Devotional Schools of Mahayana Buddhism

Prof. Evgueni A. Tortchinov
Departament of Oriental Philosophy and Cultural Studies
Faculty of Philosophy
St. Petersburg State University

This lecture looks at the two major schools in Mahayana Buddhism where mystical prayer plays a prominent role. These two schools are the Pure Land tradition in the Chinese Ch’an and Japanese Buddhism, and the tradition of Nichiren Zen in Japan. As a background, Mahayana Buddhism has teachings about a myriad of universes, buddhas and bodhisattvas, existing in the past, present and future, which become objects of veneration and worship.

The Nichiren school of Japanese Buddhism, created by a 13th century monk, parallels the approach of Pure Land but uses the title of a religious scripture, or sutra, as its object of veneration and recitation instead of the name of the Buddha. Again developed out of the need for a more simple practice, Nichiren replaced the old practices with the repetition of the title of the Lotus Sutra, or the Sutra of the True Dharma. This scripture is considered by the school to be the highest level of the Buddha’s teachings, containing the ideas of eternal buddhas and the doctrine of compassion. The text and even title of the sutra are held to be of supernatural qualities.