Shingon and Tendai Buddhism

Doctrines Both Shingon (Chinese: Chen-yen) and Tendai (Chinese: T'ien-T'ai) Buddhism have Chinese antecedents (see CHINESE BUDDHISM). Their basic doctrines were developed in China and imported directly into Japan. Both emphasise the possibility of 'attaining enlightenment in this very body' (soku-shin-jo-butsu) through esoteric (Sanskrit: Tantra, Vajrayana) techniques including visualisation meditation, chanting of mantras and ritual gestures. Tendai Buddhism also took the Lotus Sutra (Hokkekyo, Saddharma-Pundarika-sutra) as a central text and fostered a wide variety of practices including Zen meditation and Pure Land devotional practices. Both traditions emphasised the monastic life and sought to play a major role in state ritual.

History Shingon and Tendai Buddhism simultaneously gained influence in Japan during the Heian period (794-1160), when the imperial court flourished in the capital Kyoto, known as Heian 'Peace and Tranquillity').
Shingon was transmitted to Japan on his return from China by the monk Kukai (774-835), widely known in Japan by his posthumous name of Kobo Daishi. He is revered as a culture-hero who performed many extraordinary feats during his travels in Japan and instead of dying resides in samadhi (meditative trance), ready to return to the world if needed. The imperial family adhered to Shingon rites until 1868 and Shingon remains today one of the strongest and most self-confident established Buddhist sects in Japan. Shingon heavily influenced the development of the widespread ascetic mountain-religion of Shugendo.
Tendai, brought to Japan by Kukai's contemporary Saicho or Dengyo Daishi (767-822) established its headquarters at the temple of Enryakuji on a mountain near Kyoto, initially for solitude. Subsequently Tendai clerics became heavily involved in court and political life. On several occasions Tendai 'monk soldiers' from Mt. Hiei threatened the capital. In 1574 Enryakuji, by then a complex of around 3,000 buildings, was almost entirely destroyed by the army of Oda Nobunaga, the first unifier of Japan. Tendai-trained monks were responsible for all the 'new Buddhisms' (Pure Land, Nichiren and Zen) of the Kamakura period, and the sect retains a substantial presence in mainstream Japanese Buddhism today.

Symbols Tendai and Shingon both employ traditional forms of Indian-derived Buddhist symbolism in their art, architecture, priestly vestments, etc.. Tendai is an eclectic tradition incorporating numerous divinities and artistic motifs relating to Pure Lands and the Lotus Sutra. Shingon is renowned for the richness of its artistic heritage, based on mandala designs similar in form and colouring to those found in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, to which Shingon and to a lesser extent Tendai are historically related.

Adherents Tendai: approx. 9,300 temples and other meeting places, 15,300 clergy and 4,665,000 adherents.
Shingon: approx. 17,700 temples and other meeting places, 17,900 clergy and 11,200,000 adherents.
(Source: Hori (ed.) Japanese Religions 1972)

Main Centre
  Both Shingon and Tendai comprise numerous sects, each with its own head temple and network of sub-temples. However, the generally-acknowledged major headquarters of the two traditions are:
Shingon: Kongobuji, Mt. Koya, Wakayama, Japan
Tendai: Enryakuji, Mt. Hiei, Shiga, Japan