Mappo-shiso (末法思想)

Mappo-shiso is a kind of Buddhist prediction philosophy under three periods which the period of 1,000 years (also said to be 500 years) after the establishment of Buddhism by Shaka is called Shobo, and the following period of 1,000 years is called Zobo and the following period of 10,000 years is called Mappo and these three periods are considered as different. It is a view of history on the decline of Buddhism (especially Mahayana Buddhism) and according to it, Buddhism would not be practiced correctly in Mappo since Shaka's teaching would have lost influence.

As the expression of 'it is the end of the world' is said to have been derived from Mappo shiso, sometimes this is understood as equivalent to eschatology but such understanding is wrong (to be mentioned below).

As there are various views on the date of Shaka's death, the period of Mappo is not defined clearly.

Difference Between Eschatology and Mappo Shiso

Since the medieval age, Mappo shiso has often been understood in Japan as similar to eschatology, which means the end of the world. However, Mappo shiso solely points to the decline of Buddhism, namely it is the prediction that Buddhism would lose its influence over time and it does not relate to social unrest and natural catastrophe.
Therefore, Mappo shiso does not mean 'the end of the world.'

Although some sutras assert that the decline of Buddhism is accompanied by social unrest and natural catastrophe, such as "Hometsujin-kyo Sutra" (Decline of the Law Sutra), it is generally believed that these are bogus sutras that were created in the later stages of history.

Mahayana Buddhism advocates 'no increase, no decrease' and 'no beginning, no end' as the development of Kuron (theory of Ku (mind that is not bound by anything)). Further, "Nehan-gyo Sutra" (the Nirvana Sutra) fundamentally denies the pessimistic view on Mappo by advocating that Buddha will reappear in this world in the Mappo period when Buddhism has declined. Therefore, Mappo shiso is not equivalent to eschatology.

The Source of Mappo Shiso

The source of Mappo shiso is the description of "Daijkkyo Sutra" (officially, "Daihododaijikkyo Sutra" (Mahsamnipata sutra)) saying, 'Gedatsu Kengo (Age of enlightenment) will remain solid for 500 years after my death, Zenjo kengo (the age of meditation) will remain solid for the following 500 years, Dokuju tamon kengo (the age of reading, reciting, and listening) will remain solid for the following 500 years, Tazo toji kengo (the age of building temples and stupas) will remain solid for the following 500 years and in the following 500 years, there will be disputes concerning my teaching and correct teaching will be forgotten.'
In essence, there will be disputes among Buddhists and correct teaching will be forgotten in the period of the final 500 years.

History

In China, Mappo shiso became prevalent during the era of the Sui and Tang Dynasties and it is closely related to the establishment of Sangai-kyo (Three Stages Sect) or Jodo-kyo (Jodo (Pure Land) sect). Its early example is seen in 'Ryusei Ganmon' which was written by Eshi, the second founder of the Tendai sect, during the period of Northern Ch'i and Chen (southern dynasty) and the Stone Sutra Project at Fangshan, which had been continuing for over 1,000 years since the period of the Sui dynasty, was also based on Mappo shiso.

In Japan, it became a reality in the Heian period. Especially, the year of 1052 was deemed as the first year of Mappo and many sutra mounds were built since people were scared. In this period, the warrior class was increasing its power while regency of nobility was declining and people's anxiety was growing due to the unstable and dangerous society. Buddhism society also deteriorated due to corruption at many temples, including the Tendai sect, and the emergence of priest soldiers. As the Buddhist prediction of Mappo coincided with the real social situation, people's anxiety for real society deepened and they became addicted to pessimistic philosophy in order to escape from such anxiety.

In the Kamakura period, Honen of the Jodo sect and Shinran of the Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) called for, based on Mappo shiso, repeating the name of Buddha in order to be able to go to Amidanyorai (Amitabha Tathagata) at Saiho Gokuraku Jodo (The West Pure Land (of Amida Buddha)) after death. Nichiren also called for hokke-ichijo (the doctrines called the Single Vehicle of the Lotus) in the same period. However, Dogen, the founder of the Soto sect, denied Mappo shiso asserting that there were some dull disciples who committed evil deeds while Shaka was in life and people might use Mappo as an excuse for not doing ascetic training.