Chingokokka (鎮護国家)

Chingokokka refers to a government policy to stabilize internal affairs using Buddhism or a thought that Buddhism has power to protect and stabilize a country.


The thought was advocated in "Ninno gokoku hannyaharamitsu kyo Sutra" and "Golden Light of the Most Victorious Kings Sutra." During the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties in China and Nara period in Japan, Buddhist services, such as Ninno-e festival and Saisho-e (lecture series based on the Suvarnaprabhasottama-sutra), were often held because it was believed that a country would be protected by recitation of these Buddhist scriptures.

Moreover, in the Kamakura period, Japan was at a turning point, and the attacks of Mongolia, for example, made the society unstable. Therefore, the founders of Kamakura New Buddhism had energetically preached that Buddhist doctrines of their school would save the country, for example, Eisai's "Kozengokoku-ron" and Nichiren's "Shugo kokka-ron" (Treatise on protection of the nation) and "Rissho Ankoku-ron" (Treatise for Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Teaching).

Especially, Nichiren energetically spread the thought in "Rissho Ankoku-ron" and preached that the country and people would be saved by erection of the Kokuritsu kaidan (the establishment of the National High Sanctuary).

Chingokokka and 'National Buddhism' theory

The term, 'National Buddhism' is sometimes used in recent years. This is explained as follows. This is the Buddhism that was connected to national power and was put under national protection and control. Only the official monks authorized by the country and regulated by Soni ryo (regulations for Monks and Nuns) were approved as Buddhist monks. Those who entered Buddhist priesthood without permission (shidoso) were illegal. Moreover, the Sogo (Office of Monastic Affairs), which controlled monks and nuns, was established. Many kanji (state-sponsored temples) were built, and Buddhist services of the Chingokokka were held.

However, historians and Buddhist scholars have not yet reached a united opinion regarding what would define 'National Buddhism.'
Moreover, some say that the usage of 'National Buddhism' does not reflect the realities of ancient Buddhism; therefore, it is inadequate.

First of all, in fact, the temples called kanji had been erected and maintained by so called Chingokokka, and Buddhist services had been held to pray for peace and security of the country and the Imperial Family. However, there had been no specific policy that intended to establish Buddhism as the national religion. In addition, there had been no fact that other religions, such as Taoism and Shintoism, had been suppressed.

Moreover, there has been controversy about how far the Soni ryo and the Sogo applied to temples other than kanji. It is thought that the Soni ryo and the Sogo strictly controlled the kanji and the official monks. However, private temples had been erected before the establishment of Soni ryo. Among these, aside from family temples of nobles or local ruling families, whether small temples worshiped by people in villages could be supervised has been questionable. In fact, although Japanese Soni ryo prohibited erection of private temple by monks and nuns, other private temples were regulated for the first time by Daijokanpu (official documents issued by Daijokan, Grand Council of State) in the Enryaku era of the Heian period. Therefore, Soni ryo and Sogo were applied to monks and nuns, and they did not regulate Buddhism itself. Furthermore, documents, such as the Official History, and Buddhism tales, such as "Nihon genho zenaku ryoiki" (set of three books of Buddhist stories, written in the late eigth and early ninth century, usually referred to as the Nihon Ryoiki), portrayed monks and nuns who did not comply with Soni ryo. Furthermore, as for shidoso, it was punishment for ordination into priesthood to avoid assignments. On the other hand, shidoso with ascetic practice were allowed to enter the Buddhist priesthood as official monks.

It is true that Buddhism was protected and that the kanji had been erected and systematically maintained by Chingokokka to pray for peace and security of the country and Imperial Family. However, comparing with gosan (Zen temples highly ranked by the government) of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) or the Jiin Shohatto (laws for temples) of Edo bakufu, whether it may be called 'National Buddhism' remains debatable.