Manichaean Influences in the Shinshu

Excerpt from Arthur Lloyd's Shinran and His Work

Worldwide Conference for Historical Research
University for Historical and Cultural Research

There are good grounds for affirming that Zendo was acquainted with Manichaeanism and that he borrowed some parts of his system, at least, from that religion.

(i) Zendo is said to have investigated the teachings of the White Lotus Society, which had been founded by Eon (Hui-yin) two and a half centuries before his time, i. e. about A.D. 380, and therefore prior to Vasubandhu's time (A.D. 450). The White Lotus Society is spoken of by Buddhists in Japan as having been the first beginning of the formal and organized worship of Amida (See. e. g. Murakami): but Dèvéria in Journal Asiatique, Ser. ix. vol. x. p. 461, quotes from a Chinese work to the effect that it was a form of Manichaeism. It is to be noticed, however, that Eon is not reckoned by the Shinshuists as one of the patriarchs of their faith.

(ii) The same author shows that Manichaean Temples are mentioned as existing in Singanfu in the years 510 (?), 621, 631, 760, being known successively as Tenji, Taishinji, and, finally, as Dai-un Komyoji. Manichaeanism must therefore have been quite as prominently before Zendo's mind as Nestorianism, and the name of Komyoji seems almost conclusive proof of a Manichaean affiliation.

(iii) There are many points in Manichaeanism which are reproduced in Amidaism especially in. Zendo's activities; e. g. the dislike of marriage, the refusal to send for doctors (Cf. jisetsu torai), the vigorous abstinence from meat which Zendo preached; the belief that the devotee would cease from all further transmigrations, and go at death, straight to the paradise beyond, without needing to make supplication to Buddha. Also the belief that salvation has nothing to do with morals (akunin shoki), but only with faith.

On the other hand it must be observed:--

(a) That many of the above points are to be found in other sects of Japanese Buddhism. Besides the above, it may be observed that Nichiren (see Seigoroku. p. 64) mentions Mani by name as a great sage, that he speaks of those who invoke Mahes'vara (according to Dèvéria, a very Manichaean devotion) and classifies them as heretics equally with those who invoke Amida, though without identifying the two (see Seigoroku. pp. 97. 622); and finally that the prohibition of the seven pungent herbs (#), which is essentially Manichaean, is found is many sects. (See Bukkyo Kyomon Kaitoshu vol. iii. p. 239). There are also many sects in Japan which have adopted the dualistic Principle (#) of yo (#) and in (#) which is common both to Manichaeism and to its parent religion, Zoroastrianism.

And (b), whatever may be said of the other sects of Amidaism, it is clear that Shinshuism has discarded all or almost all the Manichaean elements mentioned above, and reformed itself in every instance in what may be termed a Christian direction. It allows marriage, it permits the eating of meat and of pungent herbs. It does not teach Dualism, unless it be that the distinction between Shinnyo and Mumyo (#) constitutes Dualism: it has scotched, though not killed, the akunin shoki theory, for which it has invented a new explanation, and no Shinshuist to day would hesitate about sending for a doctor if he were unwell. Honen (Genku) may have been a Manichaean. Shinran certainly was not. Between Honen and Shinran the lotus of Shinshuism, for some cause, known perhaps but not disclosed, pushed itself several feet higher up into the sunlight of Truth. Manichaean elements became less prominent and distinct, the resemblance to Christianity became more pronounced.

Shinran's name is concocted of syllables taken from the names of two of his illustrious predecessors, Genshin and Donran. It may be that he found in these two teachers the inspiration of those reforms which made his followers differ from those of his predecessor Honen. Future study may perhaps enable us to lay bare the real teachings of these two Sages of the Shinshu.

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