Heian Bukkyo (平安仏教)

Heian Bukkyo (Heian Buddhism) is a Buddhist sect established during the Heian period. Specifically, the term is used for two religious groups: the Shingon sect and the Tendai sect. Sometimes the Yuzu Nenbutsu sect is also included.

One background of the transfer of the national capital to the city of Heian-kyo by Emperor Kanmu (in the year 794) was the problem of the tyranny of Nara Buddhism (Nanto rokushu, or the six sects of Buddhism that flourished in ancient Nara). There were circumstances in which Emperor Koken favored the Buddhist monk Dokyo, and Dokyo, hoping for a little luck, even tried to become the emperor but was prevented from doing so by WAKE no Kiyomaro, and therefore one motivation for the transfer of the capital to Nagaoka-kyo and Heian-kyo was to eliminate the influence of Nara Buddhism, which wielded too much power under the protection of the court.

As new Buddhist sects that could challenge Nara Buddhism, Emperor Kanmu protected the Tendai sect, which Saicho had introduced from the Tang Dynasty, and the Shingon sect that Kukai had introduced.

Particularly, Saicho sensed a strong rivalry with Nara Buddhism and led a bitter dispute with the sect of the monk Tokuitsu Hosso. Meanwhile, Kukai took a conciliatory attitude toward Nara Buddhism.

One such feature is Mountain Buddhism. While Nara Buddhism was an urban form of Buddhism, Saicho founded Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei and Kukai Kongobuji Temple on Mt. Koya.

Another feature is that it was an esoteric Buddhism with incantations and prayers. Shingon's esoteric form of Buddhism was called Tomitsu, and the esoteric Buddhism of the Tendai sect was called Taimitsu; thus the two competed for supremacy. This Heian Buddhism was characterized by the strong desire to fulfill the worldly interests of the Imperial Family and the nobility. Basically, it had the characteristics of an aristocratic Buddhism for the Imperial Court and the Fujiwara clan.

In the mid-Heian period, the Jodo (Pure Land) sect became stronger, with Genshin of the Tendai sect preaching salvation after death at the hands of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata). Hoo-do Hall (the Phoenix Pavillion) of Byodo-in Temple in Uji is a representative legacy of the Jodo-shinko (the Pure Land faith) of the nobility. The Yuzu Nenbutsu sect also appeared within this context. Eventually, in the late Heian period, with the spread of Senju Nenbutsu (the Single-Minded Recitation of the Nenbutsu) of Honen, Heian Buddhism ceased to be an aristocratic form of Buddhism and spread to the entire populace, whereupon it heralded the Kamakura New Buddhism (new schools of Japanese Buddhism founded during the Kamakura period).