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 History

Zhiyi and Tendai's Chinese roots:

Zhiyi was born in the declining years of China's Liang dynasty in 538 CE. The sack of the city of Chiangliang left Zhiyi and his brother Chen orphaned and alone. When Zhiyi attempted to join the monk-hood his brother initially attempted to dissuade him. Zhiyi replied to his brother that even in Chiangling "I had no desire to remain in the world, and have even less now, having experienced first hand the impermanence of all worldy things".
In 555, at the tender age of seventeen, Zhiyi was placed under the tutelage of a monk named Fa Xu at the Guo-yuan temple, Hubei. A few years later, Zhiyi headed north to further his knowledge of the Buddha Dharma (Buddhist teachings) and made a retreat to Mount DaXian where he primarily studied what would later be referred to as the Fa Hua San Bu Jing (Law Flower, three part sutra/classic). It is at this time that Zhiyi became convinced of the supreme nature of the Lotus Sutra and decided to leave the monks at DaXian.
In 560 Zhiyi arrived at Mount DaSu. Zhiyi placed himself under the renowned teacher Hui-Ssu who taught him his own method of realizing the spirit of the Lotus Sutra. It is said that Zhiyi's "body and mind were emptied and he entered, quiscent, into contemplation...his understanding of the Lotus was like a high light shining on a dark valley; his attainment to the nature of the dharmas resembled a long wind coursing through a great empty space".
Zhiyi's next step was the Wu Guan temple in Chinling. All that we can say with certainty about this period is that he gave many lectures on the Lotus and other scriptures here.
In 575 according to sources Zhiyi retreated to Mount TianTai in Zhejiang although local authorities forced him to journey to Chang'an in 585. During this ten year period on Mount TianTai Zhiyi is said to have formulated many of the central teachings of his sect and it is for this reason that the sect acquired the name of TianTai (Tendai is simply the Japanese reading of the characters TianTai) from the mountain on which he so loved and lectured. Zhiyi returned to Mount TianTai in 595. He passed into nirvana during the eleventh month of 597. Throughout his turbulent existence, Zhiyi maintained a relatively small band of close disciples, one of whom, GuanTing, recorded many of his lectures and teachings to which we owe much today.
Saicho becomes convinced that the TianTai and Lotus Sutra teachings were the final destination of the Dharma...
Saicho was born in the year 766, Omi (Shiga prefecture) Japan. At the age of thirteen he entered KokubunJi temple and become the personal disciple of Gyoho. he recieved 'novice ordination' a year later. It is at this point that he recieved the name Saicho and began studying, dedicatedly, the Buddha Dharma.
In 785, the then twenty year old Saicho received the Vinaya precepts and became a fully ordained monk at the famous Todaiji temple in Nara. As part of his ordination, Saicho was required to study the Vinaya or Ssu Fen Lu precepts for three months. During this period he became disillusioned with the teachings and worldliness of the 'Nara Sects' thus retiring to his home province on Mount Hiei. The Eizan Daishiden states his reasons as the product of being "moved by the transciency of life".
In the early stages of his mountain retreat Saicho wrote the Ganmon or vows treatise. Within this document Saicho made five vows which give us insight into the sincerity and dedication in which his decision to 'retreat' from Nara was made. These vows are as follows:
1) So long as I have not attaned the stage where my six faculties are pure, I will not venture out into the world.
2) So long as I have not attained the absolute, I will not concern myself with any other teachings except those of the Buddha.
3) So long as I have not kept the precepts purely, I will not participate in meetings or donations of the lay community.
4) So long as I have not attaned wisdom, I will not involve myself in worldy affairs unless it be to the benefit of others.
5) May any merit gained from my practice in the past, present and future be given not to me, but to every sentient being so that they may attain enlightenment.
During this time, an unidentified person or Bodhisattva was able to acquire on Saicho's behalf many of the main works of Zhiyi, the Chinese founder of TianTai which had been brought to Japan in 754. Saicho also carved the magnificent statue of Yakushi Nyorai now housed in the Konponchudo (Main hall of the Tendai sects headquarter temple of Enryakuji) at this time. Saicho became convinced that the Lotus Sutra formed the ultimate and final tachings of the Buddha, being the only sutra that taught without Expedient Means. Therefore, Saicho believed that the Chinese TianTai school and its founders had understood this fact more extensively than any other school and began astudying both the Sutra itself and the writings of Zhiyi extensively.
Saicho received Imperial permission to travel to China and arrived in Ming Zhou, China in 804. Intitially, he travelled to Mount Tiantai where he was tutored by the seventh patriarch of the TianTai sect Daosui and had his knowledge of TianTai doctrine furthered and confirmed. Saicho also recieved transmission in the 'Ox-head' lineage of the Chan or Zen school from Xiujan and esoteric teachings from Weixiang and Shunxiao. Saicho also received the Bodhisattva precepts or Fan wang precepts while in China.
On his return to Japan, Saicho began establishing the Japanese Tendai sect (Japanese TianTai) with Imperial support in the way of Emperor Kanmu. Although his teachings were based on orthodox TianTai teachings, Saicho utilised all of the traditions he had experienced during his stay in China. Thereby creating a Tendai school that includes not only the TianTai teachings but also, Zen and esoteric traditions as well as  introducing to Japanese Buddhism the Bodhisattva precepts.
Saicho spent the remaining years of his life, establishing, defending and proselytizing his Tendai school of Buddhism. Through extensive and victorious debating, Tendai became firmly established and supported. During this period, Saicho began petitioning the Imperial Court to allow his new school to have its own ordination platform and that they be ordained using only the Bodhisattva precepts.
Saicho's requests were eventually granted in 822 by the Imperial Court. Unfortunately, the grants came too late for Saicho who passed into nirvana seven days before at the age of 56. Saicho was granted the posthumous title Dengyo Daishi by which he is also known. Before passing into nirvana, Saicho left his disciples with these words:
"Do not be attached to my death, but propagate my will from generation to generation" 
(below is a picture of a standard Tendai Butsudan or home shrine. In this particular example is a statue of the Amida Buddha. Saicho or Dengyo Daishi sama is pictured on the left while Zhiyi or Tendai Daishi as he is posthumously called may be seen on the right).
Rev. Jikai Dehn