Portrait of Honen by Fujiwara Takanobu, 12th Century
|Title||Founder of J?do-sh?|
|Other names||Genk? ()|
May 5, 1133
|Died||February 29, 1212 (aged 78)|
|School||J?do-sh? school of Pure Land Buddhism|
|Lineage||Tendai, Sammon lineage|
|Other names||Genk? ()|
H?nen (, May 13, 1133 – February 29, 1212) was the religious reformer and founder of the first independent branch of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism called J?do-sh? (, "The Pure Land School"). He is also considered the Seventh J?do Shinsh? Patriarch.
H?nen became a Tendai initiate at an early age, but grew disaffected and sought an approach to Buddhism that anyone could follow, even during the perceived Age of Dharma Decline. After discovering the writings of the Chinese Buddhist Shandao, he undertook the teaching of rebirth in the pure land of Amit?bha through nianfo or "recitation of the Buddha's name".
H?nen gathered a wide array of followers and critics. Emperor Tsuchimikado exiled H?nen and his followers in 1207 after an incident regarding two of his disciples in addition to persuasion by influential Buddhist communities. H?nen was eventually pardoned and allowed to return to Kyoto, where he stayed for a short time before his death.
H?nen was born to a prominent family in the city of Kume in Mimasaka Province. His father was Uruma no Tokikuni, a province official who headed up policing in the area. His mother was of the Hada clan, whose ancestry could be traced back to the silk merchants of China. H?nen was originally named Seishimaru after the bodhisattva Seishi (Sanskrit Mah?sth?mapr?pta). In 1141 H?nen's father was assassinated by Sada-akira, an official sent by Emperor Horikawa to govern the province. It is believed that Tokikuni's last words to his son were "Don't hate the enemy but become a monk and pray for me and for your deliverance."
Fulfilling his father's wishes for him, H?nen was initiated into his uncle's monastery at the age of nine. From then on, H?nen lived his life as a monk, and eventually studied at the primary Tendai temple at Mount Hiei near Kyoto. Clerics at Mt. Hiei took the bodhisattva vows and then undertook 12 years of training at Mt. Hiei, a system developed by the Tendai founder, Saich?.
While at Mt. Hiei, H?nen studied under Genk? (), K?en () and later, with Eik? (). Under K?en he was officially ordained as a Tendai priest, while under Eik? he received the name H?nen-b? Genk? (). In speaking of himself, H?nen often referred to himself as Genk?, as did his close disciples.
While studying on Mt. Hiei, H?nen devoted his time to finding a way to bring salvation to all beings through Buddhism, but was not satisfied with what he found at Mt. Hiei. At the age of 24, H?nen then went to study at the city of Saga, then Nara, and stayed at such temples at K?fuku-ji and T?dai-ji. Still not satisfied, he returned to the libraries of Mt. Hiei and studied further.
During this period, H?nen read a Pure Land Buddhist text called the Commentaries on the Amitayurdhyana Sutra (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) authored by the Chinese Pure Land master Shandao (613-681), notably the statement, "Only repeat the name of Amitabha with all your heart. Whether walking or standing, sitting or lying, never cease the practice of it even for a moment. This is the very work which unfailingly issues in salvation, for it is in accordance with the Original Vow of that Buddha." This commentary persuaded H?nen to believe that nianfo, called nembutsu in Japanese, was all one needed to enter Amit?bha's pure land. Previously, nianfo was recited along with other practices, but Shandao was the first to propose that only nianfo was necessary. This new appreciation and understanding prompted H?nen to leave Mt. Hiei and the Tendai tradition in 1175.
H?nen relocated to the district of ?tani in Kyoto, where he started addressing crowds of men and women, establishing a considerable following. H?nen attracted fortune-tellers, ex-robbers, samurai and other elements of society normally excluded from Buddhist practice. H?nen was a man of recognition in Kyoto, and many priests and nobleman allied with him and visited him for spiritual advice. Among them was an imperial regent named Kuj? Kanezane (1149-1207). The increasing popularity of his teachings drew criticism from noted contemporaries as My?e and J?kei among others, who argued against H?nen's sole reliance on nembutsu as a means of rebirth in a pure land. Additionally, some disciples interpreted H?nen's teachings in unexpected ways, leading to disreputable behavior, criticism of other sects, or other forms of antinomianism.
In 1204, the monks at Mt. Hiei implored the head priest to ban the teachings of exclusive nembutsu and to banish any adherents from their principality. In 1205 the temple of K?fuku-ji, located in Nara, implored Emperor Toba II to sanction H?nen and his followers. The temple provided the emperor with nine charges alleging unappeasable differences with the so-called eight schools. H?nen's detractors cited examples of his followers, such as Gyoku and K?sai, who committed vandalism against Buddhist temples, intentionally broke the Buddhist precepts, or caused others to intentionally turn away from established Buddhist teachings.
Richard Bowring condenses these charges into two general forms. First is the nature of a single practice. H?nen's emphasis on the single practice of nembutsu denied the usefulness of all other Buddhist practices. The sole emphasis on Amit?bha was also coupled with discouraging the traditional worship of the kami. The second charge was that H?nen placed the most lowly layperson on equal footing with the wisest monk, rendering the entire monastic establishment as useless.
In response, H?nen censured K?sai's single-nembutsu teaching and his followers agreed to sign the Shichikaj?-kish?mon (, "Seven Article Pledge"), which called for restraint in moral conduct and in interactions with other Buddhist sects.
The clamour surrounding H?nen's teachings dissipated for a time until 1207 when Toba II implemented a ban against exclusive nembutsu, stemming from an incident where two of H?nen's most prominent followers were accused of using nembutsu practice as a coverup for sexual liaisons. As part of the ban, H?nen and some of his disciples, including Shinran, were exiled, while the priests responsible for the conversion, Juren and Anrakubo, were executed. H?nen is said to have responded:
I have labored here in the capital these many years for the spread of the Nembutsu, and so I have long wished to get away into the country to preach to those on field and plain, but the time never came for the fulfillment of my wish. Now, however, by the august favor of His Majesty, circumstances have combined to enable me to do so.
H?nen was exiled to Tosa, but the movement in Kyoto had not thoroughly gone away. While in exile, H?nen spread the teachings to the people he met - fishermen, prostitutes, and the peasantry. In 1211 the nembutsu ban was ultimately lifted, and H?nen was permitted to return to Kyoto. In 1212, the following year, H?nen died in Kyoto, but was able to compose the One-Sheet Document (, Ichimai-kish?mon) a few days before he died.
On the latter point H?nen expressed unusual concern over the spiritual welfare of women. In teaching to them, regardless of social status (from aristocracy to prostitutes), he particularly rejected the significance of menstruation; which wider Japanese religious culture considered to cause spiritual defilement. As a consequence the role of women in the J?do-sh? sects has often been greater than in some other Japanese Buddhist traditions.
About himself H?nen reportedly said:
[I lack] the wisdom to teach others. Ku Amida Butsu of Hossh?-ji, though less intelligent, contributes in leading the people to the Pure Land as an advocate of the nembutsu. After death, if I could be born in the world of humans, I would like to be born a very ignorant man and to diligently practice the nembutsu. (Tsuneni Oserarekeru Okotoba - Common Sayings of H?nen)
H?nen's main document expounding his Pure Land doctrine is the Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsush? written in 1198 at the request of his patron Lord Kuj? Kanezane (1148-1207). The document was not widely distributed by H?nen's request until after his death. The only other document from H?nen is his last testament, the Ichimai-kish?mon () or "One-Sheet Document". Most of H?nen's teachings are recorded by his disciples, or recorded later by Buddhist historians in the 14th century.
H?nen's teachings are briefly summarized in his final work, the One-Sheet Document:
In China and Japan, many Buddhist masters and scholars understand that the nembutsu is to meditate deeply on Amida Buddha and the Pure Land. However, I do not understand the nembutsu in this way. Reciting the nembutsu does not come from studying and understanding its meaning. There is no other reason or cause by which we can utterly believe in attaining birth in the Pure Land than the nembutsu itself. Reciting the nembutsu and believing in birth in the Pure Land naturally gives rise to the three minds (sanjin) and the four modes of practice (shishu). If I am withholding any deeper knowledge beyond simple recitation of the nembutsu, then may I lose sight of the compassion of Shakyamuni and Amida Buddha and slip through the embrace of Amida's original vow. Even if those who believe in the nembutsu deeply study all the teachings which Shakyamuni taught during his life, they should not put on any airs and should practice the nembutsu with the sincerity of those untrained followers ignorant of Buddhist doctrines. I hereby authorize this document with my hand print. The J?do Sh? way of the settled mind (anjin) is completely imparted here. I, Genk?, have no other teaching than this. In order to prevent misinterpretation after my passing away, I make this final testament.
H?nen's practical advice on practicing the nembutsu can be summed up in these two statements:
If, because it is taught that birth is attained with but one or ten utterances, you say the Nembutsu heedlessly, then faith is hindering practice. If, because it is taught that you should say the Name without abandoning it from moment to moment, you believe one or ten utterances to be indecisive, then practice is hindering faith. As your faith, accept that birth is attained with a single utterance; as your practice, endeavor in the Nembutsu throughout life.
Only repeat the name of Amida with all your heart. Whether walking or standing, sitting or lying, never cease the practice of it even for a moment. This is the very work which unfailingly issues in salvation... (H?nen quoting Shan-tao)
By 1204 H?nen had a group of disciples numbering around 190. This number is derived from the number of signatures found on Shichikaj?-kish?mon (, Seven Article Pledge), a guideline for rules of conduct in the J?do Sh? community to assuage concerns by other groups. Key disciples who signed the pledge include:
A number of disciples went on to establish branches of Pure Land Buddhism, based on their interpretations of Honen's teachings.