In Japan there are twelve principal Buddhist sects, all of them having different names and with different reasons for their inception. The chief priests of these met with Col. Olcott last year in friendly union for the purpose of seeing what could be done in the way of healing the differences which exist between the two great divisions of the church, and a short account of them it is thought will be of interest and value to the American theosophists.

I will name them in order and then tell of their different ideas in small space. They are:

The Ku-sha-shu, the Jo-jitsu-shu, the Ris-shu, the Hosso-shu, the San-ron-shu, the Ke-gon-shu, the Tendai-shu, the Shingon-shu, the Jo-do-shu, the Zen-shu, the Shin-shu, the Nichi-ren-shu. Many of these rely upon a certain book or books which give them their names.

The Ku-sha-shu is so called from the Book of the treasury of metaphysics which was composed by Vasubandhu or Se-shin. They have several other books, among which may be mentioned one which it is said was composed by five hundred Arhats or perfect men and is by name Dai-bi-ba-sha-ron. The various divisions of the inner man are given, and among them is a very peculiar property assigned to him and called Mu-hyo-shikin, which means “unapparent form”. Though it is said to be formless, yet it is called form, and it means that when an action is done something relating to it is formed in the actor. The analysis of the faculties and other parts of man is very detailed. They say that all things are brought about by Karma except two, which are Space and Nirvana. It is also said that those who wish to be enlightened fully may be so in three births if they are assiduous, but if not, then it will take them sixty kalpas.

The Jo-jitsu-shu has a book entitled “The perfection of the truth”. It has explanations of the Tripitaka as preached by Buddha, and is said to have been written by a Hindu who was a disciple of Kumarila Batta. The book is said to unite the best of many other schools of Buddhism. One peculiar view which deserves notice is that the past and future are unreal, but that as to things the present only is real. By meditation on the unreal character of things, even including the person himself, one obtains enlightenment upon the destruction of passion. They have many books, and of these there is one commentary of 23 volumes and another in two.

The Ris-shu was founded about 617 A.D., it is said, by Do-sen from China. Its basis may be understood from a quotation taken from one of the works of the founder. He says, “If a man does not practise the Dhyana and Samhadi, that is, meditation and contemplation, he cannot understand the truth”.

The Hosso-shu divides the whole mass of the doctrines of the Buddha into the following: “existence, emptiness, and the middle path,” and they say that the doctrines of the Mahayana school to the number of 80, 000 can be put in these divisions. The sect is said to study as to the real nature of things, and its divisions are so very numerous as not to be admitted here. According to them a man has to live for countless kalpas in the right way before he can become a Buddha.

The San-ron-shu is named from their having three shastras or books which cover the whole teachings of Buddha during his life. They think that, as the object of Buddha was to teach people according to their several and different abilities to take the truth, therefore any shastra that will teach them may be preached from. But of course they only use the Buddhist shastras.

Next comes the Ke-gon-shu, and it like some others takes its name from a book, the Ke-gon-gyo. They think their sutra was preached by Buddha soon after his enlightenment, and that by right thought on perfect enlightenment a man will reach it. Other rules are those common to all Buddhism. The name of the sect may be also Great-square-wide-Buddha-flower-adornment.

Ten-dai-shu, or the sect founded on the mount of TENDAI in China, preaches the doctrine of “completion and suddenness”. This of course sounds singular to ears not accustomed to these terms, but it means the completion of enlightenment and the immediacy of that state to all men. They say that if the disciple properly understands the secrets as to form and reason, he will become Buddha in this life even.

Shin-gon-shu sect also teaches that a man may reach to perfect enlightenment even in this life if he follows their doctrine, which is called the secret mantra. This latter is in respect to body, speech, and thought. A very notable method of this sect is this: if the doctrines are read lengthwise from top to bottom as in the writing of that country, then the apparent doctrine is known; but if the table of doctrines be read across the lines of writing, then the secret doctrine becomes known. This seems to be a very peculiar sort of cipher. This hidden doctrine is communicated to the disciples by the teacher. Lengthwise the gradual improvement of thought is explained, and crosswise the circle of the state of things is fully explained, and this is the secret doctrine. Without going into this it may be said to be a method of teaching very like that of Patanjali, in which the several sorts of thought are classified and directed to be got rid of, one by one, until the state of pure thought is reached. Thus the apparent doctrine drives away the dust of outer thought, and the secret one shows the inner truth. The final object is to know the source and bottom of one’s thoughts, and thus to be able to reach the state of Buddha. There are many secret and curious things in the doctrine of this sect which it would be impossible to set down here from their great length.


To continue about the sect of Shin-gon. It would not be possible to fully explain their doctrines in one book, much less in one article. These are merely notes. They speak of three secrets and call them those of “body, speech, and mind,” that is, the actions of those. The apparent form of all things is that of the five elements, and that is the secret of body. In the Hindu school of Patanjali we find an aphorism relating to the disappearance of the body, or, more properly, of the power to make another unable to see it, and this comes when one has found out the secret of form. 1 The Shin-gon-shu say that this secret is only understood by a Buddha.

Nichi-ren-shu was founded by Nichi-ren, who gave out for his followers the doctrines found in the Suddharma-pundarika. They believe that Buddha taught people gradually by expedients and different methods, although he had all the time but one means or vehicle. They have three great secret laws which have reference to the three great bodies of Buddha. and those are by name, Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. 2 The chief object of worship is the great Mandala of the ten worlds, and it represents the original Buddha of remote times. The wisdom, virtue, and knowledge of all men and sages of every region are the powers of this Buddha, who dwells in every place, is free from birth and death, and is the Buddha of permanence. Sakyamuni said he was this original Buddha and also that we ourselves are the same, and thus we are to meditate on this chief object of worship for our salvation. 3 A man should remember that his own body is that of the original Buddha, that his dwelling place is the Pure Land of constantly calm light, and his thought the Good law. The weak man may enter on the path by this teaching. 4

The Shin-shu calls itself the True Sect of the Pure Land. The object is to be born in the pure land of Amitabha, a Buddha who in the very remote time made a vow and prayer like this: ” If any of the living beings in the ten regions who have believed in me with true thoughts and desire to be born in my land and have even to ten times repeated the thought of my name should not be born there, then may I not obtain the perfect knowledge.” With this prayer in view he lived for many kalpas for the purpose of perfecting his merit, so that any one who made use of his name might be thereby eventually saved. It is held that men in general have not enough power of their own to enable them to reach over death, yet at the same time it is allowed that there are some such men out of whom at last come the Buddhas. The common man who repeats this name will at last be led to virtue, and from that to wisdom and finally perfection.

The Jo-do-shu is also a sect of the pure land, and I cannot perceive much difference between it and the other of the same view, as the differences which exist between them are small. They had a teacher who taught about the belief in Amitabha, and Ryu-ju said that “in the great sea of the law of Buddha faith is the only means to enter.”

Zen-shu is the sect of contemplation, and is thought to derive its name from the Sanscrit word Dhyana, or contemplation. They think that besides all the various and great doctrines there is as well another which may be called the secret doctrine, and that comes through one line of transmission and is not dependent on any one’s utterances. This must mean that the truth comes to one as the result of his own thought.

After all this it must be plain to anyone who may read this that there is in fact very little difference between any of the sects of which I have been permitted here to speak, and that their existence is due to the fact that Buddha did, as all know well, teach in many different ways, so that he might make an entry into the many different kinds of minds which men possess. For one man will have a mind that by nature is always in the state of contemplation, and another will not be able to do more than have great longing for the things of the spirit, and hence this latter sort of man would not be able to understand the abstruse parts of the doctrines of the great Lord. And so in the history of the life of Buddha we find that the time came when he made up his mind that he would tell the disciples that there was really only one way in which to look at the problems of life, although he had taught them in many another way for many years. Then some of the disciples who were not able to understand this rose, and, after saluting him, left the assembly. The learned Buddhist knows that it is karma which makes these differences, working together with the law of reincarnation, so that one man has only reached to a certain place in his spiritual learning and is not in any way able to understand those things that relate to a longer practise of right thought in other lives. Other men, however, have gone through all of this and are fitted to clearly grasp even the most abstruse doctrines of the Master. And yet, indeed, there is a great mystery here which will be apprehended by some, and that is that there is no man in any region who may not, if he will, grasp even the more difficult part of the law, but he has to have a faith which is perfect and live a life which is pure in all its parts.

The doctrine of the Pure-Land Sect is one that is meant to help all the common men, for it looks like a way of being freed from sin by the virtue of another being, yet it also is capable of another interpretation, and it is only one of the expedients of the great Lord to make men take advantage by an easy way of their own hidden natural powers. It is quite true that if any one will call on the name of this Buddha he will I e saved, for the act of so calling and aspiring has the effect of bringing to the surface the whole spiritual life and experience of the man from out of the dim and almost forgotten past. So even with this doctrine the man does in fact save himself, which is the true law of the Buddha and the one that underlies his whole teachings. As the years roll by and as the Kali yuga rushes further on, it will be found that the teachings of Buddha are great, wide, square, full of adornment, all comprehending, easy to under-stand, capable of taking us out of the ocean of rebirth in any of the ten different ways, and that in the course of time the Buddha will come again and will make perfect the imperfect renderings of his law which he alone is able to give to the world in a perfect state.

Let us remember the mystery of body, speech, and thought!

1. On page 705 of the 2nd vol. of the Secret Doctrine is this: “till our human form came into being, in which all things are comprised and which contains all forms,” and in the note to it: “this sentence contains a dual sense and mystery which if and when known confer tremendous powers upon the adept to change his visible form.” (Ed. [WQJ])

2. See the Voice of the Silence where these are explained. (Ed. [WQJ])

3. In the Bhagavad Gita the same is said in effect. (Ed. [WQJ])

4. This sect certainly preaches the doctrine of non-separateness. (Ed. [WQJ])