Sanichigonjitsu no soron (三一権実諍論)

Sanichigonjitsu no soron refers to the disputes during the period from around 817 through 821 on Buddhism between Tokuitsu (his date of birth and death unknown) who was a Buddhist priest in Hosso sect of Buddhism (Japanese equivalent of the Chinese Faxiang sect) and Saicho (767 – 822) who was the founder of Nihon Tendai sect. It was called 'Ichisangonjitsu no ronso' (dispute of Ichisangonjitsu), 'Sanjo ichijo gonjitsu no ronso' (dispute of Sanjo ichijo gonjitsu), 'Hokke gonjitsu no ronso' (dispute of Hokke gonjitsu) and so on.

In 'Sanichigonjitsu no soron,' 'sanichi' (three, one) refers to the lesson of sanjo (the three vehicle; the three paths to enlightenment to be taken by all living beings) and ichijo (the One Vehicle) and the dispute of 'gonjitsu' refers to the dispute of 'gon' (the expediency or hypothetical idea which is a cue for understanding the truth) and 'jitsu' (the true idea). The Japanese kanji for 'jo' in ichijo and sanjo refers to the vehicle which leads all living things to attain satori (the term used to mean enlightenment in Japanese Buddhism); the "Hokekyo" (Lotus Sutra), which is the primal scripture of the Tendai sect, teaches that the sanjo in traditional Buddhist scriptures is the means of leading the ichijo, based on ichijo-setsu (doctrine that only one teaching, usually the Lotus Sutra, can lead to enlightenment), which teaches that all living things can attain Buddhahood in the end. In contrast, the Hosso sect of Buddhism teaches sanjo-setsu, a doctrine which teaches that different vehicles can be used to attain a state of satori, emphasizing the distinction between Hinayana (vehicle of the hearers or solitary-Buddha vehicle; Buddhists whose primary concern is their own enlightenment) and Mahayana Buddhism (enlightenment-bound vehicle). Tokuitsu linked the sanjo-setsu doctrine to the Hosso sect's concept of gosho, in which all sentient beings can be divided into the following five groups based on their nature: shomon josho (those whose nature lends itself to them becoming a sravaka, a disciple of Buddha), engaku josho (those whose nature lends itself to them becoming a paccekabuddha, someone who achieves enlightenment on their own, without the help of others), bosatsu josho (those whose nature lends itself to them becoming a bodhisattva, someone who vows to save all beings before becoming a Buddha themselves), fujo-sho (those whose nature is not fixed, meaning that they could become a sravaka, paccekabuddha, or bodhisattva), and musho (those whose nature does not lend itself to them becoming a sravaka, paccekabuddha, or bodhisattva). He explained that the reason why ichijo was the only means of achieving enlightenment mentioned in the Hokekyo was simply to encourage a broader approach to the nijo (i.e. shomon josho and engaku josho) levels that can attain Buddhahood. He claimed that nijo with a jo-sho (fixed) nature and sentient beings with a musho nature can never achieve enlightenment, and that only the concept of sanjo is true. In this way, conflicting opinions arose over whether ichijo or sanjo was true.

However, the dispute between Tokuitsu and Saicho was not limited to the dispute between sanjo and ichijo and the authenticity of Hokekyo in Kyoso Hanjaku (evaluation of sutras, the idea which is the most similar to the one of Buddha in many Buddhist scriptures is questioned) was questioned and thus some say that it should be called 'Hokke gonjitsu no ronso' (dispute of Hokke gonjitsu). During this dispute, Saicho wrote voluminous books such as "Shugo-kokkai-sho" (An Essay on the Protection of the Nation), "Hokke-shuku" (The Outstanding Principles of the Lotus Sutra) and so on and they were written for rebuttals to criticism of Tokuitsu. On the other hand, as for the books by Tokuitsu side, there exists only "Shingon-shu miketsumon" (a collection of criticisms of esoteric teachings) which was criticism against Kobo Daishi (Kukai) (774 – 835) in Shingon sect and thus the details are unknown. However, as the assertions by Tokuitsu were quoted by books from Saicho side critiquing the matter, they still remain in part and restoration has been possible to some degree.

Anyway, the dispute was carried out by publishing books, and it is a fact that neither side ever had a heated face-to-face debate.

The world of Buddhism during the early Heian period
The sects burgeoning during the Nara period were Nanto rokushu (the six sects of Buddhism which flourished in ancient Nara) such as Hosso sect of Buddhism, Kegon (sect of Buddhism), Ritsu sect and so on. Originally, Nanto rokushu were the sects which taught religious doctrines and were introduced in Japan from the late Asuka to the Nara period, but they were newly established religious schools from the Tendai sect in China. As described below, the Tendai sect was introduced by Saicho during the early Heian period and thus the order of introduction to Japan was reversed.

The Buddhism during this period in Japan was, under the idea of national protection, governed under the control of the nation and the system of nenbundo-sha (approved people who enter the Buddhist priesthood) was enforced, which admitted a certain number of tokudo (entering the Buddhist priesthood) each year, and in principle, shidoso (priests having entered Buddhist priesthood without permission) was not admitted. In contrast, this easily led to the link that was established between the Buddhist priests and national authority. In fact, during the Nara period, Genbo (year of birth unknown – 746) or Dokyo (700 – 772) and so on interfered with the field of politics as entourages of the Emperor. Behind the relocation of the capital from Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara) to Nagaoka-kyo (the ancient capital of Nagaoka) and Heian-kyo (ancient capital in current Kyoto) by Emperor Kanmu (737 – 806), there was the intention to avoid the influence of Nanto Buddhism temples which significantly interfered with the politics. Emperor Kanmu, who was considering the establishment of a new Imperial Court, paid attention to and supported Saicho, who led the Tendai sect, towards a new religion based on national protection and intentionally diverted the Nanto Buddhism temples as mentioned above.

Hosso sect of Buddhism and Tokuitsu
Hosso sect of Buddhism in Japan is one of Nanto rokushu and was introduced several times by nyutoguhoso (a dharma-seeking priest to Tang). In 653 Dosho (629 – 700) went to the Tang dynasty in 653 and studied under Genjosanzo (602 – 664) and after coming back to Japan he spread the results of the study in Asukahoko-ji Temple.

One theory says that Tokuitsu was the son of FUJIWARA no Nakamaro (or EMI no Oshikatsu (706 – 764)) but it is doubtful. First he studied under Shuen in Kofuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple and in his twenties he went down to Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region). In Togoku he was engaged in missionary work and built Tsukubasan-omido Temple (Tsukuba City) (Tsukuba City, Ibaragi prefecture), Aizu Enichi-ji Temple (Bandai-machi) (Bandai-machi, Yama-gun, Fukushima prefecture) and so on.

As mentioned before, the works by Tokuitsu do not exist and many points of his life are unknown.

Tendai sect and Saicho
Tendai sect was called the Hokke En sect, the Tendai Hokke sect and so on and was in the school of Mahayana Buddhism whose founder was Zhi-yi (538 – 597) during the Sui dynasty. Zhi-yi wrote Tendai-sandai-bu (three major works on the Lotus Sutra, or three major writings of the T'ient'ai school) of "Hokke gengi" (Essentials of the Lotus Sutra) and "Hokke Mongu" (Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra) and "Makashikan" (Mahayana Practice of Cessation and Contemplation) and made Hokekyo Sutra Konpon kyoten and taught Kyoso Hanjaku (Formation theory of sacred books) of Buddhist Doctrines known as "Fivefold Periods and Eight Teachings" (among the Buddhist scriptures which were written according to the five levels of understanding on Buddhism, Hokekyo Sutra was the pinnacle).

Saicho first received the precepts of Buddhism in Todai-ji Temple, but secluded himself in Mt. Hiei and had ascetic training in the mountain forests for 12 years. Furthermore, while he copied lots of Buddhist scriptures brought into Japan, he began to feel the need to study the essence of Tendai Doctrine behind Nanto rokushu and through the Wake clan whom he was familiar with, he pleaded Emperor Kanmu to send him as ryugakuso (foreign priest studying Buddhism) to study Tendai sect and bring Buddhist scriptures to Japan. In response to this, Emperor Kanmu ordered Saicho himself to go to the Tang dynasty as a short-term student priest (scholars sent to China for a short period). This way, Saicho visited the Tang dynasty by Kentoshi Ship (a Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China) for the first time in 805. As scheduled, he went up Mt. Tendai and studied Tendai doctrine under Tao-sui (the seventh leader of Tendai sect; his year of birth and death unknown) and received Bosatsu-kai (Bodhisattva Precepts) of Engyo (Perfect Teaching) and came back to Japan next year (in 806).

After coming back to Japan, Saicho petitioned the Emperor Kanmu to publicly approve Hokke sect as a newly independent school in addition to the traditional six sects, and after the Emperor died, he petitioned for a new assignment of nenbundo-sha and asked to add two priests in Tendai sect (one in Shana-gyo and one in Shikango (Meditation Course), respectively) as well as Nanto rokushu. These petitions were approved by the Imperial Court and the Tendai sect was officially established as one religious school. This was the origin of the Tendai sect in Japan. Furthermore, while Saicho studied under Kobo Daishi (Kukai) who visited the Tang dynasty likewise and deepened his understanding on Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism), he created the construction plan of Rikusho Toto-in Temple (centering on Hieizan-ji Temple (later, Enryaku-ji Temple)) and in 814 went to Kyushu and in 817 to Togoku and energetically maintained his activities. Saicho's earnest desire was to establish the building of Daijo-Kaidan (Mahayana ordination center) and those who received Mahayana precepts were admitted as the bodhisattva priest of Tendai sect and they secluded themselves at Mt. Hiei and underwent ascetic training there for twelve years, and due to this scheme he came into conflict with vested interests of Nanto Buddhism which dominated Kaidan-in of the commandment of Theravada Buddhism brought by Ganjin (Jianzhen) (688 – 763) in Ritsu sect.

The developments of the dispute
On the beginning of the dispute
The beginning of the dispute is considered to have been "Bushosho" (excerpt of Buddha nature) written by Tokuitsu. In rivalry with the criticism against ichijo and Hokekyo in this book, Saicho wrote "Shogon-jikkyo," which is where the dispute between them started.

However, one theory says that in "Bushosho" Tokuitsu first criticized not Saicho in the central Buddhist world but Dochu (his date of birth and death unknown) who were around Togoku and his religious sect. After 797, which was before Saicho visited the Tang dynasty, Dochu came all the way from Togoku and helped Saicho copy two thousand volumes, whereby he became Saicho's ally in Togoku. Dochu himself was a disciple of Ganjin and a Buddhist priest in Ritsu sect, but he lived in Togoku maybe because he had a relationship with Shimotsuke Yakushi-ji Temple which had Kaidan (Buddhist ordination platform) and he had many disciples across a wide range. When Saicho went down to Togoku, Dochu had already died and his sect had been led by Kochi (his date of birth and death unknown), but Encho (771 – 836) who later became Tendai-zasu (head priest of the Tendai sect), Ennin (794 – 864), Anne (794 – 868) and so on were originally the disciples of Dochu or the disciples of Kochi and they were apprenticed to Saicho through Dochu, which means that Dochu played a very important role in the early stage of the Tendai sect.

It is highly possible that geographically, Tokuitsu, who opened Mt. Tsukuba and was based in Aizu, targeted the Dochu sect which was engaged in missionary work in Togoku. It is said that it was the Dochu sect who informed Saicho of the existence of "Bushosho," but it is debatable.

Dispute carried out through publications
Following are the books on Sanichigonjitsu no soron.

The books written by Tokuitsu
"Hokke kanjin" (the main point of the Lotus Sutra) 2 volumes
"Hokkegonbun" 1 volume
"Chuhen gikyo" 20 volumes
"Enichiusoku" 3 volumes
"Shaikensho" 3 volumes
"Gikyoyoryaku" presumably 7 volumes
"Hosso-ryogi-to" 11 volumes
"Tsuhashikyosho" 1 volume

The books written by Saicho
"Shogon-jikkyo" 1 volume
"Ehyo Tendai shu" (the Doctrine of Tendai sect (of Buddhism)) 1 volume
"Shugo-kokkai-sho" (An Essay on the Protection of the Nation) 9 volumes
"Ketsugon jitsuron" 1 volume
"Tsurokukusho-hahiryomon" 1 volume
"Hokke-shuku" (The Outstanding Principles of the Lotus Sutra) 5 volumes

The following is how the main scenario of the dispute developed.

Against "Bushosho" (the year of realization unknown) by Tokuitsu, Saicho countered his argument in "Shogon-jikkyo" (realized in 817).

Against "Chuhen gikyo" and "Enichiusoku" by Tokuitsu, Saicho countered his argument in "Shugo-kokkai-sho" (realized in 818).

As a final conclusion, Saicho wrote "Hokke-shuku" (realized in 821). In the early stages of the dispute, Saicho criticized "Bushosho" by Tokuitsu in "Shogon-jikkyo," but Tokuitsu did not answer at all to Saicho's critique in "Chuhen gikyo." Thus, one theory says that the focus of criticism in "Chuhen gikyo" was "Ichijogishu" by Saicho which is known only by the name, while the other theory says that the focus was the book which should be named as "Tendai-Hokke gi" (teachings of Tendai-Hokke sect) which is considered to have been written by Dochu sect. And Tokuitsu wrote "Shaikensho" and "Enichiusoku" as a rebuttal to Sanichigonjitsu no soron in the latter volume of "Shugo-kokkai-sho" and Saicho opposed this in "Ketsugon jitsuron" and as a conclusion he seems to have written "Hokke-shuku."

The contents of the series of the dispute were esoteric and they ranged widely such as Hokekyo in kyohanron (teaching theory), the legitimacy of Tendai-sandai-bu, the right and wrong of the interpretation of doctrines by the sentetsu (ancient wise men) in Tenjiku (India) and Cinasthana (China) and so on. However, on the other hand, Tokuitsu stated the theory of inherent disposition to understand Buddhist law against value theory for doctrine by Saicho, and the focus of the dispute on both sides was not in the right ballpark; as for the dispute itself, it was trivial rather than detailed and sometimes the expressions near to the abuse against the other were seen (as below) and gives an impression of not interlocking.

Within the Tendai sect, the realization of "Hokke-shuku" meant the end of the dispute (next year Saicho died (entered nirvana)). The history of the dispute was explained tracing back to the Buddhist history in Tenjiku (India) and China and the name of book "Hokke-shuku" is said to have been aware of "Hokke Mongu" of Tendai-sandai-bu by Zhi-yi and there Saicho's resolution to finish the dispute appeared. However, while the dispute closed on the Saicho side, it was not finished for Tokuitsu. And Tokuitsu saw not only the Tendai sect but Mikkyo as a problem and he criticized the Kobo Daishi (Kukai) in the Shingon sect in "Shingon-shu miketsumon" (a collection of criticisms of esoteric teachings) (it is the only historical material which remains as Tokuitsu's book).

The reason for Saicho's aggressive attacks
In the dispute Saicho attacked the opponent by using fiery expressions and as an example in "Shugo-kokkai-sho" Saicho called Tokuitsu who was the focus of criticism in a pejorative manner, 'sojikisha' (people who have a superficial knowledge and eat humbly), 'hobosha' (people who disparage the dharma), 'hokuensha' (people who turn the shafts of gissha (ox-drawn carriage) or horse-drawn buggy to the north even though they go to go to the south because he cannot understand the direction) and never called Tokuitsu by his real name. We can assume several reasons why Saicho was aggressively involved with this dispute though he was rather a smart and solemn guy.

The isolation of Saicho
Just before Saicho came back from Nitto Guho (traveling the Tang for seeking the teaching of Buddhism), he dropped in Shaoxing City and studied Mikkyo under Jungyo (in the light of Buddhism he belonged to a branch; his date of birth and death unknown) in Ryuko-ji Temple and received kanjo (a ceremony to be the successor). After coming back to Japan, Saicho was highly interested in Mikkyo and came to study under Kukai, who was younger than him and lower than him in ranking as a Buddhist priest but studied authentic Mikkyo and came back to Japan.

Kukai, who visited to the Tang dynasty by Kentoshi Ship in 804 like Saicho, studied authentic Mikkyo under Keika (746 – 806) who was one of Shingon-hasso (Eight Patriarchs of the Shingon mission) and came back to Japan a bit later than Saicho in 806, bringing back lots of Buddhist scriptures and hogu (ritual implements). Saicho began to study Mikkyo borrowing Buddhist scriptures brought by Kukai and in 812 received kanjo with his disciple Taihan (778 - year of death unknown) and so on in Jingo-ji Temple of Kukai and officially became a disciple of Kukai. Furthermore, he sent Taihan and so on to Kukai and tried to make them master the heart of the philosophy of Mikkyo.

However in 813, when Saicho asked Kukai to lend "Rishushakkyo" (the interpretation book of "Rishu-kyo" (Principle of Wisdom Sutra)), Kukai refused to lend it saying that the essence of Mikkyo lay not in ascetic training of sentences but in practices, which led to worsen the relations between both of them. Moreover, the most favorite disciple Taihan refused to come back to Mt. Hiei though Saicho repeatedly asked him to come back and Taihan preferred the ascetic training under Kukai, which led to a breakup between them.

Saicho tried to heighten the status of new religious school by incorporating the elements of Mikkyo into Tendai sect, but allegedly the break with Taihan and Kukai deepened his isolation and drove him to be more antagonistic towards Nanto sects. After Saicho's death, Tendai sect became full-fledged Mikkyo (=>Taimitsu (esoteric Buddhism of the Japanese Tendai Sect).

The antagonism against Nanto sects
Tokuitsu himself, who was the opponent of Saicho in the dispute, was a local Buddhist priest who moved to Togoku from youth and was active around there, but the Hosso sect of Buddhism which Tokuitsu belonged to was the center of Nanto rokushu which was the mainstream in the Buddhist world in those days. Later, the Tendai sect flourished more than the Nanto rokushu and thus as for the whole Sanichigonjitsu no soron, it seems that Saicho, who was the leader of an emerging sect, excelled Tokuitsu who was representative of old Hosso sect of Buddhism, but in fact, it was Hosso sect of Buddhism which belonged to the mainstream at the time and thus Saicho was more a challenger. As mentioned before, Saicho tried to establish the Tendai sect by winning the assignments of nenbundo-sha, building Daijo-Kaidan and so on in order to oppose the Nanto sects, and since persuading Tokuitsu who was the theorist of the Hosso sect of Buddhism led to the advantage of the Tendai sect over Nanto rokushu, he became more aggressive.

Anger against Tokuitsu
As "Bushosho" by Tokuitsu was the book of critique of Hokekyo, which could not be ignored by Saicho, he had to fiercely oppose this opponent to secure the raison d'etre for his own sect. However, the rise of the Tendai Hokke sect and Mikkyo was heretical for Tokuitsu himself and the Hosso sect of Buddhism which he belonged to and the traditional Buddhism system, thus it had to be exhaustively confuted. Tokuitsu reviled the Hokekyo theory and Saicho in "Chuhen gikyo," calling him 'Bonjin okusetsu' (conjecture of ordinary person), 'tengonin' (madness), 'gufu' (fool) and so on. In response to this, Saicho called Tokuitsu 'sojikisha' and 'hokuensha' in "Shugo-kokkai-sho" and it was a serious dispute which called into question their raison d'etre as a religious sect, resulting in a smear campaign by both sides.

After Saicho wrote "Hokke-shuku" he died and it is unknown where Tokuitsu was after that and thus the dispute between them did not reach a clear conclusion. However, the Tendai sect had an advantage in that they had successors such as Ennin, Enchin (814 – 891) and so on and came to heighten their status by becoming Mikkyo with the Shingon sect, while Hosso sect of Buddhism did not have quality successors which gradually led to their decline.

In 963, 150 years after the dispute between Tokuitsu and Saicho, Hozo (Japan) (Genju Daishi, 905 – 969) in Hosso sect of Buddhism and Ryogen (Gansan Daishi, 912 – 985) in Tendai sect again had a dispute on Sanichigonjitsu no soron ('Owa shuron debate') in Kyuchu Seiryo-den Emperor's residence and according to the record of Tendai sect, Ryogen outdebated Hozo. Ryogen's disciple Genshin (Priest) (also known as Eshin Sozu, 942 – 1017) summarized Sanichigonjitsu no soron from Tenjiku and wrote "Ichijo-yoketsu" (Essentials of the One-Vehicle Teaching) which discussed the absolute doctrine that only one teaching, the Lotus Sutra, can lead to enlightenment and Sanichigonjitsu no soron in Japan ended.