Zoe's Timeline

This timeline includes major religious events happened in the history of Japan.


Kōan means public cases in literal translation and refers to discourse records that capture the words of Zen masters in the forms of dialogue, story, question or statement. Kōan was used for contemplation and a pedagogical tool for stimulating insight and became dominant in the Chinese Sung-style Zen Buddhism. In later year, kōan became the essential object of study in Rinzai Zen. Students of Rinzai Zen would meditate on the words of kōan and meet with their masters to discuss their thoughts in order to achieve enlightenment. (Lecture Notes, 03/21/2016)

Kukai and Shingon School

Monk Kukai founded the Japanese Shingon School of Esoteric Buddhism in Heian Period. He was posthumously awarded the imperial title Kōbō Daishi, the great teacher who spread the dharma. Born to a lower-tier aristocratic family, in 791 Kukai was enrolled in the imperial college for classical Chinese literary and Confucian studies. After a few years of dissatisfying study, he dropped out to undertake a spiritual quest in the mountains. Later he went to China to study under the Chinese Shingon master and returned to Kyoto in 809. In 815, he established a Shingon monastic compound and began teaching the esoteric traditions he had learned in China. (Kukai, Japanese Philosophy: A sourcebook)


Buddhist ideology points out that if the mind is the essence of all phenomena, then sentient beings and Buddhas should be integrated together in the mind of oneness. This is called nondualism. The threefold physical, verbal and mental activity of a practitioner is not distinct from the threefold activity of the object of worship. The practitioner who contemplates this is the sublime body of the realm of enlightenment and that means he becomes a Buddha. He is forever liberated from the ordinary nature of a common, ignorant person. (Saicho, Universal Buddha-Nature)

Wheel of Rebirth

Buddhist ideology states that there are six realms located in this world, populated by beings that are born there as a result of their karma. Together these six realms constitute the Desire Realm. The first and highest is the realm of gods. The second category is the class of demigods, or titans, who are less powerful than gods but more powerful than humans. Human occupies the third realm; the realms of gods, demigods, and humans are regarded as fortunate places of rebirth. The lower three realms are of animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings, which are considered unfortunate and contain intense and various forms of suffering. (Lopez, The Universe)


Myōan Eisai was one of the two pioneers who brought Zen Buddhism to Japan. Eisai entered Buddhism in 1154 at the Tendai center on Mount Hiei. He visited China twice in 1168 and in 1187 and established temple in Kyushu, Kyoto and Kamakura, where introduced his Zen teachings despite the opposition of the entrenched Tendai establishment. The teachings of monk Eisai were considered the beginning of Rinzai Zen. (Yampolsky, The Development of Japanese Zen)

Jodo Shinshu

Although Shinran did not see himself as a founder of a sect, his teachings greatly influenced the development of a sect of Pure Land Buddhism called True Pure Land Sect (Jodo Shinshu). True Pure Land Sect grew from localized small-scale organizations to a large temple complex based at the temple that was first a memorial gravesite for Shinran. Rennyo transformed the sect into one of the largest and most powerful schools of Buddhism in Japan till today. (Lecture Notes, 03/30/2016)


One of Hōnen's students, Shinran developed his own view of Pure Land thought that was considered the beginning point of the Jōdo Shinshū, the largest Pure Land school in Japan. The key to understand Shinran is his concept of faith. For Shinran, faith is a state wherein humanly contrived choices cease and one reposes effortlessly in Amida's embrace. That is when Amida's mind and purpose become one's own mind and purpose. Therefore, people do not have to look to their deaths as the only moment they are reborn in Pure Land and achieve enlightenment; the transformation happens in one's life. In this way, Shinran rejected the importance of upholding clerical precepts and deathbed rites. (Dobbins, Shinran's Faith as Immediate Fulfillment in Pure Land Buddhism)


Hōnen is considered the founder of the movement Kamakura Buddhism and revered by the Pure Land (Jōdo) sect of Buddhism as its founder. Hōnen spent his entire life as a traditional monk in the Tendai School, integrating his unique creation with the intellectual tradition of Tendai Philosophy. He boldly announced that the religious goal of achieving buddhahood was no loner viable and he instead advocated exclusive nenbutsu practice based on Amida's eighteenth vow. Hōnen created a new paradigm for understanding humankind, society and truth that influenced later Kamakura-period thinkers. (Hōnen, Japanese Philosophy: A sourcebook)


Hakuin Ekaku was responsible for the revival of Rinzai Zen in the late Tokugawa Period. Hakuin began his intense pursuit of kōan study when he was fifteen. He turned back to the strict kōan Zen and added new elements of his own devising. He stated that through doubts emerging in the study of kōan one could achieve awakening. This initial awakening needed to be followed with futher kōan study to deepen one's experience. Hakuin addressed the importance of making Buddhism accessible to the general public; as a result, Hakuin gained a large following in his era and became the pioneer of all modern Rinzai lineages. (Hakuin, Orategama; Yampolsky, The Development of Japanese Zen; Lecture Notes, 03/25/2016)


Dōgen, the founder of the Sōtō sect, is one of the best-known figure in Japanese Zen Buddhism. Dōgen was born in an aristocratic family and received a thorough literary education. His parents died while he was still young and he entered the Tendai establishment on Mount Hiei at the age of twelve. Later he studied with monk Eisai's disciple Myōzen and accompanied him to China, where he received sanction from a Chinese abbot named Ju-ching. Dogen returned to Kyoto and Kenninji in 1227 and established the sōtō sect. (Yampolsky, The Development of Japanese Zen)

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