkor (Cambodia). In 1177, forces from Cham (Vietnam) captured much of Cambodia and Jayavarman led the opposition that eventually recaptured the country. In the years following his ascending the throne formally in 1181, he extended his kingdom into what today is Thailand. At this time, a form of Hinduism centered on the worship of the god Shiva was dominant in the area. However, Jayavarman was a Buddhist and imposed his faith on the people.

The major expression of the new rulership and its religion was the city of Angkor Thom. A walled city, eight miles in circumference, it was surrounded by a crocodile-filled moat. Each of city’s entranceways was crowned with a statue of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin). The towers located along the city’s walls were decorated with huge smiling faces of Jayavarman as the Buddha.

The primary religious building within Angkor Thom was the Bayon Temple, a Buddhist temple that retained elements of the preceding Hinduism. The temple was originally a Shiva temple and only converted to a Buddhist worship center as it was being constructed, a process stretched out over several decades. The top of the temple followed the theme of the city gates with some 50 towers, each with a representation of Avalokitesvara with four faces to greet individual worshippers from whatever direction they approached the temple. In addition to Angkor Thom, Jayavarman built other impressive temples such as Preah Khan and Ta Phrom.

Much of the power Jayavarman and his successors wielded was due to their identification with Buddhist deities and bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara. However, over the next centuries, the Jayavarman rulers’ Mahayana Buddhism was slowly replaced with Theravada Buddhism, which had never adopted the belief in multiple deities and hence undercut the royal family’s authority.

Then in the 15th century, a Thai army looted Angkor, and the city was abandoned and lost to the memory of the locals. It was rediscovered in the 19 th century by Western explorers. Jayavarman was succeeded by his son, Indravarman II (r. 1220-43), who lost much of the territory previously conquered by his father, and the decline of the Khmer kingdom began.

Jeung San Do

Jeung San Do (the Dao of Jeung San) is a Korean spiritual movement. Jeung San Do members chant as a meditation practice. There are eight separate mantras used. The primary mantra is the Tae-eul Mantra, which offers healing and protection. In addition there is a series of 16 taiji-like physical exercises known as Tae-eul-ju Exercise. It is based on a healing meditation technique taught by Jeung San Sangjenim.

Jeung San Sangjenim (also called Gang Il-sun Sah-ok, or Sang Je Nim; 1871-1909) was born in a village in the south of Korea. He was a healer and local sage. In Jeng San Do teachings he is the embodiment of the key deity of the universe, an amalgamation of the Confucian Shang Di, the Daoist Jade emperor Maitreya, and God. Although his first spiritual awakening occurred when he was seven, the key event in his early years was the Donghak (Eastern Learning) Uprising, a farmers’ revolt that ultimately resulted in the Japanese occupation of Korea. After observing this key event in Korean history, Jeung San Sangjenim resolved to dedicate his life to reducing suffering. After several years of traveling he attained final enlightenment in 1901.

Sangjenim called his work the renewal of heaven and earth. He established an organization called the Creative Government, which included several types of spirits. Together he and the spirits worked on shifting the course of events. Sangjenim was thus more than a prophet, because he took steps to fix the balance of forces in the universe. This spiritual work is called Cheonjigongsa, "the work of renewing heaven and earth."

Before his death Jeung San Sangjenim pronounced that men and women were equal. It was thus no surprise that a woman, Lady Ko Pam-lye (1880-1935), known as Taemonim, "Great Mother," took over the movement in 1909. Today the movement’s leader is Ahn oon-sahn, whose title is Tai-sa-bu-nim, "great-teacher-father." His son, Ahn Gyung-jun, called Sa-bu-nim, "teacher-father," is also active.

Jeung San Do has grown since the Korean War period and has spread internationally. It is often classed as a new age religion.


(1155-1225) Japanese Tendai head priest

Jien, the chief priest of Japanese Tendai Buddhism at the beginning of the 13th century, was born as the son of the emperor regent Fujiwara Tadamichi (1097-1164) and as a youth began his training as a Tendai monk/priest. He rose steadily during the last decades of the 12th century and in 1203 was appointed the general administrator of priests of the Tendai sect. He on occasion also served as the chief priest at Enryaku-ji, the Tendai head temple.

Jien is remembered for his response to the growing belief among Japanese Buddhists that Buddhism was entering the MAPPO period, when belief in the Buddhist teachings would disintegrate. This belief was one manifestation of the anxiety over the rise of the shogunate at Kamak-ura. As opposed to trends emphasizing meditation and the sudden insight into one’s nature it provides, and the magical approach provided by Shingon Buddhism, Jien emphasized the need to study the great texts and master Buddhist teachings. To that end he sponsored and himself gave a number of lectures to assist Buddhists in general, and the monks under his direction in particular, to master the Dharma. His emphasis formed the thread in his major written work, A Personal View, in which he commented on the works of the Chinese T’ian Tai scholar Zhi Yi (538-597).

In seeming contradiction to his doctrinaire religious stance, Jien was also a poet of note and left behind a major collection, The Gathering of Jewels. After his death he was honored by the emperor’s court.

Ji Gong (Dao Ji; Crazy Ji; Beixian, Chi Kung)

(d. 1209 c.e.) deified monk famous as Daoist trickster figure

Ji Gong, "Duke Ji," an extremely popular figure in Chinese religions, was originally a Buddhist monk during the Song dynasty (960-1279 C.E.). He was known for being eccentric and for not fitting in well in monastic life. Born in Tian Tai, in eastern China, he lived most of his life in monasteries around the capital of the Southern Song dynasty, Hangzhou. His final position was as abbot of the Jingci Monastery. He was known as a poet and is said to have written verse on the walls of his residences. He lived for decades as a vagabond and wore rags. He had a sharp wit and cared little for those who had power, including powerful monks. His failure to adhere to monastic rules is reflected in his practice of drinking.

Upon his cremation his sarira remains (relics from those of noble character, usually objects resembling small pebbles or bone fragments) sparkled and reportedly caused a furor among the local people. He was, the people realized, a saintly figure.

Ji Gong’s figure is not unique in Chinese religious history. Many Daoists were renowned for their disregard for secular rules and their bouts of drunkenness. "Holy fools" was a tradition in Buddhist literature as well, especially among the Chan masters. There were also influences from outside China, for instance, the Indian Tantric idea that great saints (Mahasiddhas) could cultivate while immersed in everyday reality, even in base occupations like prostitution and garbage collecting.

In Ji Gong’s period there was most probably a large increase in traveling "miracle workers," mainly due to the dramatic increase in issuing of ordination certificates (dudie) to raise funds. These miracle workers were popular among the public as healers. They were venerated during their lives and cults often grew around them after they died. Ji Gong was one of those figures around whom a cult formed. (Another is the Song dynasty figure Bu Dai.) The popularity of such figures may reflect resentments against the organized monastic institutions.

Over time all these influences, as well as the historical figure, merged into the figure of Ji Gong. By the Ming and Qing period of Chinese history (1368-1911 C.E.), Ji Gong had become a stalwart figure in drama. He had originally survived as a major figure in oral storytelling traditions of the Hangzhou region. When drama flourished in the Ming dynasty, it was natural for dramatists to fall back on this rich tradition. He was also used in novels; the earliest was The Recorded Sayings of the Recluse from Qiantang Lake, the Chan Master Crazy Ji (Qiantang hu yin Jidian Chanshi yulu), dating to 1569. In the many works that followed Ji Gong is depicted as an enlightened monk, a magician, a poet, and a miracle worker. The stories in these texts, including fictional accounts, were accepted as official history by the Qing (1644-1911 c.e.), and their accounts of Ji Gong’s life are found in many official Qing temple records. Additional works featuring Ji Gong include Drunken Puti (Zui puti) (written in the late 1600s) and The Storyteller’s Jigong, a 240-chapter novel published in the 1890s and written by Guo Guangrui. In The Storyteller’s Jigong, Ji takes on many additional powers, such as martial arts.

Just as he became a literary figure throughout China, so the cult of Ji Gong the god has spread through much of the Chinese-speaking world. He is a major figure in spirit possession and spirit writing cults (fugi), including yiguandao groups. He was also a figure venerated by rebels behind the Boxer Rebellion. one intriguing aspect of Ji Gong’s popularity is that it was apparently enhanced by his literary popularity. The Storyteller’s Jigong in particular stimulated worship of Ji Gong in the 20th century. Prior to modern times, then, he was a relatively obscure cult figure popular mainly in the Hangzhou region, where he had lived. Today Ji Gong is a major deity who actively communicates with worshippers.

jinja (kami tsu yashiro, mori)

A jinja is a Shinto shrine. Historically they were known as kami tsu yashiro or mori, terms that mean "kami grove." These terms go back at least to the eighth century. A yashiro was a sacred place to worship a KAMI, or deity. Typically the most sacred place was roped off, and no one was allowed entry into that zone.

The oldest form of shrine was a wooded hill (moriyama). Rituals were performed in the open at the foot of mountains, also known as kami mountains. Several shrines such as omiwa near Nara have preserved this form and so have no worship hall.

An additional form of shrine is the village shrine, where the mountain kami would be encouraged to stay when visiting. Buildings were later added in the groves near villages.

Kamiyado or otabisho are temporary or "field" shrines placed outside the village. They are seen as temporary resting spots for the kami, especially during festivals.

Typical festival rituals would see the kami being taken on roads from the mountain shrine to the village shrine (jinja) to the field shrine (kamiya or kamiyado).

jiriki (own-power)/tariki (other-power)

Jiriki, or "own power," is a term developed in Jodo Shinshu, or Pure Land Buddhism, thought in Japan. It indicates attaining enlightenment through one’s own efforts, or "own-power," as opposed to the practice of tariki, attaining enlightenment through the "other-power" of some other figure, such as a benevolent bodhisattva. Jiriki is associated with Zen Buddhism practices of self-cultivation, while tariki is associated with Jodo practices of chanting and depending on the benevolent figure of Amitabha. In fact, in early Pure Land thought in China progress was accomplished through a combination of jiriki and tariki.

After the Japanese Pure Land thinker Honen, the object of Jodo practice focused entirely on tariki. In contrast to tariki, jiriki can be considered the "difficult path," one of extensive meditation, purifications, and discipline. In Buddhist debate during the Kamakura period (1192-1333), jiriki was a term of abuse, indicating a deluded approach that assumed that traditional practice was sufficient to become a bodhisattva. It was also used to criticize Pure Land followers who did not follow the orthodox approach as taught by Honen. The term was used once by Honen but frequently by such other religious leaders of the period as Shinran, Gyonen, and Nichiren.


Ji-shu, a subsect of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, was inspired by the life and work of Ippen (123989). In 1271, he had a deep religious experience that convinced him of the truth of the Pure Land approach to Buddhism and three years later was sent out on a mission to spread word of the value of practicing the nembutsu, a mantralike prayer in veneration of Amitabha. Ippen pushed Pure Land belief almost to a form of universalism in his conclusion that Amitabha would save all who said the nembutsu.

Ippen spent the last years of his life traveling around Japan to spread the word. Shortly before Ippen died, he proclaimed the end of his mission. Shinkyo (1237-1319), his successor as head of his following, initially accepted what Ippen said at face value. However, he was soon convinced that many people had yet to hear the message of the nembutsu. Thus, Shinkyo began to travel around the country preaching and dancing as his master had. He also began to form temples and ordain priests. His organization of the movement brought the Ji sect into existence.

Contemporary followers of Ji-shu follow Ippen’s practice. They focus worship on the repetition of the nembutsu and continue to practice the dance. They also offer people cards promoting the saying of the nembutsu.

Ji-shu is headquartered at Fujisawa city, Kana-gawa Province. It has in recent years celebrated two important dates. In 1886, the emperor gave Ippen the honorary name Ensho Daishi (great teacher). In 1975 Ippen was memorialized on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of his beginning his mission. There are more than 400 Ji-shu temples in Japan.


Jnana is knowledge or "gnosis," but in Buddhism it indicates knowledge of a certain kind. In contrast to prajna, wisdom in general, jnana indicates knowledge of enlightenment itself, transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is therefore more complete and "final" than knowledge in the usual sense. Mundane or everyday-world knowledge is characterized by wisdom of dealing with the defilements.

In Buddhism jnana is often associated with stages of cultivation. Jnana paramita is the perfected knowledge available to a bodhisattva who has attained the 10th stage of practice, according to the Flower Garland Sutra (Avatamsaka-sutra, Huayan Jing).

Jodo Shinshu (Shin, Pure Land)

Jodo Shinshu, a branch of Pure Land Buddhism, is one of the most widely practiced forms of Buddhism in Japan. Adherents believe that the teachings of Shinran contained in Kyagyo shinshu and his other writings crystallize the spiritual vision articulated in the Larger Sukhavati-vyaha-sutra, or the Larger Pure Land Sutra; the Amitiyurdhyana-sutra, or the Meditation Sutra; and the Smaller Sukhavativyaha-sutra, or the Smaller Pure Land Sutra. These three texts make up the core canon of all Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land belief centers on the role of Amitabha Buddha, who resides in his Western Paradise and welcomes all who repeat his name devoutly. It is thus a practice based on faith in the salvation of Amitabha.

Pure Land Buddhism emerged in China in the early fifth century and was transmitted to Japan in the ninth century, when devotion to Amitabha, generally called Amida in Japan, became an element in Tendai Buddhism. However, it was in the 12th century that Honen (1133-1212) established a separate Pure Land organization, which focused exclusively on devotion to Amida through the recitation of the nembutsu, a short mantralike prayer that acknowledges the believer’s taking refuge in Amida Buddha.

Honen initially encountered devotion to Amida at Mt. Hiei, the headquarters of Tendai Buddhism. He left Mt. Hiei and in 1175 began to preach his more exclusive approach. He gained a substantial following but ran afoul of the government as a result of the debate over the extent of the power of the nembutsu to cancel out a life of extreme immorality. Could merely reciting the nembutsu take away the consequences of murder or other horrendous acts? Some followers said yes, and as a result, the government saw the new movement as subversive of the social order and prohibited it. Honen was exiled. only after some years passed was he allowed to return and the movement to be propagated again. The year before his death, Honen settled in Kyoto at Chion-in Temple, which remains the headquarters of the group.

After Honen’s death, a range of ideas were debated within the Jodo-Shu community. The most important development, however, occurred when one of Honen’s students, Shinran, left the order of monks and married. He developed a lay-oriented from of Pure Land Buddhism that eventually eclipsed its parent organization.

Inspired with the insights from these three sutras, Shinran stressed the centrality of shinjin, true or sincere faith. He also assumed that the devotee possesses nothing true or absolute. Spiritual release occurs when the devotee perceives his or her inadequacies and surrenders to the absolute Other Power (see jiriki/tariki) of Amitabha, or Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha’s compassionate efficacy is the sole power that confers salvation. Even shinjin, the prime condition for birth in the Pure Land, is a gift, and the sincere utterance of the NEMBUTSU is an invocation of gratitude and joy for Amida’s compassion. For Shinran, birth in the Pure Land is the most conducive waystation for the ultimate realization of enlightenment (bodhi) or nirvana. Subsequently Kakunyo (1270-1351), Shinran’s grandson, and his 10th-generation successor, Rennyo (1415-99), clarified and articulated his ideas into cogent vernacular. For example, in an attempt to communicate the notion of other Power, Rennyo coined the expression tasuke tamae to tanomu, "relying on [Amida's power] to please save me." Rennyo’s efforts won many devotees and transformed the Hongwanji school of Jodo Shin-shu from a peripheral movement into a powerful Buddhist school, a position it still holds.


Jodo-Shu is the original organization of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. Pure Land Buddhism is focused on devotion to Amitabha (or Amida) Buddha, which is believed to lead to rebirth into the heavenly realm overseen by Amitabha (the Pure Land). The Pure Land perspective originated in three sutras—the Amida Sutra, the Buddha Infinite Life Sutra, and the Meditation on the Buddha Infinite Life Sutra.

In 1175, Honen (1133-1212) established a Pure Land organization, Jodo-Shu, that was separate from the Tendai school of Japanese Buddhism practiced on Mt. Hiei. Honen eventually ran into government opposition. He was exiled and only allowed to preach freely a year before his death. He made Chion-in Temple the headquarters of the group. Although the form of Pure Land championed by his follower Shinran later came to eclipse the original organization established by Honen, Jodo-Shu Buddhism is still headquartered at Chion-in Temple in Kyoto. Temples are found across Japan and in the 20th century, Jodo-Shu joined the Japanese diaspora and now has temples in North and South America. Shinran’s movement, known as Jodo Shinshu, currently exists through two large groups, the Honpa Hongwanji and the Higashi Hongwanji.

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