Lately, as I continue my read of Tendai Buddhism in the Japanese-language introduction うちのお寺は天台宗 (“My Temple is Tendai Buddhism”), I was introduced to a concept called sōgōbukkyō (総合仏教) which means “integrated Buddhism”. Elsewhere the book uses the term shishūyūgō (四宗融合) which means something like “Blending the Four Schools Together”.
The idea in Tendai Buddhism is to bring together the four major practices into a single school. These are:
- Meditation (禅)
- The Pure Land (浄土)
- Precepts (律)
- Esotericism (密教)
The Tendai approach is that all of these schools are not mutually exclusive, but rather part of a larger path. A senior teacher or ajari (阿闍梨) will need to have training in all four2, but for a regular follower any one of them can be a starting point and a life-long practice.
All of these are united under the theoretical teachings in the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra including “expedient means” and “one-vehicle buddhism” so there’s no conflict.
Further, in terms of sutras important to the Tendai tradition, it varies depending on which of the four traditions your talking about:
But also, as part of general Mahayana tradition, the Tendai school’s important sutras include the Flower Garland Sutra, the Sutra of Benevolent Kings, the Golden Light Sutra and of course the Lotus Sutra. Also, the Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way among others.
Anyhow, what’s interesting about the Tendai approach is that it is both broad and comprehensive. In my past experiences with certain Buddhist schools (not just one), I always felt pressure to “toe the line” and do things according to that particular school without mixing other things. Always the bugbear among some of the more orthodox people I met was blending other teachings and “causing confusion”. Because of my eclectic background, this always puts me in an awkward position and makes me only want to commit half-heartedly.
Whereas in Tendai, these approaches are given equal weight, and with a theoretical foundation (i.e. the Lotus Sutra) which I agree with anyway.
The more I’ve studied Buddhism over the years (why it’s become such an obsession I’ll never know), the more I’ve come to appreciate the whole thing.
Consider the Four Bodhisattva Vows:
However immeasurable the Buddha’s Teachings are, I earnestly aspire to comprehend them all.
However incomparable the Enlightened Mind is, I earnestly aspire to attain it by all means.
Mahayana Buddhism is big and messy sometimes, and suffers from constantly trying to one-up itself. However, Mahayana Buddhism also likes to think on a grand, cosmic scale, and thus meditation, the Pure Land, the Lotus Sutra, conduct and even esoteric Buddhism are all useful and important. None of these are the ineffable Dharma in and of itself, but each one is an expression of it.
Further, I also think people should have the freedom to choose and practice one or all of them without guilt or fear of orthodoxy. Granted, they need a well-trained teacher and some discipline at the outset, but each one of us comes into the world with a different background and different inclination so we naturally gravitate toward certain things. As long as the we’re all heading on the same long-term direction, that’s fine.
So, suffice to say I really appreciate the Tendai approach to integrated Buddhism.
1 This is one of things that makes Tendai differ from its parent Tiantai school, which focused exclusively on meditation and pure land practices. Monastic codes differed too, with the Chinese Tiantai following the traditional monastic model, and the Tendai school using the Bodhisattva Precepts instead.
2 Which makes sense if you think about it: a senior teacher needs adequate training and experience in order to teach others.