Jodo Shu is heavily influenced by the idea of Mappo or The Age of Dharma Decline. The concept of Mappo is that over time society becomes so corrupt, that people can no longer effectively put the teachings of the Buddha into practice anymore. In medieval thought, signs of Mappo included warfare, natural disasters and corruption of the Sangha. The Jodo Shu school was founded near the end of the Heian Period when Buddhism in Japan had become deeply involved in political schemes, and some in Japan saw monks flaunting wealth and power. At the end of the Heian Period warfare also broke out between competing samurai clans, while people suffered from earthquakes and series of famines.
Honen, through Jodo Shu teachings, sought to provide people a simple Buddhist practice in a degenerate age, that anybody could use toward Enlightenment: Devotion to Amida Buddha as expressed in the nembutsu. Through Amida's compassion, a being may be reborn in the Pure Land (Sukhavati in Sanskrit), where they can pursue Enlightenment more readily. Hōnen did not believe that other Buddhist practices were wrong, but rather, they were not practical on a wide-scale, especially during the difficult times of the late Heian Period.
Repetition of the nembutsu is a common feature of Jodo Shu, which derives from the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. However, in addition to this, practitioners are encouraged to engage in "auxiliary" practices, such as observing the Five Precepts, meditation, the chanting of sutras and other good conduct. There is no strict rule on this however, as the compassion of Amida is extended to all beings who recite the nembutsu, so how one observes auxiliary practices is left to the individual to decide.
The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life is the central Buddhist scripture for Jodo Shu Buddhism, and the foundation of the belief in the Primal Vow of Amida. In addition to the Larger Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra (The Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life) are important to the Jodo Shu school. The writings of Honen, contained mostly in the Senjaku-hongan nembutsu-shu (often abbreviated to 'Senchakushu'), are another source for Jodo Shu thought as is his last writing, the Ichimai-Kishoumon (一枚起請文, "One-Sheet Document"). Compared to other Buddhists at the time, Honen wrote relatively little, so most of what is known about Honen and his thought is attributed through sayings collected in the follow century.
Jodo Shu, like other Buddhist schools, maintains a professional, monastic priesthood, who help to lead the congregation, and also maintain the well-known temples such as Chion-in. The head of the Jodo Shu school is called the monshu in Japanese, and lives at the head temple in Kyoto, Japan, Chion-in Temple.