Buddhism is the teaching of Gautama Buddha. He was born about 2500 years ago in India, where also Buddhism is originated. From India it spread across the Asian continent towards the East, and via China and Korea, it also reached Japan in the 6th century. At that time already 1000 years had passed since Gautama Buddha died. Japan was already home to Shintoism, its original native religion. Buddhism came here from overseas as a new religion and adapted to Japan`s native Shintoism. In Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism coexisted peacefully and in a logical symbiosis with each other. This combination lead to a good education of the Japanese heart and mind, by creating many aspects of Japanese philosophy and culture until the present. This symbiotic culture makes Japan a very interesting country.
What kind of teaching is Buddhism? To mention some of its basic ideas:
1) all things never stop changing.
2) all things exist through limitless cooperative factors of many aspects (this means, for example, that “I” or “my ego” has no absolute existence only by itself, but originates by depending on many cooperating factors).
3) this is why all phenomena are born and existing by limitless relationships, change, vanish and are born again.
Since we human beings usually do not see and understand these ideas, we live our lives concentrating on our desires. This causes many worries and sufferings to us. If we really understand the ideas mentioned above, then realize and put this wisdom into practice in our daily lives, sufferings and worries will disappear and we can live a good life. Gautama Buddha spent many thoughts on the question how human beings should live, and finally recognized these truths to find his way to enlightenment.
What is the Jôdo Shû (“Pure Land School”)?
Within the Buddhist community (Sangha), there are several different Buddhist confessions or schools which were founded shortly after Gautama Buddha passed away. There are also some schools that were founded in Japan. The reason for this is that, like so many other natural phenomena, the perception and understanding of Gautama Buddha`s teaching adapted to the changing ages and societies. Since Gautama Buddha has never nominated any successor to lead his community, after his death Buddhism in India split into several “schools” (2nd Century to 1st Century BC), which belonged to the same tradition but had differences in interpreting the monastic rules. After that, in the 1st Century Mayahana-Buddhism, the so-called “Great Vehicle”, formed. The Jôdo Shû is one of the schools of Mahayana-Buddhism. The roots of Pure Land Buddhism are in India, from where it was brought to China and became a widespread form of worship, until it reached the peak of its development in Japan, where it was established as an independent school, the Jôdo Shû.
The principal teaching of the Jôdo Shû is praying to Amida Buddha while calling his name by repeating “Namo Amitā Buddha” (Japanese pronounciation: “Namu Amida Butsu”). Amitā Buddha is a Buddha of which we know by the teaching of Gautama Buddha. In the Buddhist countries of Asia, Amitā Buddha is also the Buddha of compassion, with the largest number of believers.
First of all, “Amitā” in Sanskrit consists of the syllable “A-“ which means “non“ as a negation. The second part “mitā” means “measuring”. So Amitā is “something you cannot measure” or simply “unmeasurable”.
Then, “namo” means “to take refuge to”, “to adore”, “to respect”. It is a flection of the Indian word “namas” in the greeting “namas＋te”.
Finally, “Buddha” is “the one who awakened to truth”.
So, “Namo Amitā Buddha” can be translated as “I take refuge to Buddha who cannot be measured by human wisdom”. It is a powerful formula which we use when we are happy, sad or have an unrest of heart, or in any situation where we want to express our gratitude, ask for salvation or purify our heart. Furthermore, Amitā Buddha has taken an oath to bring you to his country of peace and beatitude when your life comes to an end.
Hônen Shônin (1133-1212) who was the founder of our Jôdo Shû, strongly believed that this simple sentence “Namo Amitā Buddha” contains and expresses the whole Buddhist teaching in one expression.
Today, the Jôdo Shû has branches across the world in Hawaii, North America, Brazil, Australia and Europe (France).
Let us give a short introduction of the Jôdo Shû European Buddhism Center which is located in France. Our local community meets once per month in Paris at our “Buddhist Gathering”, where we study the teachings and history of Buddhism, pray together to Amitā Buddha and call his name by reciting “Namo Amitā Buddha”. Moreover, we celebrate the annual ceremonies of Japanese Buddhism like “Gautama Buddha`s Birthday”, the commemoration of our ancestors, the O-Bon ceremony of gratitude to our ancestors, and other ceremonies. Other activities consist of cultural exchange or convivial evenings.
New participants are welcome. You can contact us per e-mail at konen(a)jodoshu.eu .