The schools of Zen that currently exist in Japan are the Soutou (曹洞), Rinzai (臨済), and Oubaku (黄檗). Of these, Soutou is the largest and oubaku the smallest. Rinzai is itself divided into several subschools based on temple affiliation, including Myoshin-ji, Nanzen-ji, Tenryu-ji, Daitoku-ji, and Tofuku-ji.
In the year 1410 a Zen Buddhist monk from Nanzen-ji, a large temple complex in the Japanese capital of Kyoto, wrote out a landscape poem and had a painting done of the scene described by the poem. Then, following the prevailing custom of his day, he gathered responses to the images by asking prominent fellow monks and government officials to inscribe it, thereby creating a shigajiku poem and painting scroll. Such scrolls emerged as a preeminent form of elite Japanese culture in the last two decades of the fourteenth century, a golden age in the phenomenon now known as Japanese Zen culture.
Zen was not introduced as a separate school until the 12th century, when Myouan Eisai traveled to China and returned to establish a Linji lineage, which is known in Japan as Rinzai. Decades later, Nanpo Shoumyou (南浦紹明) (1235–1308) also studied Linji teachings in China before founding the Japanese Otokan lineage, the most influential branch of Rinzai. In 1215, Dougen, a younger contemporary of Eisai's, journeyed to China himself, where he became a disciple of the Caodong master Tiantong Rujing. After his return, Dougen established the Soutou school, the Japanese branch of Caodong. The oubaku lineage was introduced in the 17th century by Ingen, a Chinese monk. Ingen had been a member of the Linji school, the Chinese equivalent of Rinzai, which had developed separately from the Japanese branch for hundreds of years. Thus, when Ingen journeyed to Japan following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchus, his teachings were seen as a separate school. The oubaku school was named for Mount oubaku (黄檗山), which had been Ingen's home in China.
Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century and is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Zen to China.
Little contemporary biographical information on Bodhidharma is extant, and subsequent accounts became layered with legend, but most accounts agree that he was from the southern region of India, born as a prince to a royal family. Bodhidharma left his kingdom after becoming a Buddhist monk and traveled through Southeast Asia into Southern China and subsequently relocated northwards. The accounts differ on the date of his arrival, with one early account claiming that he arrived during the Liú Sòng Dynasty (420–479) and later accounts dating his arrival to the Liáng Dynasty (502–557). Bodhidharma was primarily active in the lands of the Northern Wèi Dynasty (386–534). Modern scholarship dates him to about the early 5th century.
Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian. He is described as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" 藍眼睛的野人 in Chinese texts.
The nut-like gametophytes inside the seeds are particularly esteemed in Asia, and are a traditional Chinese food. Ginkgo nuts are used in congee, and are often served at special occasions such as weddings and the Chinese New Year (as part of the vegetarian dish called Buddha's delight). In Chinese culture, they are believed to have health benefits; some also consider them to have aphrodisiac qualities. Japanese cooks add Ginkgo seeds to dishes such as chawanmushi, and cooked seeds are often eaten along with other dishes.
When eaten by children in large quantities (over 5 seeds a day) or over a long period, the raw gametophyte (meat) of the seed can cause poisoning by MPN (4-methoxypyridoxine). Studies have demonstrated that convulsions caused by MPN can be prevented or terminated with pyridoxine.
Some people are sensitive to the chemicals in the sarcotesta, the outer fleshy coating. These people should handle the seeds with care when preparing the seeds for consumption, wearing disposable gloves. The symptoms are dermatitis or blisters similar to that caused by contact with poison ivy. However, seeds with the fleshy coating removed are perfectly safe to handle.
Shomyo refers to the calling of God's name by the Brahman monks of India, the expression of prayer to God, and the versification and voicing of God's teachings (sutra); in other words, the act of chanting. From India, shomyo was transmitted to China, and along with Buddhism, from China to Japan, where it was adopted as part of esoteric Buddhism. The act of chanting shomyo was introduced as a method of salvation, an ascetic practice to be performed by believers themselves.
In the Tendai sect of Buddhism, during the late Heian Period, Ryonin (1072-1132) standardized and compiled the shomyo texts that had been introduced from China sometime in the middle of the 9th century, and built the original shomyo seminary at Raigoin, a temple in the Ohara region of Kyoto. From this time on, Tendai shomyo was called, Tendai Ohara Shomyo. To the south of Sanzenin, a temple in the heart of Ohara, runs the Ryo River, and to the north of it runs the Ritsu River. The Ryo flows wide in a gentle, curving motion, while the Ritsu's current is made up of a group of bouncing billows. By using these characteristics as a metaphor, shomyo was broken down into two styles: ryokyoku and rikkyoku. Simply put, ryokyoku shomyo might be described as foreboding and difficult to understand, as compared to rikkyoku shomyo, which is relatively easy-to-understand and easy-to-remember. Many of the ryokyoku texts are written in Bongo (Sanskrit transliterated into Japanese), and of those that are written in Kango (Chinese characters), most contain only one short extract from the original sutra. Rikkyoku, on the other hand, is made up of a collection of Kango verses. By repeating these phrases and adding a melody, the sutra began to sound like coherent musical compositions. This coherence gave rise to a form, and the flow of the melody created a tempo. The rikkyoku style is believed to have been the basis for many of the distinguishing features of Japanese music, and was later connected to the creation of Japanese traditional music. Which is to say, rikkyoku is musical and songlike whereas, in ryokyoku, chanting strikes the listener as being a stronger element. When structured, as in rikkyoku or music in general, singing becomes a method of communication between human beings. It is a method similar to speaking, which is structured by grammar. However, chanting is the act of linking oneself, as a human being, to God using the spiritual power of the voice. This is, at least, the ideal on which shomyo as it is found in esoteric Buddhism is based.
Amitabha is a celestial buddha described in the scriptures of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. Amitabha is the principal buddha in the Pure Land sect, a branch of Buddhism practiced mainly in East Asia, while in Vajrayana Amitabha is known for his longevity attribute and the aggregate of distinguishing and the deep awareness of individualities. According to these scriptures, Amitabha possesses infinite merits resulting from good deeds over countless past lives as a bodhisattva named Dharmakara. "Amitabha" is translatable as "Infinite Light," hence Amitabha is often called "The Buddha of Infinite Light."
According to the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life (Mahayana Amitayus Sutra) Amitabha was, in very ancient times and possibly in another system of worlds, a monk named Dharmakara. In some versions of the sutra, Dharmakara is described as a former king who, having come into contact with the Buddhist teachings through the buddha Lokesvararaja, renounced his throne. He then resolved to become a buddha and so to come into possession of a buddhaksetra ("buddha-field", a realm existing in the primordial universe outside of ordinary space time, produced by a buddha's merit) possessed of many perfections. These resolutions were expressed in his forty-eight vows, which set out the type of buddha-field Dharmakara aspired to create, the conditions under which beings might be born into that world, and what kind of beings they would be when reborn there.
In the versions of the sutra widely known in China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan, Dharmakara's eighteenth vow was that any being in any universe desiring to be born into Amitabha's Pure Land and calling upon his name even as few as ten times will be guaranteed rebirth there. His nineteenth vow promises that he, together with his bodhisattvas and other blessed Buddhists, will appear before those who call upon him at the moment of death. This openness and acceptance of all kinds of people has made the Pure Land belief one of the major influences in Mahayana Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism seems to have first become popular in northwest India/Pakistan and Afghanistan, from where it spread to Central Asia and China
The sutra goes on to explain that Amitabha, after accumulating great merit over countless lives, finally achieved buddhahood and is still alive in his land of Sukhavati, whose many virtues and joys are described.
The basic doctrines concerning Amitabha and his vows are found in three canonical Mahayana texts:
Through his efforts, Amitabha created the "Pure Land" called Sukhavati (Sanskrit: "possessing happiness"). Sukhavati is situated in the uttermost west, beyond the bounds of our own world. By the power of his vows, Amitabha has made it possible for all who call upon him to be reborn into this land, there to undergo instruction by him in the dharma and ultimately become bodhisattvas and buddhas in their turn (the ultimate goal of Mahayana Buddhism). From there, these same bodhisattvas and buddhas return to our world to help yet more people.
Geta are a form of traditional Japanese footwear that resemble both clogs and flip-flops. They are a kind of sandal with an elevated wooden base held onto the foot with a fabric thong to keep the foot well above the ground. They are worn with traditional Japanese clothing such as kimono or yukata, but also with Western clothing during the summer months in Japan. Sometimes geta are worn in rain or snow to keep the feet dry, due to their extra height and impermeability compared to other shoes such as zouri.
There are several different styles of geta. The most familiar style in the West consists of an unfinished wooden board called a "dai" (stand) that the foot is set upon, with a cloth "hanao" (thong) that passes between the big toe and second toe. As geta are usually worn only with yukata or other informal Japanese clothes or Western clothes, there is no need to wear socks. Ordinary people wear at least slightly more formal zouri when wearing special toe socks called tabi. Apprentice geisha, also called "maiko", wear their special geta with tabi to accommodate the hanao.
The two supporting pieces below the base board, called "ha" (teeth), are also made of wood, usually very light-weight kiri (paulownia) and make a distinctive "clacking" sound while walking: karankoron. This is sometimes mentioned as one of the sounds that older Japanese miss most in modern life.
The dai may vary in shape: oval ("more feminine") to rectangular ("more masculine") and color (natural, lacquered, or stained). The ha may also vary in style; for example, tengu-geta have only a single centered "tooth". There are also less common geta with three teeth. Merchants used very high geta (two long teeth) to keep the feet well above the seafood scraps on the floor. The teeth are usually not separate, instead, the geta is carved from one block of wood. The tengu tooth is, however, strengthened by a special attachment. The teeth of any geta may have harder wood drilled into the bottom to avoid splitting, and the soles of the teeth may have rubber soles glued onto them.
The hanao can be wide and padded, or narrow and hard, and it can be made with many sorts of fabric. Printed cotton with traditional Japanese motifs is popular, but there are also geta with vinyl and leather hanao. Inside the hanao is a cord that is knotted in a special way to the three holes of the dai. In the wide hanao there is some padding as well. The hanao are replaceable. It sits between the two first toes because having the thong of rectangular geta anywhere but the middle would result in the inner back corners of the geta colliding when walking. Recently, as Western shoes have become more popular, more Western looking geta have been developed. They are more round in shape, may have an ergonomically shaped dai, a thick heel as in Western clogs, instead of separate teeth, and the thong at the side as in flip-flops. According to Japanese superstition, breaking the thong on one's geta is considered very unlucky.