The Five Chinese Masters of Jodo Shu


T'an-luan (Jp. Donran) [467-542]

T'an-luan is the master whom Honen claims as the founder of the Chinese Pure Land School. He first studied Taoist scriptures but when given the Meditation Sutra (Kuan wu-liang-shou ching) by Bodhiruci, he was so impressed that he devoted himself to the practice of the Pure Land teachings. He had a great influence on Shan-tao in particular and on Chinese Pure Land Buddhism in general through his Commentary on the Treatise on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Wang-sheng-lun chu) which taught that all beings can be born in the Pure Land through the great power of Amida's vow. His development of the nembutsu as a six character form of vocal recitation was also seminal.

Tao-ch'o (Jp. Doshaku) [562-645]

Tao-ch'o was first a scholar of the Nieh-p'an tsung (Nirvana School) based in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra (Nieh-p'an ching). This sutra asserts that all people can become buddhas, an issue that Tao-ch'o studied extensively. Later, however, turned to the Pure Land teachings. Upon visiting Hsuan-chung ssu in T'ai-yuan province, Tao-ch'o found a stone inscription commemorating T'an-luan (Jp. Donran) who had lived at this temple in his old age. It is said that he was so profoundly moved upon reading it that he converted to the Pure Land school.1 His commentary concerning Pure Land teachings, Collection of Passages on the Land of Peace and Bliss (An-le chi), was so important that he eventually was designated as one of the Pure Land patriarchs. It was Tao-ch'o who originated the important distinction between the Two Gateways of the Holy Path and the Pure Land. He also developed the idea that ordinary, deluded people (bonpu) living in this Age of the Final Dharma (mappo) are the special objects of Amida's vow.

Shan-tao (Jp. Zendo) [613-681]

Shan-tao is the Chinese patriarch on whom Honen relied for most of his teaching in the Senchakushu. In 641, he visited Tao-ch'o at Hsuan-chung-ssu temple and heard him give a lecture on the Meditation Sutra (Kuan wu-liang-shou ching), which greatly deepened his faith in the Pure Land. Thereafter he went to Ch'ang-an where he disseminated the practice of calling upon the name of Amida Buddha. Shan-tao wrote five works on Pure Land teachings: the Kuan wu-liang-shou ching shu (Commentary on the Meditation Sutra), the Kuan-nien-fa-men (Dharma Gateway of Contemplation), the Wang-sheng-li-tsan (Hymns in Praise of Birth), the Fa-shih-tsan (Liturgical Hymns), and the Pan-chou-tsan (Hymns for Samadhi Wherein All the Buddhas are Present), which, except for the last one, are widely cited in the Senchakushu by Honen. Shan-tao is generally credited for popularizing the nembutsu as the reciting of Amida's name rather than the visualization of him in his Pure Land.

Huai-kan (Jp. Ekan) [7th-8th cent.]

Huai-kan was a disciple of Shan-tao who experienced samadhic visions of the Pure Land (nembutsu zammai) and wrote the influential Shih-ching-t'u-ch'un-i-lun (Jp. Shaku-jodo-gungi-ron).

Shao-k'ang (Jp. Shoko) [?-805]

Shao-k'ang coverted to Pure Land teachings after reading Shan-tao's writings. He then propogated Pure Land teachings extensively and became known as Go-Zendo, "the latter day Zendo".

Other Chinese Pure Land Masters

Hui-yuan (Jp. Eon) [334-416]

A Chinese monk of the Eastern Chin dynasty. After studying under the Buddhist scholar Tao-an, he went to Mt. Lu where he founded a religious group based on nembutsu practice, known as the White Lotus Society. This community marks the advent of Pure Land Buddhism in China. Rather than the recited nembutsu, Hui-yuan's practice was based on visualization of Amida and attaining states of samadhi as taught in the Pratyutpanna Sutra (Jp. Hanju-zammai-kyo). This teaching succeeded onwards to the T'ien-t'ai founder Chih-i (538-97) and the Hua-yen master Ch'eng-kuan (738-839).

Chia-ts'ai (Jp. Kazai) [circa 7th century]
Chia-ts'ai wrote the Ch'ing-tu-lun (Treatise on the Pure Land), the first notable work in the "Legends of Births" genre (Ch. wang-sheng-chuan, Jp. ojoden). These "Legends of Births" are accounts of various people, not just monks, who gained Birth in the Pure Land. The Ching-t'u-lun includes accounts, one specifically by Tao-cho, recommending the recited nembutsu. As such, this work coincides with the rise of nembutsu recitation in China as a means for Birth. This genre of writings had a great impact on the Japanese Pure Land tradition and attained a very high form in Japan. (Lai, 173-232)

T'zu-min (Jp. Jimin) [680-748]

T'zu-min is the founder of the T'zu-min school of Chinese Pure Land teachings and is significant for helping to develop the common trend in Chinese Buddhism of combining Ch'an (Jp. Zen) meditation, Pure Land nembutsu practice, and the strict observation of of the monastic precepts (vinaya). This syncretic style of practice contrasts the typical feature of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism of exclusive nembutsu practice (senju-nembutsu) developed by Honen.

Fa-chao (Jp. Hossho) [756-822]

The originator of the "fivefold Nembutsu" involving the intonation of Amida Buddha's name five times in the five tones of the Chinese musical scale (wu-hui-nien-fo). He was greatly influenced by Shan-tao and was considered by some to be a reincarnation of him.


1. T'ang kao-seng-chuan, T. 2060, 50:593c & Hsin-shu wang-sheng-chuan, JZ. second series, 16:90b.


Lai, Whalen "Legends of Births and the Pure Land Tradition in China" in The Pure Land Tradition: History and Development, Eds. James Foard, Michael Solomon, Richard Payne (Berkeley, CA: Regents of the University of California & Institute of Buddhist Studies, 1996).

Pictures of Jodogoso from Shojoke-in, Kyoto

Copyright(c) by 1996-2006 Jodo Shu Research Institute