The Lotus Sutra and the Pure Land: a Medieval Japanese Perspective

Page 56 of my new book highlights a common theme in early-medieval Japanese Buddhism (e.g. the Heian Period, 8th-12th c.) expressed in the writings of one Yoshihige no Yasutane (慶滋保胤, 931-1002):

“Truly now, nothing takes precedence over the Lotus Sutra in making all sentient beings enter into the buddha’s insight and wisdom.  For this reason, I arouse the aspiration (for enlightenment), place the palms of my hands together in prayer, and (hear) the lecture on on the verses (of the Lotus Sutra).  Nothing surpasses (the recitation of the name of) Amida Buddha in eradicating innumerable obstructions (to enlightenment created by my past) transgressions and (in leading me) to birth in the land of Supreme Bliss.  Therefore I open my mouth, raise my voice, and recite his name.

translation by Robert F. Rhodes

Interestingly, both the Lotus Sutra and the Pure Land remain central to Tendai Buddhism today even among its various teachings and practices.1  Sometimes in Tendai Buddhism you hear the phrase: asa daimoku, yū nembutsu (朝題目夕念仏) which means “In the morning, the daimoku, in the evening the nembutsu“.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that Tendai followers literally recite the Lotus Sutra and odaimoku in the morning, and the nembutsu at night, but it does get to the heart of the relationship between the two.

Another way of explaining it is with the following phrases used in Tendai Buddhism:

  • 法華懺法 (hokke-senpō)
  • 例時作法 (reiji-sahō)

According to the book うちのお寺は天台宗 (uchi no tera wa tendaishū, “my temple is Tendai-sect”), the phrase hokke-senpō means devotion to the Lotus Sutra, the promise of eventual Buddhahood and a spirit of repentance (sangé 懺悔) for past actions, which is a common-practice across all Mahayana Buddhist sects.  Meanwhile, reiji-sahō means to deepen one’s connection to Amitabha Buddha in hopes of being reborn in the Pure Land so one can advance toward Buddha-hood much more readily.  One aspect is reflection of one’s past and one’s innate potential for Enlightenment.  The other aspect looks toward the future and how to accomplish it.

1 I like this more holistic approach to Buddhism more than what you tend to see in some communities, who focus on a single practice or teaching to the exclusion of the rest.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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