Tendai Buddhist Sangha of Australia
Affiliate of The Hawaii Tendai Institute's
Pan Pacific Sangha
Bringing the Lotus to Australia
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Tendai Doctrine

Throughout its long history, the Tendai school of Buddhism has developed many complex and challenging doctrines and teachings. This page does not wish to provide the basics of Buddhism in general, nor does it attempt to convey the enormous scope of the Tendai teachings. Rather, this page is designed, to shed some light on some of the basic ideas and concepts that make up the doctrinal foundations of the Tendai school today.
Lotus Sutra
The Lotus Sutra or The Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law forms the foundation from which Tendai philosophy emanates. The Lotus Sutra contains some of the highest and most profound teachings of the Buddha. At the heart of the Sutra are three essential truths which Tendai Buddhism raises as its banner. 1) All sentient beings can attain enlightenment and Buddhahood. 2) The Buddha is 'eternal'. The Buddha is the Universe, the Universe is the Buddha. That is to say that the Buddha has and will emanate in many different forms. It also contains on a very personal level, the realisation that 'Buddha' is a concept- when one thinks and acts compassionately, without attachment, that moment is Buddha!...and that capacity to manifest the Buddha's wisdom and compassion can never be destroyed. 3) The Ultimate form of Buddhist practise is the Bodhisattva Path. That is, the individual who seeks enlightenment for the sake and well-being of others...true compassion.
Ichi Nen San Zen (The Trischliocosm in a moment of consciousness)
This maxim, along with the concept of Ichi San; San Ichi constitute the central Tendai concept of interpenetration. Although this theory is extremely complex, it can in a very basic sense be defined as two things. 1) All things interpenetrate each other- Ichi means one and can be thought of as referring to the one Buddha Dharma or Ekayana (One-vehicle). Ichi Nen can be translated as one moment while San Zen; literally three thousand refers collectively to all the elements that make up our lives. Therefore, one moment or thought of a pure nature see's clearly through the myriad things to the universal non-duality. Zhiyi, when discussing the concept put it this way: "All Dharma's are but one mind. Therefore there is no differentiation in itself, for differentiation is the one mind. As the mind involves all functions, the one mind is differentiation. They are always the same and always different.The realm of Dharma's is naturally so..." 2) On a personal level and concerned with our practise, Truth is not attained by mere intellectual reason or understanding, but rather through direct experience with the Truth. That is to say that non-duality cannot be fathomed through simply studying and conceptually understanding the teachings. One must live the teachings.
Three Truths
Zhiyi's Threefold Truth Teaching is in essence an attempt to break down the unified reality in which we exist into clearly visible concepts. The first Truth is the "Truth of Emptiness". This truth states that although in most cases we, without contemplation, view the objects and people of our experience as having a substantial essense or 'soul' perhaps that makes them different and unique, this is in fact, a false perception of reality. All things including ourselves are the product of causes and conditions and therefore, rely on those causes and conditions in order to exist. In other words a 'substantial essence' cannot exist due to the fact that everything is interdependent and by extension dependent on other things in order to exist. When the right causes and conditions are present an object or person comes into existence. Likewise when such causes and conditions are no longer present, objects and people cease to exist. An example of this would be the realisation that the body which you call "I" or "mine" is merely the combination of another persons sperm and egg without which it would not exist and thus is not really "mine" or "I".
The second Truth is the "Truth of Conventional Existence". This truth tells us that the objects and people of our experience possess a temporary existence. That is to say that even though they do not possess a permanent and unchanging essence, they do indeed exist temporarily due to the confluence of particular causes and conditions. Based on the previous example, this would constitute the understanding that although "I" do not possess a permanent and unchanging essence, because of anothers sperm and egg, I do exist temporarily for a period of time.
The third Truth is often translated as the "Truth of the Middle". It is not only the simultaneous recognition of the emptiness and temporary existence of all things, but also the affirmation that they are not two separate concepts but one. This Truth is in essence the perfect integration of the other two.
In other words, although reality is described as being made up of these three concepts, it is in fact, only the truth of the middle, a single 'Threefold Truth' that expresses a single reality. Although at first these concepts may seem to be rather abstract and far removed from 'real life' they are in fact, the way in which Tendai views reality and therefore the way a Tendai practitioner relates to reality.  
Bodhisattva Ideal
The term Bodhisattva refers to one who has attained the lower stages of enlightenment and voluntarily chooses to 'put off' their own 'final' enlightenment in order to help others reach enlightenment also. Many may be familiar with Bodhisattva's such as Kannon (Avalokitesvara), Jizo (Ksitigharba) or Manjushri and know that they represent particular virtues important in cultivating the path. But, few consider this in light of their own practice. That is, do I sacrifice the things important to myself, with no expectation of reward, for the good of others? Do I manifest the compassion of Kannon?...these questions are an important part of practice and ultimately, it is the conduct of Bodhisattva's which we must attempt to emulate...however poorly we manage.  
Although this page does not cover the myriad doctrines of the Tendai school, we hope that it will, in some way, give others a glimpse  of the Buddha Dharma as taught by the Tendai sect. This page will be updated as it is beleived necessary so please, do check regularly.
Rev. Jikai Dehn