6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Rokushu » Thu May 08, 2014 2:10 pm

Peace and hello to all. I am new to this forum, and I am very interested in learning about the 6 schools of Nara Buddhism (namely: Hosso-shu, Jojitsu-shu, Kegon-shu, Kusha-shu, Ritsu-shu and Sanron-shu. I am especially interested in conversing and learning from fellow forum members who are members of and/or practicing these Dharma paths. Especially western Buddhists, but anybody who is knowledgeable about these schools would be very helpful to me. I would like to know about anybody who has practiced Buddhism at any of the 7 great temples of Nara (Todai-ji, Gango-ji, Saidai-ji, Yakushi-ji, Daian-ji, Kofuku-ji and Horyu-ji), as well as followers of these schools and temples of these schools that have been established in the west. I am new to Buddhism and I have done research into these schools, and I am deeply interested in studying the practices and practicing the Buddhism as taught in these temples/schools. I am also interested in any well-known western teachers or practitioners who have propagated the teaching of these schools in the west and established temples or schools to promote them. It is very rare (I have never heard of any) and most westerners I know who practice Mahayana are part of Pure Land, Nichiren, Chan/Zen, Vajrayana, etc., but so far I have not encountered any followers of these schools. So any help, insight, and especially anybody who is following these schools, your response would be most helpful. I am looking forward to many informed, interesting and knowledgeable responses to this post.
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby rory » Fri May 09, 2014 5:19 am

Well chat with Ven. Indrajala he spent time studying in Japan and can give you info into what's happening, but basically since I was interested in the Hosso and Kegon schools: I wrote to Charles Muller who is keen on Yogacarya and in Japan there is a young English speaking Japanese priest studying at Kofukuji. And that's it. I'd say if you speak Japanese go to Japan and study and ordain, it would be great.
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Rokushu » Fri May 09, 2014 11:15 am

Oh, thanks so much Rory. Yes, those schools interest me too, Kegon and Hosso. I wonder if it is difficult for a foreigner to ordain in Nara at, say, at Kofuku-ji or Todai-ji, or any of the great temples. Yes, it would be great, I hope I can learn more about this.
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Qianxi » Fri May 09, 2014 12:49 pm

Do those six schools still exist in Japan?
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 09, 2014 1:29 pm

The term “six schools of the southern capital” 南都六宗 refers to the mainstream and officially recognized Buddhist schools that flourished in the capital Heijō-kyō 平城京 (Nara) during the Nara period (710 to 794) in contrast to the “northern capital” of Heian-kyō 平安京 (Kyōto). The term itself seems to have been devised at a later time to contrast it with the two later schools of Tendai and Shingon which gained enormous followings in the Heian period (794-1185). Whereas these two were more practice-oriented, the six schools are now understood as having been more scholastic. All of these stand in contrast to the popular Pure Land and Nichiren movements during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) which were highly accessible to common folk. However, there is early mention of “five schools” which excluded Kegon. For example, in 718 there is a government document which mentions “five schools” and the “teachings of the Tripiṭaka".

The six schools are as follows:

- Sanron-shū 三論宗
- Jōjitsu-shū 成實宗
- Hossō-shū 法相宗
- Kusha-shū 倶舎宗
- Ris'shū 律宗
- Kegon-shū 華嚴宗

These largely represent the prevailing intellectual Buddhist currents that were mainstream during the early to mid Tang period (618-907). The Japanese adopted Buddhism through various channels, at first through contacts with Korean kingdoms. In particular was the Yamato court's ally Paekche (for details see the following: http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2013/03/ ... japan.html).

Japan is unique in East Asia for having remarkably preserved the material and intellectual components of these six schools. Physical specimens such as handwritten manuscripts, temples and statues dating back to the Nara period are readily visible in Nara today (see http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2013/07/ ... ttvas.html). Japan also preserved many manuscripts that were lost on the mainland and only later recovered.

The term rendered “school” here was initially represented in Japan with the Chinese character shū 衆 (assembly), whereas after around the completion of the Daibutsu 大佛 at Tōdai-ji 東大寺 in 752, the character shū 宗 (sect) came to be employed. The essential difference was that the former was a gathering of scholars committed to common research whereas the former reflects more exclusive ecclesiastical communities. In general multiple communities could reside within the same temple, whereas from the Heian period it tended to be “one temple, one sect”.

Saichō 最澄 (767–822) consciously detached himself from Nara to build his own exclusive Tendai school based on Mount Hiei, a topic which I explored in an article Saichō's Monastic Reforms (see here: https://sites.google.com/site/dharmadep ... os-reforms). His contemporary Kūkai 空海 (774-835) likewise formed an exclusive new tradition, however Ryūichi Abe does state "that at the heart of Kūkai's effort to disseminate Esoteric Buddhism in Japan was not the establishment of a sect but the creation of a new type of religious discourse grounded in his analysis of the ritual language of mantra."

Abe Ryūchi, The Weaving of Mantra: Kūkai and the Construction of Buddhist Esoteric Discourse (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 4.

Nevertheless, Shingon did become multiple exclusive sects, and Heian period Buddhism is characterized by a sectarian consciousness which was only amplified in later centuries.

If you want a good introduction to the six schools of Nara Buddhism (as included in the eight schools which further add Shingon and Tendai), then you should read Gyōnen's work written in the Kamakura period. It is available in translation:

The Essentials of the Eight Traditions

Composed by Gyōnen Extracanonical work This “Essentials of the Eight Schools” gives a concise account of the history and doctrines of the eight principal Buddhist -schools in existence in Japan at the time of the author, i.e. the six schools which were introduced to Japan during the Nara Period and the two schools introduced by Saichō and Kūkai during the Heian Period. This work may thus be described as an introduction to Japanese Buddhism. Fascicle 1 contains a preface and accounts of the Kusha, Jōjitsu and Discipline Schools, and Fascicle 2 deals with the Hossō, Sanron, Tendai, Kegon and Shingon Schools, followed by brief comments on the Zen and Pure Land Schools. The work takes the format of questions and answers, discussing such subjects as the name, basic scriptures, lines of transmission, and doctrines of each school. Since a brief history of the transmission of Buddhism from India via China to Japan is also included, it serves in fact as a very handy exposition of Japanese Buddhism.


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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 09, 2014 1:33 pm

Rokushu wrote:Oh, thanks so much Rory. Yes, those schools interest me too, Kegon and Hosso. I wonder if it is difficult for a foreigner to ordain in Nara at, say, at Kofuku-ji or Todai-ji, or any of the great temples. Yes, it would be great, I hope I can learn more about this.


Unless you spoke fluent Japanese and had some kind of serious connections or were an academic, don't count on such possibilities.

That being said, you could easily study the relevant materials. A lot has been translated already.

I personally base myself on something like "Tang Buddhism" which includes the six schools and a few other components. Instead of calling myself a Chinese or Japanese Buddhist I would call myself a "Tang Buddhist" but nobody would understand what that means. :smile:
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Jikan » Fri May 09, 2014 5:48 pm

Following on to Ven. Indrajala's insightful and detailed posts:

I think you can learn a lot about the Nara schools from reading about subsequent developments. For instance, one of the reasons Tendai-shu turned out the way it did doctrinally concerns the endless debates Tendai priests engaged in with Hosso-school monks (this is described in Paul Groner's book on Ryogen).
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby rory » Sat May 10, 2014 12:37 am

I second Jikan's recommendation of Paul Groner is who good, but one very interesting thing is that usually the winners (and Tendai and Pure Land etc..) tell the tale. So do balance reading Groner with James' Ford's excellent "Jokei and Buddhist Devotion in Early Medieval Japan" I loved this book and had a real appreciation for Hosso, then there is the current Abbot of Kofukuji's

Living Yogācāra : an introduction to consciousness-only Buddhism
Tagawa, Shunʼei, 1947-

And you can end up with some books on Myoe who practiced with the Kegon and Shingon schools.
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Rokushu » Thu May 15, 2014 4:54 am

Yes, excellent replies. But what about actual practice, like meditation, etc. Any practitioners out there who can teach me? Is it so easy to ordain at a temple such as Todai-ji or Toshodai-ji, or one of the other great temples of Nara? Any experiences?
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 15, 2014 7:42 am

Rokushu wrote:Yes, excellent replies. But what about actual practice, like meditation, etc. Any practitioners out there who can teach me? Is it so easy to ordain at a temple such as Todai-ji or Toshodai-ji, or one of the other great temples of Nara? Any experiences?


These schools are heavily scholastic. If you wanted to know about them in detail you would need to learn to read Classical Chinese.
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby rory » Fri May 16, 2014 3:03 am

Rohatsu; if you want to learn shikan ask the Tendai priests on the board here: Jikai, Jiken they should help you.Also Zhiyi wrote about the 3 types of meditation in his famous manual Maha Shikan; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhiyi#Four_Samadhis

If you want to learn Hosso (yogacara) meditation read "Living Yogacara" the abbot tells you how to go about this practice. For Kegon (Avatamsaka) there is no traditional meditation technique (though they were close to Zen) but Myoe developed a visualization but it hasn't been translated into English or maybe even published. For estoeric practices you need to go to a temple and have the priest teach you in person.

As Ven. Indrajala said: start studying:)
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Rokushu » Fri May 16, 2014 12:43 pm

I am willing to learn classical Chinese, I can already speak basic Mandarin, I know it isn't easy but I will make the effort. If I get to Nara anytime soon I can devote myself to this study. Yes, Rory, love the links btw.
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby rory » Fri May 16, 2014 9:29 pm

Rokushu; learn Japanese first, then you can read all the good materials and communicate too with any temples or priests that you'd like to study with, most do not know English or are uncomfortable with it. Glad you like the links:)
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Rokushu » Mon May 26, 2014 11:42 am

Ok, yes, good advice. Japanese, I was saving that for my next life. Oh, why wait!
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby PorkChop » Thu May 29, 2014 4:37 am

Rokushu wrote:Ok, yes, good advice. Japanese, I was saving that for my next life. Oh, why wait!

If I might give some advice - the Chinese Tripitaka (CBETA), the Japanese Tripitaka (Taisho), and Korean (Tripitaka Koreana) versions are all available online (for free) and all (even the Koreana) are available in Classical Chinese. If you want materials in Japanese, as far as I know, there is only a limited amount available online and an even smaller amount available for free. Where the Japanese language shines is listening to Dharma talks. I guess it's a matter of priorities, whether you'd want to read the ancient commentaries by the founders of the 6 Nara Schools or whether you'd want to listen to a modern interpretation (assuming any of the 6 Nara Schools have any Dharma talks available).
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Dodatsu » Sat May 31, 2014 1:22 am

Just in case you are interested, there was a Shomyo chanting performance by priests from Yakushiji Temple at Ryukoku University on 30 May (Japan time); made possible as the current vice-abbot is a graduate of the university and also chairman of the University's alumni association. i uploaded the self-taken video on my Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10204036801267503
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
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When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
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Re: 6 schools of Nara Buddhism/7 great temples of Nara

Postby Dodatsu » Sat May 31, 2014 1:44 am

One way is to take Japanese classes and then enrol at Ryukoku University's Department of Buddhist Studies. Although Ryukoku is a Jodo Shin mission university, alot of priests from the Kegon and Hosso sects studied at Ryukoku as the 4 main sub-departments at the Department of Buddhist Studies are Tendai, Kegon, Hosso and Indian (due to the Otani Expeditions). As mentioned in my previous post the current vice-abbot of Yakushi-ji is a graduate of Ryukoku and is also chairman of the alumni.

http://www.ryukoku.ac.jp/english2/prog/faculty/let.html

There's also a Japan and Asian Studies (JAS) program for those with little or no Japanese background

http://www.world.ryukoku.ac.jp/jas_web/index.html
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
One sees that no foolish being who encounters it passes by in vain.
When a person single-heartedly practices the saying of the Name alone,
It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
- Shinran Shonin
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