1. Nara schools of Buddhism (701-794). The Nara schools of Buddhism were introduced to Japan from Korea and China during the late 6th and early 7th centuries.As Nara was to the south of Kyoto these were called six southern schools of Nara Buddhism. i)
Sanron school. It is literally a 3-discourse school. Sanron was initially developed in China as a Madhyamik school based on 2 discourses by Nagarjuna and Aryadeva.It was transmitted to Japan in the 7th century.Madhyamik is very significant teaching of the Mahayana philosophies which re-emphasizes that phenomena are neither truly existent or absolutely non-existent, but characterized by impermanence and insubstantiality. ii)
Jojitsu or Satyasiddhi school. This school is believed to be an offshoot of the Sautrantika school, one of the Nikaya schools of Indian Buddhism.The difference in this school of thought was the denial of the Abhidharma as not being the ‘word of the Buddha’. iii)
Hosso school. Also called ‘Dharma Character school’ it was first founded by Xuanzang in China (630 AD) and later introduced in Japan in 654 AD by monk Dosho(629-700). The Discourse on the ‘Theory of Consciousness-Only’ called ‘Jo yuishikiron’ is an important text for the Hosso school.Here a form of idealism was taught according to which ‘ all phenomena are phenomena of the mind’. iv)
Kusha school. It was brought into Japan from China during the 710-784.The name of the school was derived from its authoritative text, the Abidatsuma-kusha-ron(called Abhidharma-Kosa in Sanskrit) created by Vasubandhu.Few people regard the Kusha School to be an offshoot of Indian Sarvastivada school. v)
Ritsu school. It was founded in 650 AD in China by Daoxuan.The person to introduce it in Japan was Ganjin in 753 AD.This school specialized in the monastic rules in the Tripitaka referred to as ‘Vinaya’.The version used was Dharmagupta, known as Shibunritsu in Japanese. vi)
Kegon School. Kegon was initiated as a field of study in Japanese Buddhism and Kegon-shū came to be known as one of the 6 Nara schools, which played a significant role in the development of Japanese Buddhism. The literal meaning of ‘Kegon’ is a garland or floral ornament. It is a Mahayana sect of Buddhism that derives its name from the school’s chief text, the ‘Avatamsaka-sutra’. Founded initially in China during the 6th-7th century by Tu-shun, it was introduced to Japan by Chinese monks Chen-Hsiang, Tao-hsüan and Indian priest Bodhisena. The school believed in the recognition of a ‘harmonious whole of all beings, all interrelated and interdependent’, with the Buddha Vairocana forming the core, permeating everything. It believed that no element has separate and independent existence apart from the whole but in fact, any one of them reflects all the others. In other words, the universe is self-creating. Emperor Shomu was influenced by the ‘totalistic principle’ of the Kegon school.He applied the teachings of the Kegon sect to form the basic government.Shomu is well-known for the co-founding of the great monastery of Todai Temple which formed the head temple of Kegon.He also donated a massive art treasure to Todaiji. In the Kegon school doctrines were placed in ascending order of comprehensiveness.The system of ‘partial teachings’ was followed where teachings were given according to the listener’s level of understanding.
2. Heian schools of Buddhism (749-1185): Tendai and Shingon Schools. Tendai and Shingon schools have few similarities including origin.But in terms of expression and practice, the teachings are different
Tendai School. Tendai Buddhism was introduced to Japan by Dengyo Daishi.Teachings from the Lotus Sutra were given high regards in this sect.Besides the thought that ‘ascetic exile is the key to right meditation’ was promoted.Dengyo Daishi gave a new outlook to Lotus Sutra as he concluded ‘all beings had the potential to get enlightened’. Tendai school was built on top of Mount Hei. Its objective was to train and ordain the Buddhist monks.Daishi believed “the Buddhism in Japan must adhere to the set rites, doctrine, and the scriptures”.He also contributed to the spreading of the Zen practices and Bodhisattva Amida which were later on established as different institutions
Shingon school. Shingon school of Buddhism was introduced by Kobo Daishi. As this sect had its root in India, the belief that the mandalas (mystic diagrams) and mantra (mystic syllables) are ‘significant resorts to save the world from misfortune’ was promoted in this school.Here symbolic and ritualistic practice was followed alongwith special emphasis on detailed positioning of the arms to attain enlightenment. In this esoteric sect, it was advocated that the only way to achieve enlightenment is by realizing the ‘Dainichi Buddha’- the primal basis of all the beings and the foundation to all the physical forms within one’s own self.Mysterious rituals were passed from teacher to disciples.This feature makes it quite different from Tendai sect.
3. Medieval Buddhism (1133-1600): Pure Land School. By founding Jodo Shu, monk Honen(1133-1212) introduced the Chinese school of Pure Land to Japan. Pure Land also called Amidism, emphasizes Buddha (Amida Butsu in Japanese) through which one may be reborn in the Pure Land and be nearer to Nirvana.Jodo Shinshu was a school of Buddhism aiming to teach the commoners or laypersons.Today it is the largest sect in Japan.
Nichiren School. This was the most unique school of Buddhism in Japan, founded by Nichiren (1222-1282), a monk