Nichiren’s First Sermon
April 28 1253
Rikkyo Kaishu-e or Risshu-e
Life and legends of Nichiren

(1)” Nembutsu {Jodo} leads to the hell of incessant suffering.”

Teachings such as those left behind by Honen and Shan-tao have been known to me since I was seventeen or eighteen.” ~~ Nichiren

A casual reader might have the impression that Nichiren was harshly and blindly critical of all forms of Nembutsu practice or Amidism. At this point, my own understanding of Nembutsu, and Nichiren’s critiques thereof, is limited in scope. The more I learn, the more I realize what I do not know.

There appear to have been two main forms of Nembutsu in Nichiren’s time. Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThese were the more contemplative or meditative Tendai Nembutsu; as taught by Genshin {(Eshin) ( 942–1017)} , and the popular Jodo or Pure Land Nembutsu; which was pioneered in China by Shan-tao {(Shandao, Zendo) (613-681)}, and promoted in Japan by Honen {(Honen-no Genku) (1133-1212)}

Genshin had been the Supervisor of Monks at Enryakuji, the head temple of the Tendai school at Mount Hiei. He is considered the founder of the Eshin branch of the Tendai school. Genshin authored two important works; in 985, the immemsely popular “Ojoyoshu {The Essentials of Rebirth in the Pure Land}” and, circa 1006, the “Ichijo yoketsu {Essentials of the One Vehicle Teaching}.

In the “Ojoyoshu”, Genshin proposes that traditional samatha-vipassana Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting{shikan} meditation is useless in the darkness and chaos of Mappo, because it depends on self-power or jiriki. Instead, his form of meditation relied on the tariki or other power of Amida, to escape from rebirth in the 6 worlds, and secure rebirth in the Pure Land. However, in the later “Ichijoyoketsu,” Genshin stresses the One Vehicle of the Lotus Sutra and the Universality of the Buddha Nature.

Nichiren refers to Genshin as Eshin and makes mention of him in the Gosho. Here is a search of the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Concordance: . Here is a sampling of quotations:

Thus, the Supervisor of Priests Eshin says, ‘The teachings and practices Photobucket - Video and Image Hostingthat lead to rebirth in the Land of Perfect Bliss are the eyes and feet for those who live in this defiled latter age of ours.’

Eshin said in his Essentials of the One Vehicle Teaching, ‘Throughout Japan, all people share the same capacity to attain Buddhahood through the perfect teaching.’ … Now which opinion should we believe, that of Tao-ch’o and Honen or that of Dengyo and Eshin?

This practice of invoking the name of the Buddha Amida was advocated by Eshin in his work Essentials of Rebirth in the Pure Land, and as a result, one-third of the people of Japan became believers in the Nembutsu, the calling on the name of Amida.

And many of the scholars in the latter age have been deluded by Eshin’s introduction to his Essentials of Rebirth in the Pure Land and have as a result lost the true mind of faith in the Lotus Sutra, giving their allegiance instead to the provisional teachings associated with Amida.

If Honen was a truly wise man, why did he not, in his Nembutsu Chosen above All, mention the passages of explanation by Dengyo and Eshin such as I have quoted above, and resolve the contradiction?

While occasionally harshly critical, Nichiren’s view of Genshin appears to be nuanced and balanced. On one occasion, Nichiren wrote that Eshin’s work had depth, but lacked breadth. The Ichijoyoketsu, at least, gets a favorable review. Also, it appears that Nichiren was more critical of Honen, for selectively citing passages from the Ojoyoshu, out of a fuller context.

The popular Jodo or Pure Land Nembutsu was promoted in Kamakura Era Japan by Honen {(Honen-no Genku) ( 1133-1212)}; who is considered the founder of the independent Jodo School. Honen’s immediate successors in the mainstream Chinzei Jodo School were Bencho {(Ben’a, Shoko) (1162-1238)} and Ryochu {(Nen’amidabutsu, Nen’a) (1199-1287)}.