Shen Hui To Shinto New Religions (Buddhism)

Shen Hui

(Heze Shenhui, Ho-tse Shen Hui) (684-758) Chinese Chan Buddhism leader

The Chinese Chan Buddhist Shen Hui (Heze Shenhui) was one of the most controversial and influential Buddhist teachers in the first half of the eighth century of China. This was the period during the transition of Chan Buddhism from a relatively obscure branch of Chinese Buddhism,emphasizing seated meditation, to the most vigorous and stimulating sect of Buddhism in China.

Heze Shenhui was a student of Hui Neng (638-713), who is now known as the sixth patriarch of Chan. Heze Shenhui influenced the history of Chan Buddhism with three important contributions: (1) he added support to the myth that Chan existed in India and was taken to China by Bodhidharma; (2) he created the myth that Hui Neng was the one and only sixth patriarch in an unbroken line originating with the Buddha; (3) he seemingly also was an important instigator of the sectarian division of Chan into a Northern "gradual" tradition and a Southern "sudden" tradition.

Although a later biography states that Heze Shenhui met his teacher, Hui Neng, when Heze Shenhui was only 14 years old, it is likely that Heze Shenhui first encountered the sixth patriarch sometime later, between 701 and 709. Shenhui may have studied briefly with Shen Xiu of the Northern branch of Chan before study with Hui Neng in the south of China.

Seven years after the death of the sixth patriarch Hui Neng in 713, Heze Shenhui began teaching. Shenhui does not seem to have emphasized seated meditation or used shouting or striking in his teaching style; rather, he seems to have relied on talking, explaining, and eloquent and forceful sermons. Certainly the nonrational dialogs that appear in the koans barely 100 years after Heze Shenhui’s death are nowhere in evidence in his recorded dialogs. Shenhui stressed the class of Buddhist wisdom texts called the Prajnaparamita literature, which included the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra His central themes involve wu-nien (no-thought; freedom from conceptualization), the identity of wisdom and concentration, seeing and knowing one’s Buddha nature, and the wisdom (prajna) and emptiness (sunyata) teachings of the Diamond Sutra. In addition to study of doctrine he strongly recommended the recitation and study of sutras to aid in the quest for awakening.

In those decades the most popular Chan Buddhist school in the capital city was the Northern school of Shen Xiu. In 732, Heze Shenhui began public criticisms of the Northern school’s teachings and teachers: (1) that Heze Shenhui’s own teacher, Hui Neng, was the one and only sixth patriarch of Chan in China, and thus the Northern Chan teachers were merely a sideline of the genuine transmission of Chan; and (2) that the understanding of the Northern Chan lineage was gradualist and incorrect.

Heze Shenhui’s influence and popularity began to increase after 745, when he continued his dissection of the Northern line and instituted monthly meetings when he quoted prajnaparamita texts; criticized the teachings, techniques, and lineage of the north; and responded to questions from the audience. A follower of the rival Northern line of Chan sent a false report to the emperor claiming that Heze Shenhui was gathering followers for seditious purposes, and the 69-year-old Heze Shenhui was banished. However, in 755, two years later, General An Lu-shan began a rebellion and the emperor had to flee for his life. The government needed funds. Despite the fact that Heze Shenhui was now 73 years old, he was called upon to assist in the fund-raising and was so successful that he substantially increased the royal treasury. As a result, he was summoned to the imperial court and shown many royal favors. until his death in 758 Heze Shenhui was the recipient of much royal patronage and his Southern school flourished.

Because of his forceful presentation, in the following decades Heze Shenhui’s Southern school became the dominant sect of Chan. Thirty-eight years after Heze Shenhui’s death, a meeting of Chan masters was called to determine which schools and which doctrines were orthodox. The Southern school was declared the orthodox school, Hui Neng was recognized as the sixth patriarch after Bodhidharma, and Heze Shenhui was decreed the seventh patriarch, successor to Hui Neng.

Shen Hui was instrumental in establishing the official list of Chan transmission. He used a list of indian Buddhist teachers found in the introduction to the Dharmatr-dhyana Sutra (a manual of Dhyana meditation practice) to establish a fictitious connection between Chan in China and Indian Buddhism. inspired by this list, Heze Shenhui created a line of patriarchal transmission for his own branch of Chan, to establish the legitimacy of what he called the "Southern school of Bodhidharma." In the minds of his audience Shenhui had established a connection between the Buddha in india and his own teacher, Hui Neng, by means of the story of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma and Hui Neng were now regarded as inheritors in a line of a historical transmission of a doctrine that did not depend on written texts—Chan Buddhism. The Oxhead school of Chan also had a list of 29 patriarchs, and the two lists became combined into the official history of Chan.

Shen Xiu (Shen Hsiu)

(600-706) leader of Northern school of Chan and one successor to the fifth patriarch of Chan Buddhism

Shen Xiu was a famous successor to the fifth patriarch of Chan Buddhism, Hong Ren (601-674).Shen Xiu is most known as a contemporary and "adversary" of the sixth patriarch, Hui Neng (638-713), and Hui Neng’s advocate, Shen Hui (670-762). While Hui Neng and his followers advocated a sudden theory of enlightenment, Shen Xiu promoted the idea of gradual "unfoldment" of enlightenment. in competitions for the attention of the master Hong Ren, Shen Xiu is depicted as being learned, with a solid foundation in the classics and vast understanding of the subtleties of Chinese literature. in a famous passage of the Platform Sutra, Shen Hui wrote the poem This body is the Bodhi tree The soul is like a mirror bright Take heed to keep it always clean And let not dust collect upon it.

Hui Neng then gave his additional stanza in response (see Hui Neng), which has ever since been seen as besting Shen Xiu’s.

Shen Xiu did not become a follower of his master Hong Ren until he was more than 50 years old. After the death of Hong Ren, Shen Xiu became abbot of a monastery in Hubei, in central China. There he became famous and influential, and his followers were known as the Northern school of Chan. He was in one well-known incident called to meet Empress Wu Chao (r. 684-705), who bowed before him as a mark of singular honor.

Shimaji Mokurai

(1838-1911) modernist Japanese Jodo Shinshu priest

Shimaji Mokurai helped guide the Jodo Shinshu community during the difficult years of the Meiji Restoration.

Shimaji became a Shin priest in the Honpa Hongwanji. After the fall of the Tokugawa sho-gunate, the restoration of the emperor to power,and the disestablishment of Buddhism from its previously favored place vis-a-vis the government, Shimaji and a colleague, Akamatsu Renjo (1841-1919), led an effort to reorganize the entire sect. in 1872, as part of their reorganization, Shimaji and four colleagues traveled to Europe to study government-religion relationships and to examine the new critical approaches to the study of religion. Shimaji’s observations of the North American and European religious scenes led to his most famous literary piece, the "Critique of the Three Standards," in which he criticized government policy toward religion (specifically a plan to revive and teach Shinto throughout the country) and called for the separation of religion and government. The Shin Buddhists’ refusal to support the government program led to its failure. in 1880, the government to a great extent ended its attempt to manage Japanese Buddhism; Shimaji interpreted the trend as indication that Japan had attained the separation he sought.

Motivated by the obvious favoring of Shinto by the government, Shimaji’s efforts were always in support of Buddhism. Much of his thought was given to creating a picture of Buddhism as essential to the nation. Thus he cooperated with representatives from other Buddhist groups in publishing the Essentials of the Buddhist Sects, a statement detailing both the common ground and unique approaches of 12 major Japanese Buddhist groups. He wrote the lengthy introduction, in which he reviewed the whole of Buddhist history.


Shingon (literally, true word) Buddhism is a prominent Japanese Buddhist school that began with Kukai (774-835) and his introduction of Chinese Vajrayana Buddhism to Japan. Kukai designated his religion "True Word" as a translation of the Sanskrit term mantra. He referred to the secret mystical words spoken by Vairocana in the sutra. These words are chanted in Shingon rituals as part of their esoteric (secretly transmitted) practices. Kukai also taught that a believer could become a Buddha in this present lifetime by union with the vital life force of the universe. Today, the 12 million Shingon believers represent the largest community of Vajrayana Buddhism practitioners in the world.

Kukai found authority for Shingon teachings primarily in two sutras, the Mahavairocana Sutra and the Diamond Crown Sutra. As the major speaker in the Mahavairocana Sutra, the Buddha Vairocana is seen as the ultimate source of Shin-gon teachings. originally transmitted by Vairocana to Vajrasattva, the esoteric (not openly transmitted) truth was passed through a line of eighth-century figures, including Nagarjuna, Vajrabodhi, Pukong (or Amoghavajra, who translated the Diamond Crown Sutra), Subhakarasimha (who translated the Mahavairocana Sutra), and Hui Guo (with whom Kukai studied). These individuals are considered by Shingon, along with Kukai, to be the patriarchs of the tradition—in other words, the teachings are transmitted down through the ages by means of this line of teachers.

Kukai began his propagation of his brand of Vajrayana Buddhism in 806, upon his return to Japan from China. in 816 the emperor granted him land on Mt. Koya, and in 823 he was granted land in Kyoto, which became the site of To-ji temple. Mt. Koya and To-ji became the main centers of the dissemination of Shingon through the country. over the next centuries, a belief arose that Kukai had not died but had entered a deep trance from which he would awaken when the future Maitreya, the future Buddha, would make his appearance.

Shingon spread through the ninth century but experienced two major schisms led by Yakusan and Shobo, two prominent priests who resided in Kyoto, at the end of the ninth century. other schisms would occur over the years and there are now more than 50 Shingon sects in Japan, though the older group headquartered on Mt. Koya is still the largest. In the 20th century, Shingon Buddhism spread through the Japanese Buddhist diaspora in North America, South America, and Europe.


(1237-1319) founder of Ji-shu Buddhism

Shinkyo was a follower of Ippen (1239-89), the wandering ecstatic who preached a somewhat mystical form of Pure Land Buddhism. He believed that everyone who said the nembutsu, the mantralike prayer calling upon the grace of Amitabha, would be taken to the heavenly Pure Land. Ippen spent the last years of his life distributing medallions with the nembutsu stamped on them and teaching people an ecstatic dance that grew out of the joy of the realization of Pure Land truth. When Ippen died, he said that the teaching work was complete.

Shinkyo initially accepted Ippen at his word and claimed a mountain, there to await death while reciting the nembutsu. However, the local governor convinced Shinkyo that there was still work to be done, namely, sharing the word about the nembutsu with those who still were unaware of it. He finally agreed to assume leadership of Ippen’s large following. He began to travel, distributed the medallions, and encouraged the ecstatic dance.

Unlike his master, however, Shinkyo began to build centers where believers could gather.

He also began to ordain priests (both male and female) to head the centers. By 1316, there were some 100 such centers scattered around the country. Thus in stages, the Ji-shu sect took shape. Shinkyo died in 1318. He was succeeded by Chi-taku (1261-1320).


Shinnyo-en is a new Buddhist religion founded soon after World War II by Shinjo Ito (1906-89) in Tachikawa, near Tokyo, Japan. Shinnyo-en offers training in sesshin (touch the essence) sittings, the central practice. This practice began when Shinjo, the founder, interpreted the divine instructions received by his wife, Tomoji, in trance. The group also focuses attention on the Nirvana Sutra as the highest expression of the Buddha’s knowledge.

Ito had served as an engineer before becoming ordained as a Shingon priest in 1941 at the Daigo-ji monastery in Kyoto. Ito’s wife and cousin, Tomoji (Shojushinin) (1912-67), was also in a leadership position; Ito tended to specialize in divination while his wife was known for falling into trance and doing exorcism work. The two founded the Shingonshe Daigoha Tachikawa Fudoson Kyokai in 1938. After his formal ordination Ito began to teach his wife, Tomoji, and the two established a new organization, the Makoto Kyodan, in 1948. After a court case brought by a former follower, known as the Makoto Kyodan affair, the two registered their group as a denomination of Shingon, in 1952. The stated purpose in starting the new group was to allow all followers equal access to enlightenment.

Shinnyo-en’s current leader is Shinso Ito, daughter of Shinjo Ito.


(1173-1263) founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in Japan

Shinran is the spiritual and institutional founder of the Japanese Jodo Shinshu tradition. Very little is known about his early history and the reasons why he chose the clerical life, but in 1181 he became a monk at the Tendai monastic complex on Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. After 20 years Shinran left Mt. Hiei, disenchanted with the monastic politics and drawn to the teachings of Honen (1133-1212). Shinran studied with Honen from 1201 to 1207. Shinran would later expand Honen’s belief that anyone who recites the nembutsu (a repeated chanting of the Buddha Amida’s name, Namu Amida Butsu) and entrusts himself or herself to Amida Buddha’s compassionate vow would attain birth in the Pure Land, where the devotee would be able to fulfill the practices that led to Buddhahood.

In 1207 Honen and seven of his leading disciples, including Shinran, were banished from the capital for essentially political reasons. Shinran was exiled to Echigo (present-day Fukui and Toyama Prefectures) on the Japan Sea coast. The banishment also entailed a loss of their Tendai ordinations and a return to secular life.

Shinran took the name Fuji’i Yoshizane and married Eshinni, with whom he had six children. in 1214 Shinran moved his family to Hitachi (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture) in the Kanto region, where he actively began to build a large following, primarily farmers and tradepersons, and established meeting places called dojos. In 1234 Shinran entrusted management of the dojos and their respective congregations to his followers and departed for Kyoto with his family. In 1256 Eshinni returned to Echigo with three of their children to oversee property that she had inherited. Their youngest daughter, Kakushinni, remained in Kyoto to tend to her elderly father. Later she established the gravesite and chapel that would evolve into the Hongan-ji, the main temple of the Shin tradition.

Shinran spent the remainder of his life revising the Kyogyo shinshu (the full title is A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way) and composing other essays. Consisting almost wholly of passages drawn from the Chinese Buddhist canon and interspersed with short passages by Shinran, Kyagyo shinshu articulates the spiritual vision of the Larger Sukhavativyuha-sutra, the Amitay-urdhyana-sutra, or the Meditation Sutra, and the Smaller Sukhavativyuha-sutra.

Together with the insights from these three sutras, Shinran departed from the need for rigorous spiritual discipline to the centrality of shinjin, true or sincere faith, as seen in the writings of the seven patriarchs of Jodo Shinshu. in asserting that faith is central, Shinran 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 (tariki) of Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha’s compassionate efficacy is the source of salvific power. 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 way station for the ultimate realization of enlightenment (bodhi), or nirvana.


(Way of the Gods)

Shinto is an indigenous Japanese belief system and set of institutionalized worship practices. Shinto is often described as the original religion of the Japanese people, comparable to Bon religion beliefs among Tibetan cultures and beliefs in indigenous spirits in Myanmar. However, as in most indigenous systems of belief its development and meaning are complex.

Shinto did develop as a system until far into Japanese recorded history, and then it appears to have attained its own identity as a result of Buddhism’s presence as well as political developments. It was also not always seen as a "religion" in the same way Buddhism was perceived. To this day many people who respect the kami, or Shinto deities, do not necessarily see themselves as believers in a Shinto religion. At the same time, governments have often tried hard to develop a Shinto institution or symbol for their own purposes.


Early religious beliefs are tied with burial practices. In fact, the religious beliefs of the inhabitants of the Japanese islands were varied and, in many parts, still not developed even when parts of Japan had an advanced civilization. Some of the earliest inhabitants of the Japanese islands left behind dogu, highly feminized ceramic figures that probably indicated fertility and ancient mother worship. The dogu were often broken then placed inside graves.

A larger variety of ceramic figures and objects were created in the Yayoi period (300 B.C.E.-300 C.E.). Some of these funerary objects were houses that resemble the architectural style of the Ise Shrine, the most important of all Shinto shrines. Many ujigami, Shinto deities connected to clans (uji), date from the Yayoi period. Thus early burial practices and clan organizations clearly influenced Shinto.


By the 600s the Yamato clan had exerted influence over most of central Japan, the Kanto plain. Buddhism appeared at this time and in 592 was accepted as the official religion. Buddhism spread widely in the Heian (794-1185 c.e.) and Kamakura (795-1333) periods. Buddhist temples were often built beside existing Shinto shrines. Buddhism was adaptable to its new environment. Eventually people began to equate the gods and saints of the new religion with existing kami, or deities. Ryobu Shinto, "Double" Shinto, combined Buddhist bosatsu (bodhisattvas) with Shinto kami.

The years from the Heian to the Tokugawa are generally considered the medieval period in Japanese history. Buddhism was dominant. In the Tokugawa (1600-1867) Neo-Confucianism was also popular. However, a scholarly movement to study ancient texts, the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, led to increasing interest in Shinto. This interest played a part in the regaining of the emperor’s powers in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Shinto, as the imperial house’s cult, was the official religion, "State Shinto."


Kami are the primary objects of worship in Shinto. Kami is a category that includes a wide variety of beings and forces. Some are imported, for instance, from Buddhism. others are mountain spirits. And still others are forces of nature or spirits of place. The kamikaze, the sacred wind—probably a typhoon—that saved Japan from Mongol invasion in the late 1200s, was a kind of kami.

Strictly speaking, kami are of three types: Uji-gami (clan ancestors), deified humans or nature spirits, and souls of dead leaders, especially emperors and war heroes. Amaterasu is the best known uji-gami, since she is the clan kami for the Yamato clan, the imperial household. But there are other clan shrines throughout Japan.

There are creative kami (musubi), which represent growth and reproduction. There are also mountain and river kami. Tenmangu, the god of learning, is an example of a deified human.


The myths of creation are found in the Kojiki and the Nihonshiki, texts dating to the 700s c.e. There was an age of the gods in which gods were active before they departed to stay in heaven. The kami from these accounts are either amatsukami (heavenly kami) or kunitsukami (earthly kami). in the main creation myth izanagi and his wife, izanami, procreated and bore the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Amaterasu became the most important Shinto deity. She established the Yamato imperial line through her descendant Jimmu Tenno, Japan’s first emperor, who is said to have reigned around 660 B.C.E.

Amaterasu’s brother, Susano-o no Mikoto, went to earth and married. He built a palace at Izumo. He began a dynasty of deities who ruled the earth. The most powerful was okuninushi, the Great Lord. in response to these developments, Amaterasu sent her grandson, Honinigi (also called Ninigi), to help reestablish her rule over the world.

Honinigi carried three talismans, or symbols of power: a mirror; a magic sword, called the Kusanagi; and a jewel, the Magatama, which gave him advantages. Honinigi eventually made piece with okuninushi. He promised to allow okuni-nushi recognition as protector of the imperial family, in return for his loyalty. okuninushi is today worshipped in the izumo taisha shrine.

Another myth from the Kojiki relates the domestication of agriculture. Susano-o, upon arriving at earth, visits ogetsuhime. ogetsuhime prepares a meal with material from her nose,mouth, and anus. Susano-o, thoroughly enraged, kills her. But her body then transforms into a place of growth: from her head emerge silkworms, rice seems to appear from her eyes, millet from the ears, beans from the nose, wheat from her genitals, and large beans from her anus. This ancient myth appears to reflect the close relationship between kami and the development of civilization itself.

Other kami stories reflect the natural environment. in the Nihonshoki one story follows Susano-o. upon his arrival he notices that Japan will require wood for ships. He then pulls out the hairs from his beard and scatters them, and each hair becomes a sugi (cedar) tree. The hairs from his chest become cypress, those from his buttocks black pines, and those from his eyebrows camphor. After this Japan becomes a string of green islands. Japanese history is full of instances of concern for preserving trees and greenery.


Three essential texts that describe the birth and development of Japanese culture, the Kojiki, Nihonjiki, and Engishiki (Procedures of the Engi era, 927 c.e.), contain much of the mythology from which Shinto developed its own narratives. The Engishiki is a collection of codes, rites, and prayers that contain references to Shinto elements.

Doctrine and beliefs are not strongly emphasized in Shinto. instead, followers are expected to perform rituals of purification on a regular basis, and when visiting shrines.

Shinto New Religions

New religions began to appear in the Edo period in Japan (1600-1867 c.e.). These religious groups developed as a reaction to the forces of modernization, which began in the Edo period and extended into the later Meiji Restoration (1868-1911) and contemporary Japan.

The newly established groups that formed in the late Edo, Meiji, and later periods fall into two categories. The first group is called Sect Shinto and is composed of 13 separate sects formed in the prewar years. The second group consists of Shinto-related new religions.


In 1882 the government separated several Shinto groups from the officially sponsored State Shinto. These groups were cut off completely from funding. By 1908, after some struggles, they had all been recognized as independent religions. The 13 sects today are the following:


Shinto shuseiha

Izumo oyashirokyo




Shinto taiseikyo


Shinto taikyo





The list of 13 was in fact an administrative convenience. During the Meiji many newly established groups merged or combined temporarily in order to achieve government approval and function easily in society. And the official list masked important differences among the groups. Some, such as Izumo oyashirokyo, were classic Shinto. Others, such as ontakekyo, focused on mountain worship. And three, Tenrikyo, Konkokyo, and Kuro-zumikyo, were distinct enough that they should be treated as new religions.

Why did these groups come into being in the early Meiji? Government policies were critical. The government announced that any organized Shinto group would be granted official recognition. Such an open-door policy naturally caused many groups to knock, each ready to proselytize. These groups were, as a result, only loosely related to the overall Shinto religious paradigm.

They were, however, more related to Shrine Shinto (Shinto based on shrine worship) than to one another. For instance, as in Shrine Shinto, the traditional network of shrines throughout Japan, they often focused on kami, rites, and the Shinto worldview. Additional influences in the growth of Sect Shinto were National Learning and the group of traveling oshi priests from the regions of Ise and Izumo. National Learning (Kokugaku) was an influential intellectual current that involved scholarly reappraisal of Japan’s history and culture, with the goal to find the earliest, purist form of Japanese culture. It was, perhaps inevitably, also connected with rampant nationalism. The oshi were wandering priests from Ise who distributed talismans in the countryside.

The Sect Shinto groups were most popular in the Meiji and have declined since, at least in terms of number of adherents. After World War II many branches splintered off and formed into separate religious groups, further reducing the official rosters. Their declines paralleled the growth of Shinto New Religions.


These religious groups thrived because they proved adaptable to the new conditions in Japanese society. The vast social changes in the Taisho period (1912-26), and again in the Showa period (1926-89), especially after World War II, were challenges that the three Shinto-derived religions handled well.

Tenrikyo, or the religion of heavenly principle, is typical of the category of Shinto New Religions. First, the founder was a woman. Second, the group used the tandoku fukyo, or "independent proselytization," method. Any member could travel to a new area, care for people there, and teach the founder’s message. The emphasis on healing the sick meant those who recovered often attributed their health to Tenrikyo’s teachings. organizationally, Tenrikyo groups were linked vertically with parent and child and grandchild churches. This was in contrast to the traditional Buddhist head temple-branch temple organization. And doctrinally Tenrikyo emphasized the responsibility of all to redeem the entire world. This meant in practice starting to spread salvation to those on the lowest rungs of society. Tenrikyo ultimately lived a strong ideal of equality and the pursuit of happiness in this world.

While Shinto groups thrive in contemporary Japan, it is the Shinto New Religions, especially Tenrikyo, Konkokyo, and Kurozumikyo, that have had the greatest success.

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