Honen's Establishment of a Chinese Lineage

A common method of legitimation which East Asian Buddhist sects have used is establishing a lineage of the transmission from Shakyamuni Buddha himself down to their particular founder, and from thence to the present age. This is always established in order to invest the teachings with authority. It was during the Sung Dynasty (960-1297) that the establishment of official lineages for the various schools of Buddhism became common. The Ch'an school lineage was established at this time through Tao-yuan's Ching-te-chuan-teng-lu. Yuan-chao (1048-1116) established the nine patriarchs of the Four Part Vinaya school in his Nan-shan-lu-tsung tsu-ch'eng-t'u-lu, and Chih-p'an (circa late thirteenth century) established the T'ien-t'ai lineage in his Fo-tsu-t'ung-chi. Pure Land Buddhism was in turn influenced by these earlier examples, and Tsung-hsio (1151-1214) established the Pure Land lineage in his Le-pang-wen-lei (T. 1469, vol. 47). This lineage is as follows: Hui-yuan of Lu-shan, Shan-tao, Fa-chao, Shao-k'ang, Sheng-ch'ang, and Tsung-tse. Honen's lineage, however, differs fundamentally in that he neither recognized Hui-yuan as Shan-tao's teacher nor as a patriarch at all.

In Honen's Commentary on the Jodosanbukyo (Sanbukyo shaku), in reference to the Amida Sutra, he says:

In the Pure Land school of Shan-tao, no one studied directly under him, and no one praises him. But I, through his writings, have inherited his intention and so have founded the Pure Land sect. Therefore, in the Pure Land school there is nothing one can call a lineage, nor is there any proof of the oral transmission of its teachings. Nevertheless, on the basis of the teaching of the sutras and commentaries, and on my personal experience, I have established the Pure Land sect. (SHZ. 145)

Honen's Pure Land sect differed in this regard from the Buddhism of the Nara and Heian periods in that it made no claim to have been transmitted through a continuous master-disciple lineage. Although inspired by Shan-tao's works, it was in fact based on Honen's personal religious experience.

This very lack of transmission provided grounds for harsh criticism, from the established Tendai and Shingon sects and the temples of Nara. Honen attempted to respond to such criticism in the Gyakushu seppo, when he named his own five patriarchs of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism (jodogoso) [T'an-luan, Tao-ch'o, Shan-tao, Huai-kan and Shao-k'ang] as constituting the Pure Land lineage.(SHZ. 264)

The Chinese lineage established by Tsung-hsiao was not made on the basis of a direct master-disciple relationship or on the common thought of Pure Land masters, but rather on the respective careers of each in propagating Pure Land teachings and on chronological order. By the time Tsung-hsiao wrote the Le-pang-wen-lei in 1200, it had already been two years since Honen had dictated the Senchakushu in which he classified three different Pure Land lineages and insisted on the veracity of his five patriarch lineage. Honen designated the three lineages as those of Hui-yuan of Lu-shan, T'zu-min, and Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao.

The first one of Hui-yuan was centered around the practice of the nembutsu with visualization. This form of nembutsu practice is advocated in the Pratyutpanna Sutra (Pan-chou-san-mei ching), one of the first sutras dealing with Amida Buddha, and stresses the nembutsu as a practical means or upaya for reaching ultimate wisdom and the samadhi of emptiness. Hui-yuan lived during a period in which he could have seen the Amida Sutra as translated by Kumarajiva and the P'ing-teng-chueh ching and Ta-ami-t'o ching (both earlier versions of the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wu-liang-shou ching). His nembutsu teaching, however, is mostly based on the Pratyutpanna Sutra and not on the sutras associated with the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, which expounds Amida Buddha's power of the original vow (hongan). This teaching succeeded onwards to the T'ien-t'ai master Chih-i (538-97) and the Hua-yen master Ch'eng-kuan (738-839). To Honen, who insisted on the recited nembutsu as the true practice, Hui-yuan's visualized nembutsu ought to be rejected. Thus, we can see why Honen differentiated Hui-yuan from Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao and established another lineage.

The second lineage of T'zu-min is based around his syncretic teaching of the Ch'an, Pure Land and Vinaya schools in which he combined meditation, nembutsu practice, and observance of the precepts. Especially after the T'ang Dynasty (618-907), not only Pure Land but also other schools tended towards this syncretic mixing of teachings. Fa-chao of the middle T'ang, Wan-chao of the Sung, and Ch'u-hung (1532-1612) and Chih-hsu (1599-1655) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) are examples of typical masters who brought other teachings into their own schools. T'zu-min's teachings also revolved around the visualization practices of the Pratyutpanna Sutra (Pan-chou-san-mei ching). Further, his syncretic approach contradicted Honen's principle of the selection of the exclusive practice of the nembutsu (senju-nembutsu), Honen clearly differentiated it from the Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao lineage which was firmly centered in the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wu-liang-shou ching), the Meditation Sutra (Kuan wu-liang-shou ching), and the Amida Sutra (A-mi-t'o ching).

Finally, the third lineage of Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao is the very one which became the lineage of the Pure Land denomination (Jodo Shu) in Japan. In the Senchakushu, Honen lists the five patriarchs as follows: T'an-luan, Tao-ch'o, Shan-tao, Hui-kuan and Shao-k'ang. There are, however, two separate opinions on its Dharma transmission. The first begins with Bodhiruci and follows to Hui-ch'ung, Tao-chang, T'an Luan, Ta-hai, and Fa-shang. The second begins with Bodhiruci and follows to T'an Luan, Tao-ch'o, Shan-tao, Huai-kan, and Shao-k'ang (Senchakushu Chapt.1). In the Senchakushu, Honen does not distinguish which lineage is correct, but in his other works, he only uses the second transmission. He cites the T'ang Kao-seng-chuan (Bibliography of Eminent Masters Complied in the T'ang Dynasty)[T.50,425-707]1 and the Sung Kao-seng-chuan (Bibliography of Masters Compiled in the Sung Dynasty)[T.50,709-900]2 as sources for this transmission, although in actuality these works do not contain such a transmission (Ruiju Jodo Goso Den, SHZ. 843-57). The key master in this lineage is clearly Shan-tao. From his standpoint, Tao-ch'o, his teacher, is designated the Second Patriarch, and Hui-kuan, his direct disciple, is designated the Fourth Patriarch. The First and Fifth Patriarchs, T'an-luan and Shao-k'ang, are designated not on the basis of the master-disciple relationship but rather on the connection of commonness of thought. T'an-luan had a great influence on the thought of both Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao and was thus designated the First Patriarch. Shao-k'ang in turn was greatly influenced by Shan-tao, eventually becoming known as a latter day Shan-tao, and was thus designated the Fifth Patriarch. Honen's five patriarch lineage based on the master-disciple relationship and commonness of thought, therefore, clearly contrasts that of Tsung-hsiao's.

If we reflect on Honen's classification of the three lineages of Pure Land Buddhism, we can easily see how he rejected Hui-yuan's lineage based on the nembutsu with visualization and T'zu-min's based on syncretic teachings and selected the one of Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao based on his unprecedented teaching of the exclusive recited nembutsu. However, this lineage was not one of direct transmission from one patriarch to the next. Historically speaking, although Shan-tao and Huai-kan were clearly related as master and disciple, this "lineage" of five Chinese patriarchs was Honen's own original concept. Thus his Pure Land sect continued to receive criticism as lacking any clear line of direct transmission.


1. This was compiled by Tao-hsuan of the T'ang dynasty in 645. It is a collection of 340 monks' biographies, including those favored by the T'ang dynasty, from 520 to 645.

2. This was compiled by Tsan-ning of Pei-sung in 988. It is a collection of 531 monks' biographies and 125 brief biographies related to these same monks compiled in 30 volumes between 627 and 988 in China.


The Five Pure Land Patriarchs (jodogoso) from Nison-in, Kyoto