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Saich? ()
 ? ?.jpg
Painting of Saich?
TitleFounder of Tendai Buddhism
BornSeptember 15, 767
DiedJune 26, 822 (age 55)
Senior posting
TeacherGy?hy? ()

Saich? (, September 15, 767 – June 26, 822) was a Japanese Buddhist monk credited with founding the Tendai school of Buddhism based on the Chinese Tiantai school he was exposed to during his trip to Tang China beginning in 804. He founded the temple and headquarters of Tendai at Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei near Kyoto. He is also said to have been the first to bring tea to Japan. After his death, he was awarded the posthumous title of Dengy? Daishi (?).


Early life

Saich? was born in the year 767 in the city of ?mi, in present Shiga Prefecture, with the given name of Hirono.[1] According to family tradition, Saich?'s ancestors were descendants of emperors of Eastern Han China;[1] however, no positive evidence exists for this claim. The region where Saich? was born did have a large Chinese immigrant population, so Saich? likely did have Chinese ancestry.[2]

During Saich?'s time, the Buddhist temples in Japan were officially organized into a national network known as the provincial temple system, and at the age of 13, Saich? became a disciple of one Gy?hy? (722-797, ).[3][4] He took tonsure as a novice monk at the age of 14 and was given the ordination name "Saich?". Gy?hy? in turn was a disciple of Dao-xuan (702-760, , D?sen in Japanese), a prominent monk from China[5] of the Tiantai school who had brought the East Mountain Teaching of Chan Buddhism, Huayan teachings and the Bodhisattva Precepts of the Brahmajala Sutra to Japan in 736 and served as the "precept master" for ordination prior to the arrival of Jianzhen.[2]

By the age of 20, he undertook the full monastic precepts at the T?dai-ji, thus becoming a fully ordained monk in the official temple system. A few months later he abruptly retreated to Mount Hiei for an intensive study and practice of Buddhism, though the exact reason for his departure remains unknown.[1][2] Shortly after his retreat, he composed his Ganmon (, "Saichō's Prayer") which included his personal vows to:[2]

  1. So long as I have not attained the stage where my six faculties are pure, I will not venture out into the world.
  2. So long as I have not realized the absolute, I will not acquire any special skills or arts (e.g. medicine, divination, calligraphy, etc.)
  3. So long as I have not kept all the precepts purely, I will not participate in any lay donor's Buddhist meetings.
  4. So long as I have not attained wisdom (lit. hannya ), I will not participate in worldly affairs unless it be to benefit others.
  5. May any merit from my practice in the past, present and future be given not to me, but to all sentient beings so that they may attain supreme enlightenment.

In time, Saich? attracted other monks both on Mount Hiei, and from the Buddhist community in Nara, and a monastic community developed on Mount Hiei, which eventually became Enryaku-ji. Saich? was said to have carved an image of the Bhai?ajyaguru and enshrined it.[2] Additionally, he lit a lamp of oil before the Buddha and prayed that the lamp would never be extinguished. This lamp is now known as the Fumetsu no Hōtō (, "Inextinguishable Dharma Lamp") and has remained lit for 1200 years.

The capital of Japan was moved from Nara to Nagaoka-ky? in 784, and then to Kyoto in 795. Because Mount Hiei was coincidentally located to the northeast of Kyoto, a direction considered dangerous according to Chinese geomancy, Saich?'s presence on the mountain was thought to protect the new capital and brought him to the attention of the court. Saich? and his community on Mount Hiei also started to correspond and exchange ceremonies with the established communities in Nara, in addition to the monks at the Court, further enhancing his prestige.

One of Saich?'s earliest supporters in the Court was Wake no Hiroyo, who invited Saich? to give lectures at Takaosan-ji along with fourteen other eminent monks. Saich? was not the first to be invited, indicating that he was still relatively unknown in the Court, but rising in prominence.[2]

Trip to China

Saich? is known for having introduced tea to Japan

The success of the Takaosanji lectures, plus Saich?'s association with Wake no Hiroyo soon caught the attention of Emperor Kanmu who consulted with Saich? about propagating his Buddhist teachings further, and to help bridge the traditional rivalry between the East Asian Yog?c?ra and East Asian M?dhyamaka schools.[2]

The emperor granted a petition by Saich? to journey to China to further study Tiantai doctrine in China and bring back more texts.[6] Saich? was expected to only remain in China for a short time however.

Saich? could read Chinese but was unable to speak it at all, thus he was allowed to bring a trusted disciple along named Gishin (), who apparently could speak Chinese. Gishin would later become one of the head monks of the Tendai order after Saich?.

Saich? was part of the four-ship diplomatic mission to Tang China in 803. The ships were forced to turn back due to heavy winds, where they spent some time at Dazaifu, Fukuoka. During this time, Saich? likely met another passenger, K?kai, a fellow Buddhist monk who was sent to China on a similar mission though he was expected to stay much longer.[6]

When the ships set sail again, two sank during a heavy storm, but Saich?'s ship arrived at the port of Ningbo, then known as Mingzhou (Chinese: ; pinyin: Míngzh?u), in northern Zhejiang in 804. Shortly after arrival, permission was granted for Saich? and his party to travel to Tiantai Mountain and he was introduced to the seventh Patriarch of Tiantai, Daosui (Chinese: ; pinyin: Dàosuì), who became his primary teacher during his time in China. Daosui was instrumental in teaching Saich? about Tiantai methods of meditation, monastic discipline and orthodox teachings.[6] Saich? remained under this instruction for approximately 135 days.

Saich? spent the next several months copying various Buddhist works with the intention of bringing them back to Japan with him. While some works existed in Japan already, Saich? felt that they suffered from copyist errors or other defects, and so he made fresh copies. Once the task was completed, Saich? and his party returned to Ningbo, but the ship was harbored in Fuzhou at the time, and would not return for six weeks.

During this time, Saich? went to Yuezhou (, modern-day Shaoxing) and sought out texts and information on Vajrayana (Esoteric) Buddhism. The Tiantai school originally only utilized "mixed" (z?mitsu ()) ceremonial practices, but over time esoteric Buddhism took on a greater role. By the time Saich? had arrived in China, a number of Tiantai Buddhist centers provided esoteric training, and both Saich? and Gishin received initiation at a temple in Yue Prefecture. However, it's unclear what transmission or transmissions(s) they received. Some evidence suggests that Saich? did not receive the dual (ry?bu () transmissions of the Diamond Realm and the Womb Realm.[6] Instead, it is thought he may have only received the Diamond Realm transmission, but the evidence is not conclusive one way or the other.

Finally, on the tenth day of the fifth month of 805, Saich? and his party returned to Ningbo and after compiling further bibliographies, boarded the ship back for Japan and arrived in Tsushima on the fifth day of the sixth month. Although Saich? had only stayed in China for a total of eight months, his return was eagerly awaited by the court in Kyoto.

Founding of Tendai

On his return from China, Saich? worked hard to win recognition from the court and "in the first month of 806, Saich?'s Tendai Lotus school (Tendai-hokke-sh? ) won official recognition when the court of the ailing emperor Kanmu issued another edict, this one permitting two annual ordinands (nenbundosha) for Saich?'s new school on Mount Hiei. This edict states that, following Saich?'s request, the ordinands would be divided between two curricula: the shanag? course, centering on the study of the Mahavairocana S?tra (this was the Mikky? curriculum, shana being the abbreviation for Birushana, the Japanese transliteration of Vairocana), and the shikang? course, based on the study of the Mo-ho chih-kuan, the seminal work of the T'ien-t'ai patriarch Chih-i (538-597) (this was the Tendai curriculum, shikan being the Japanese reading of Chih-i's central practice of chih-kuan [cessation and contemplation]) (Kenkairon engi, DZ 1, pp. 294-296). Thus from its very inception the Tendai Lotus school was equally based on Mikky? and T'ien-t'ai. It was as a subdivision of Saich?'s new school that Mikky? first received the official acknowledgment of the imperial court and became a proper subject of study in Japanese Buddhism.

[I]n 813 Saich? composed the Ehy? tendaish? (DZ 1, pp. 343-366), which argues that the principal Buddhist masters of China and Korea all relied on T'ien-t'ai doctrine in composing their own works. By identifying numerous references to and quotes from T'ien-t'ai treatises in the works of Chi-tsang of the San-lun school, Chih-chou of the Fa-hsiang school, Fa-tsang of the Huayen school, I-hsing of Mikky?, and other prominent teachers, Saich? asserted that T'ien-t'ai formed the foundation for all major Buddhist schools in East Asia.[7]

Before Saich?, all monastic ordinations took place at T?dai-ji temple under the ancient Vinaya code, but Saich? intended to found his school as a strictly Mahayana institution and ordain monks using the Bodhisattva Precepts only. Despite intense opposition from the traditional Buddhist schools in Nara, his request was granted by Emperor Saga in 822, several days after his death. This was the fruit of years of effort and a formal debate.[7]

Decline and Death

By 822, Saich? petitioned the court to allow the monks at Mount Hiei to ordain under the Bodhisattva Precepts rather than the traditional ordination system of the pr?timok?a, arguing that his community would be a purely Mahayana, not Hinayana one.[8] This was met with strong protest by the Buddhist establishment who supported the kokubunji system, and lodged a protest. Saich? composed the Kenkairon (, "A Clarification of the Precepts"), which stressed the significance of the Bodhisattva Precepts,[9] but his request was still rejected until 7 days after his death at the age of 56.[1]

Relationship with K?kai

Saich? traveled to China along with a number of other young monks, one of whom was named K?kai. Saich? befriended him during his trip to China who traveled with him going and coming. This turned out to be pivotal to the future development of Buddhism.

During the last month of his stay on Chinese soil, while awaiting the arrival of his ship at the port city of Ming-chou, Saich? traveled to Yüeh-chou to collect additional Buddhist texts. At Lung-hsing ssu Saich? chanced to meet the priest Shun-hsiao"[7]

, and likewise returned with esoteric (tantric) Buddhist texts. Saich? was entranced with the new material and wanted to learn more. On the trip back he found that Kukai had studied these teachings in depth and had an entire library of vajrayana materials. This friendship would influence the future of Tendai.

Saich? and K?kai are renowned as the founders, respectively, of the Japanese Tendai and Shingon schools, both of which grew into influential institutions of continuing importance even today. The two figures cooperated, moreover, in an effort to transplant the seed of esoteric Buddhism (mikky?) to the cultural soil of Japan. Saich?, for example, prepared the way for K?kai--still largely unrecognized after his return from T'ang China--to perform the Mikky? initiation ritual of abhi?eka (kanj? ) for the high priests of the Nara Buddhist establishment and the dignitaries of the imperial" Heian court.[7]

It was Saich? who performed the abhi?eka, or initiatory ritual, for the court.

Saich? also endorsed the court's bequest to K?kai of the mountain temple of Takaosan-ji northwest of Kyoto as the first center for K?kai's Shingon Buddhism. K?kai, in turn, responded to Saich?'s wish to incorporate Mikky? into the eclectic system of Tendai by training Saich? and his disciples in the esoteric Buddhist rituals and by lending Saich? various Mikky? texts that he had brought with him from China."[7]

Exoteric syncretic tradition versus esotericism

Thus esoteric Buddhism became an important aspect of the Tendai school, which was primarily focused on the Lotus Sutra. Paul Groner states,

Chinese T'ien-t'ai had been a syncretistic tradition, particularly at the T'ien-t'ai Yu-ch'uan monastery. Chinese monks had been interested in Ch'an and Esoteric Buddhism as well as in the Ssu-fen la and Fan wang precepts. Saich? inherited this tradition, but developed certain aspects of it in innovative ways. For example, Saich? considered Esoteric Buddhism to be essentially the same as Tendai (enmitsu itchi) and thus awarded Esoteric Buddhism a more central place in the Tendai tradition than it had been given by most Chinese monks. Like K?kai, Saich? emphasized the importance of striving for enlightenment as an immediate goal to be attained in this existence (sokushin-j?butsu).[10]

Tendai and Esoteric practices, he felt, provided a direct path (jikid?) to enlightenment, whereas the teachings of the Nara schools required aeons to bring the practitioner to enlightenment.[11]


During the years that Saich? studied Esoteric Buddhism (from 805-815), more than half of the Tendai yearly ordinands left Mount Hiei. Many of them defected to the Hosso school; others departed in order to study Esoteric Buddhism with K?kai or to support their ailing mothers. It became clear that if Tendai were to survive, Saich? would have to retain many more of his students on Mount Hiei.[11]

Moreover, Saich? began to realize that his own idea of "enmitsu itchi" was not exactly shared by the esoteric Shingon school, and especially its founder K?kai (K?b? Daishi).

Ryuichi Abe writes,

[W]hat makes the relationship between Saich? and K?kai decisive in Japanese Buddhist history is not so much their cooperation as the manner in which it came to an end. Their alliance began to deteriorate when Saich?, after receiving abhiseka from K?kai, hurried back to Mount Hiei, where the work of laying the foundation of the new Tendai school awaited him. Saich? continued to study and copy Mikky? texts borrowed from K?kai, but despite K?kai's repeated requests he did not return to Takaosan-ji to resume his studies. Their rapport finally terminated when K?kai harshly condemned Saich?'s approach to Mikky? as a transgression of the esoteric precept of samaya [the promise to keep the oral/esoteric teachings private], and Saich? retorted by denouncing K?kai's manner of instruction[7]

Thus it was Mikky? that brought Saich? and K?kai together; it was also Mikky? that drove them apart. The break between Saich? and K?kai left a long-lasting legacy in the Tendai and Shingon schools, whose complex relationship, constantly oscillating between affiliation and rivalry, shaped the contours of Buddhist history in the Heian period.[7]

During the last five or six years of his life, Saicho strove to secure the place of Tendai within Japanese Buddhism, and in the process composed almost all of his major works.[11]

In 816, Saich? added a new introduction to the work. This introduction chides Sanron, Hoss?, and Kegon--the leading schools of Nara Buddhism--for ignoring the influence of T'ien-t'ai on the works of their Chinese patriarchs, but its criticism of Shingon stands out: "The esoteric Shingon Buddhist, the newcomer, went so far as to deny the validity of transmission through writing (hitsuju Ù4)" (DZ 3, p. 344). In this comment Saich? denounced K?kai and Shingon for their approach to Buddhism and religious study."[7]

Saich?'s late life criticisms were ignored by his own leading disciples, and the Tendai would continue to teach Mikky? and Shikang? (?amatha-vipa?yan?). Saich?'s public condemnation of K?kai would later form the seeds for some of the criticisms leveled by the founder of the Nichiren Sect, Nichiren, who would cite that work in his own debates.[12]

Saich? was also an author. He wrote a number of texts, the main ones include:

  • Sh?gon Jikky? (?) (817)
  • Sange Gakush? Shiki () (818-819)
  • Shugo Kokkai Sh? () (818)
  • Kenkairon () (820)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Tendai Homepage: Dengyo Daishi's Life and Teachings". Retrieved 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Groner, Paul (2000). Saicho: The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 17-37. ISBN 0824823710.
  3. ^ Buswell, Robert Jr; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2013). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 737. ISBN 9780691157863.
  4. ^ "The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: Gyohyo".
  5. ^ "The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: Tao-Hsien". Retrieved 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Groner, Paul (2000). Saicho : The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 38-64. ISBN 0824823710.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Abe Ry?ichi: Saich? and K?kai: A conflict of interpretations. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies Vol: 22/1-2, pp. 103-137, 1995. PDF
  8. ^ Abe, Ryuichi (1999). The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. Columbia University Press. pp. 40-44, 50-52. ISBN 0-231-11286-6.
  9. ^ "The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: Saicho". Retrieved 2012.
  10. ^ Groner, Paul (1989). "The Lotus Sutra and Saicho's Interpretation of the Realization of Buddhahood with This Very Body". In Tanabe, George J.; Tanabe, Willa Jane (ed.). The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1198-4. pp. 61-62
  11. ^ a b c Groner, Paul. "Short History of Dengyo Daishi" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-05-03.
  12. ^ Gosho |

Further reading

  • Pruden, Leo; Rhodes, Robert; trans. (1994). The Essentials of the Eight Traditions and The Candle of the Latter Dharma, Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. ISBN 0-9625618-7-8

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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