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Honen statue

Hōnen Shōnin ( Japanese法 然Hōnen ; * 1133 ; † 1212 ) (also called Genku ) is considered to be the founder of the Amidism school of Jōdo-shū (School of the Pure Land) of Japanese Buddhism , one of the largest traditional denominations of today's Japanese Buddhism . In his time, Hōnen was one of the best known and at the same time most controversial personalities of Japanese Buddhism.


Childhood and youth

According to the hagiographically oriented and therefore historically not always completely credible sources, Hōnen was born in 1133 on the fiefdom Inaoka (稲 岡) in the southern part of the municipality of Kume (久 米) in the province of Mimasaka (美 作) (today Okayama prefecture ). He is said to have received the name Seishi-maru (勢 至 丸), which unequivocally refers to Hōnen's later identification with the Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta (Japanese Dai Seishi 大勢至). His father Tokikuni (時 國) was the military chief ( ōryōshi押 領 使) of the community and was murdered by an adversary when Hōnen was nine years old. His mother then placed him in the care of her brother, the Tendai monk Kangaku (觀 覺). He soon realized that his protégé was exceptionally pious and talented and therefore sent him in 1147 to Mount Hiei, the then center of Buddhist learning in the tradition of the Tendai school. His first teacher in this complex of temples and monasteries was Jihō-bō Genkō (持 寶 房源 光). He soon found himself overwhelmed with the task of continuing to teach the talented young man and sent Seishi-maru to Kō'en (皇 圓) (-1169), under whom he received the monk ordinations in December 1147. The young monk soon developed the desire to be able to withdraw to a lonely place to study. After some hesitation, his master granted this wish in 1150, and Hōnen moved into the remote hermitage of the respected master Jigen-bō Eikū (慈 眼 房 叡 空) (-1179) in the "Black Valley" (Kurodani 黒 谷) of Mount Hiei. Out of admiration for the talent of his new student, Eikū gave him the name "Hōnen", the abbreviation of a phrase from the Buddhist scriptures, "Hhōnen dōri no hijiri法 然 道理 の ひ じ り", which means something like: "Saint who deviates from Naturally in harmony with the Dharma ”. Hōnen's official monk name, however, was "Genkū (源 空)", a combination of the first character of the name of his first teacher on Mount Hiei, Genkō, and the second of his current teacher Eikū.

Under Eikū, whose hermitage was a meeting place for followers of the practice of Buddha- mindfulness ( nenbutsu [念佛]), Hōnen became familiar with the teachings and practice of "Buddha- mindfulness of all-round penetration" ( yūzū nenbutsu [融通 念佛]) in the Tradition of Ryōnins (良 忍) (1072–1132) and with Genshin (源 信) (942–107) famous "collection of essentials for the birth" ( Ōjōyōshū [往生 要 集]) known. Inspired by this, Hōnen searched from then on for a way that should enable all people in the "end times of the Dharma" ( mappō [末法]) to achieve liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Conversion to "devoted and exclusive Buddha-mindfulness"

There are various sources of information about the reasons and reasons for Hōnen's conversion to "devotional and exclusive Buddha-visualization" ( ikkō senju nenbutsu [一向 專修 念佛]). It is likely that Hōnen became aware of the works of the Chinese master Shandao (善 導) (613–681) through reading the "Collection of essentials for the new birth" Genshin . However, important texts by this pioneer of Buddhism of the Pure Land were missing in the libraries of Hieizan , in particular Shandao's "Commentary on the Sutra on the Visualization of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life" (Chinese Guan wuliangshoufo jing shu ; Japanese Kan muryōjubutsu kyō sho [觀 無量 壽佛經 疏]). It is controversial in research whether Hōnen for this reason, following an exam in the Shōryōji (清凉寺) of Saga (嵯峨) in Kyōto, made a study trip to Nara and on this trip got access to the text that was central to his teaching or whether he made this trip later, shortly before his final conversion in 1175. In any case, the information in some sources seems plausible against the background of Hōnen's own teachings that he was converted to "devotional and exclusive Buddha-minding" by the following passage in Shandao's commentary:

“The first [of the correct practices] is to wholeheartedly and only remember the name of the Buddha Amida. If one continuously envisions it, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down and without asking for the duration, then this is called 'Truly Determined Action'. The reason for this is that this is in accordance with the original vow of the Buddha [Amida] "(一 者 一心 專 念 彌陀 名號 , 行 住 坐臥 不 問 時節 久 久 近 念念 不捨 者 , 是 名 正定 之 業 , 順 彼佛願 故) ( Guan wuliangshoufo jing shu )

Following his conversion, Hōnen is said to have recited the name Amidas up to 70,000 times a day and given up all other Buddhist exercises. He left Mount Hiei and moved to Yoshimizu (吉 水) in eastern Kyoto. From there he began to spread his message to all parts of the population, among monks and nuns as well as lay people, among men and women, high-ranking and common people. Hōnen quickly achieved fame as a highly learned, strict and miraculous charismatic. Three emperors or ex-emperors are said to have received the Bodhisattva rules from him: Go-Shirakawa (後 白河) (r. 1155–1158), Takakura (高 倉) (r. 1168–1180) and Go-Toba (後 鳥羽) (r. 1183-1198). The most powerful man in Japan at the time, the regent regent Kujō Kanezane (九 條 兼 實) (1149–1207) from the Fujiwara family, invited Hōnen several times to his palace to receive the rules and explain the doctrine of the Pure Land to let. Hōnen also acted as a healer at Kanezane's court.

Criticism, persecution and death

With the fame of Hōnen and the growth of the "school of devotional and exclusive Buddha- minding" ( ikkō senju nenbutsu shū [一向 專修 念佛 宗]), which referred to him, criticism of his doctrinal exclusivist, but socially inclusiveist teachings grew, but above all in the behavior of his followers, who apparently often appeared intolerant of followers of other traditions and declared the Buddhist rules of conduct to be void because they were not relevant to salvation. Hōnen probably suspected that his teachings would meet with criticism and rejection from the established Buddhist institutions. Therefore, he ordered that his main script , the "collection of text passages about the Buddha-visualization selected in the original vow" ( Senchaku hongan nenbutsu shū [選擇 本 願 念佛 集]; short: Senchakushū ) was kept secret. He had the text in 1198 at the request of the regent Kanezane. Gradually, the details of Hōnen's doctrinal conceptions got around and the V get his followers offended more and more. Apparently a ban on the activities of the Nenbutsu priests was imposed in Kamakura as early as 1200. In 1204, the priests of the main temple of the Tendai-shū , Enryakuji, wrote a petition against the Nenbutsu movement, to which Hōnen responded quite defensively with a letter to the head of his own order. At the same time, he had 190 of his students sign a "pledge in seven articles" ( Shichikajō kishōmon [七 箇 條 起 請 文]), in which they undertook, among other things, to refrain from quarrels with representatives of other traditions and from inciting immoral behavior. Initially, the petition by the Tendai priests had no effect, not least because the politically responsible shied away from taking action against such a holy man.

As early as 1205, however, a new attempt was made to stop the activities of the Nenbutsu movement. This time it was the priests of the mighty Kōfukuji (興福寺) of Nara (奈良) who commissioned a corresponding petition. The author of the document known as the Kofukuji petition ( Kōfukuji sōjō [興福寺 奏 狀]) was the highly respected monk Gedatsu-bō Jōkei (解脫 房 貞 慶) (1155-1213). He accused Hōnen and his followers of nine mistakes, namely:

  1. The mistake of founding a new tradition [without imperial permission] (立新 宗 失)
  2. The mistake of drawing new portraits [for worship] (圖 新 像 失)
  3. The mistake of disregarding [the Buddha] Śākyamuni (輕 釋 尊 失)
  4. The mistake of hindering the [practice] of all good deeds (妨 萬 善 失)
  5. The mistake of turning your back on the numinous gods (背 靈 神 失)
  6. The fault of blindness to the Pure Land (暗 淨土 失)
  7. The mistake of misunderstanding Buddha mindfulness (誤 念佛 失)
  8. The mistake of reviling the followers of Śākyamuni (損 釋 衆 失)
  9. The mistake of stirring up the nation (亂 國土 失).

The addressees of the petition remained reluctant to take measures against Hōnen and his community until a scandal at the court of the resigned emperor Go-Toba came on January 8, 1207. Two students of Hōnens, Jūren (住 蓮) and Anraku (安樂), led a Nenbutsu ritual in the absence of the ex-emperor , who was on a pilgrimage to Kumano (熊 野), in which two of his ladies-in-waiting also took part. Following this moving ritual, the women were ordained as nuns without Go-Toba's consent, and rumors of improper relationships between the women and the two Nenbutsu priests spread. After his return, Go-Toba had both of Hōnen's disciples beheaded and on March 28, 1207 ordered Hōnen himself and seven of his closest students (including the famous Shinran) to be placed in lay status and sent into exile. Hōnen now had to bear the secular name Fujii Motohiko (藤井 元 彦) and should be exiled to the province of Tosa (土 佐) (now Kōchi Prefecture) in the southwest of Shikoku (四 國). An intervention by the regent Kanezane reduced the sentence so that the place of his exile was changed to Sanuki (讃 岐) (now Kagawa Prefecture). This province was located in the northeastern part of Shikoku and was therefore not only easier to reach for the old man, but also belonged to Kanezane's lands, which certainly made the stay more pleasant for the exile. Shortly before his death, Kanezane even obtained a partial amnesty for Hons. A return to the capital was denied to him. It was not until December 23, 1211 that the elderly Hōnen was allowed to return to Kyōto, where he stayed on the possessions of the head of the Sanmon wing of the Tendai-shū, Ji'en (慈 圓) (1147-1225), in the meditation cave of Ōtani (Ōtani zenbō [大谷 禪房]), in the southeast of Kyōtos, based. On February 6, 1212 Hōnen fell ill and gathered his students around him. One of these students, Genchi源 智 (1182–1238), asked his master to put his Nenbutsu teachings down in writing before he died. Thereupon Hōnen wrote a "pledge of vow on a piece of paper ( Ichimai kishōmon [一枚 起 請 文]) the content of which reads as follows:

[The practice I advocate] is not a visualizing mindfulness (kannen no nen [觀念 の 念]) as proclaimed by many scholars in China and our Japan. Nor is it a Nenbutsu that one pronounces after one has grasped the meaning of this realization through study. There is no other cause for being born in the [land of] Supreme Bliss than to say "Namu-Amida-Butsu", believing that [thereby] one will undoubtedly be born [there]. But in the belief that you are born through the "Namu-Amida-Butsu" [in the land of supreme bliss], the so-called 'threefold mindset', the 'four modes of practice' and the like are included. If I knew anything more profound [with regard to the new birth], I would probably miss the mercy of the two venerable [Śākyamuni and Amida] and would be excluded from the original vows [Amidas]. People who want to trust in Nenbutsu should act like foolish people who do not know a line [from the scriptures], even after having studied all of the teachings [presented by Śākyamuni] throughout his life. They should act like ignorant nuns or lay priests and not behave like scholars, but only practice nebutsu with all their hearts.

To attest [the truth of these lines] I use [the prints of my] two palms as a seal.

Calm minded practice [ie belief and practice] in the Pure Land tradition is perfect [set forth] on this piece of paper. There is absolutely no other doctrine that Genkū [di Hōnen] would take. In order to prevent false teachings from spreading after my death, I testify to this as my position.

[Written by Hōnen-bō Genkū] on the 23rd day of the 1st month in the year Kenryaku 2 [02/27/1212]

Genkū recorded this with his own brush.

After Hōnen's death

Hōnen was obviously not interested in founding an organized sect. Such would also have had legitimation problems, since Hōnen himself was not recognized as the parent holder of a recognized doctrinal tradition ( denpō [傳 法]). His mentor was Shandao, who had lived in China half a millennium before him. Hōnen's successors later tried to compensate for this deficiency by referring to an alleged encounter between Hōnen and Shandao in a dream, just after the completion of the Senchakushū , during which Shandao authorized him to pass on his teaching. Another attempt to prove the independence and legitimation of the School of the Pure Land consisted in staging Hons as an earthly manifestation of the Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta (Dai-Seishi). This bodhisattva is considered to be one of two companions of Amida in his Pure Land. Accordingly, Hōnen’s teaching would be a real revelation from the Pure Land itself.

Another indication of Hōnen's disinterest in founding a sect can be seen in the fact that he failed to appoint a successor, which resulted in an early fragmentation of the community.

His main students include:


  • Augustine, Morris J., Kondō, Tesshō, trans. (1997). "Senchaku hongan nembutsu shū": a collection of passages on the nembutsu chosen in the original vow compiled by Genkū (Hōnen), Berkeley, Calif .: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. ISBN 1-886439-05-2
  • Ducor, Jérôme, Hônen: "Le gué vers la Terre Pure", Senchaku-shû, traduit du sino-japonais, présenté et annoté par Jérôme Ducor. Collection "Trésors du bouddhisme". Paris, Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2005. ISBN 2-213-61738-4
  • Fitzgerald, Joseph A. (2006). Honen the Buddhist Saint: Essential Writings and Official Biography. World Wisdom. ISBN 1-933316-13-6 .
  • Christoph Kleine (1996). Hōnens Buddhism of the Pure Land: Reform, Reformation or Heresy? Religious Studies 9. Frankfurt / Main. et al .: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-3-631-49852-1
  • Christoph Kleine (2015). Pure Land Buddhism: From Chinese and Japanese Traditions. Berlin, Berlin: Insel Verlag; Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2015. ISBN 978-3-458-70053-1
  • Morell, Robert E. (1983). Jokei and the Kofukuji Petition ( Memento of March 20, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 10 (1), 6–38
  • Repp, Martin, Honen's Religious Thought. An investigation into the structures of religious renewal, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2005
  • Traversing the Pure Land Path: A Lifetime of Encounters with Honen Shonin. Jodo Shu Press. 2005. pp. 89-94. ISBN 4-88363-342-X .
  • Volker Zotz : "Hônen Shônin." In: Zotz, V .: The Buddha in the Pure Land. Munich 1991, pp. 103-122, ISBN 3-424-01120-7

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Kikuchi Yūjirō, 菊 地 勇 次郎: Genkū to sono monka 源 空 と そ の 門下 . Hōzōkan, Kyōto 1985, p. 7-28 .
  2. Christoph Kleine: Buddhism in Japan: history, teaching, practice . JCB Mohr, Tübingen, p. 227-229 .
  3. Christoph Kleine: Hōnens Buddhism of the Pure Land: Reform, Reformation or Heresy? Peter Lang, Frankfurt / Main. et al. 1996, p. 86-91 .
  4. Shandao: Guan wuliangshoufo jing shu . In: Takakusu Junjirō 高 楠 順 次郎; Watanabe Kaikyoku 渡邊 海旭 (Ed.): Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大 正 新 脩 大 藏經 . tape 37 , no. 1753 . Taishō Issaikyō Kankōkai, Tokyo 1924, p. 272b6-8 .
  5. ^ Coates, Harper H. and Ishizuka Ryūgaku: Hōnen the Buddhist Saint: His Life and Teaching. Compiled by Imperial Order . he Society for the Publication of Sacred Books of the World, Kyoto: 1949, pp. 551 .
  6. Hons 法 然: Shichikajō kishōmon 七 箇 條 起 請 文 . In: Ishii Kyōdo 石井 教 道 (Ed.): Shōwa shinshu Hōnen Shōnin zenshū 昭和 新 修 法 然 上人 全集 . Heirakuji Shoten, Kyoto 1991, p. 787-788 .
  7. Kamata Shigeo 鎌 田茂雄; Tanaka Hisao 田中 久 夫: Kamakura kyūbukkyō 鎌倉 舊 佛教 . Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo 1995, p. 312-317 .
  8. ^ Robert E. Morrell: Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report . Asian Humanities Press, Berkeley, S. 75 .
  9. Christoph Kleine: The Buddhism of the Pure Land: From the Chinese and Japanese tradition . Insel Verlag; Verlag der Welteligionen, Berlin, p. 235-236 .
  10. Hōnen: Ichimai kishōmon 一枚 起 請 文 . In: Jōdoshū kaishū happyakunen kinen keisan junbikyoku 浄土 宗 開 宗 八 百年 記念 慶 讃 準備 局 (Ed.): Jōdoshū zensho 浄土 宗 全書 . tape 9 . Sankibōbusshorin, Tokyo 1911, p. 1a01-11 .
  11. Christoph Kleine: Hōnens Buddhism of the Pure Land: Reform, Reformation or Heresy? Peter Lang, Frankfurt / Main et al. 1996, p. 187-192 .
  12. Christoph Kleine: Hōnens Buddhism of the Pure Land: Reform, Reformation or Heresy? Peter Lang, Frankfurt / Main. et al. 1996, p. 181-183 .
  13. Christoph Kleine: Hōnens Buddhism of the Pure Land: Reform, Reformation or Heresy? Peter Lang, Frankfurt / Main. et al. 1996, p. 162-166 .
  14. Christoph Kleine: Hōnens Buddhism of the Pure Land: Reform, Reformation or Heresy? Peter Lang, Frankfurt / Main. et al. 1996, p. 284-308 .