Memorial Portrait of Utagawa Hiroshige

Honorific Japanese Buddhist titles

Buddhism has been practiced in Japan since about the 6th century CE.

Japanese Buddhism created many new Buddhist schools, and some schools are original to Japan and some are derived from Chinese Buddhist schools.

The reform of Buddhism in Japan

There were a broad range of reform strategies and movements which aimed at positioning Buddhism as a useful partner to a modernizing Japan.

This included clerical reform to tighten discipline as well as reforms concerning doctrine and practice.

Some Buddhists sought to modernize Buddhist thought by combining it with Western science and philosophy.

The institutions & systems

Zen institutions for instance have an elaborate system of ranks and hierarchy, which determine one’s position in the institution. Within this system, novices train to become a Zen priest, or a trainer of new novices.

(老師) fore example is a title in Zen Buddhism with different usages depending on sect and country.

In Rinzai Zen, the term is reserved only for individuals who have received inka shōmei, meaning they have completed the entire kōan curriculum.

In Sōtō Zen and Sanbo Kyodan it is used more loosely.

This is especially the case in the United States and Europe, where almost any teacher who has received dharma transmission might be called rōshi, or even use it to refer to themselves, a practice unheard of in Japan.

Honorific Japanese Buddhist titles

This is a list of Honorific Japanese Buddhist titles commonly used among practitioners.

Ajari

(阿闍梨) is a Japanese term that is used in various schools of Buddhism in Japan, specifically Tendai and Shingon, in reference to a senior monk who teaches students; often abbreviated to jari. The term is a Japanese rendering of the Chinese transliteration for the Sanskrit “âcârya,” one who knows and teaches the rules.” In the Sōtō tradition, this title is used in reference to any monk that has completed five ango—a way of demonstrating respect and reverence for them.

Tenzo

is a title given to the chef at a Buddhist monastery. The word tenzo is Japanese for “seat of ceremony”, similar to the english term “master of ceremonies.”

Jisha

(侍者), along with the titles inji and sannō, are Japanese terms used in reference to the personal attendant of a monastery’s abbot or teacher in Zen Buddhism. In the Rinzai school, the term is usually either inji or sannō. According to the book 3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery, “While the jikijitsu is the stern father of the zendo, the jisha is the den mother, balancing the strictness that his counterpoint establishes. The jisha prepares for and greets all guests, tends to the needs of the students, takes care of the sick, and organizes the cleaning of the monastery.” According to author Victor Sōgen Hori, “In the Northern Sung period, a master of a large monastery had two attendants, but by the Yüan period the number of attendants had increased to five: an incense attendant, a secretary attendant, a guest attendant, a robe attendant, and a ‘hot water and medicine’ attendant who cooked for him.”

Kaisan

(開山) is a Japanese term used in reference to the founder of a school of Buddhism or the founder of a temple, literally meaning “mountain opener” or “to open a mountain.” Chan monasteries of China and Japan have traditionally been built in mountainous regions, with the name of whatever mountain it has been built upon then fixed upon the monastery as well as the founding abbot.

Monshu

The (門主), or keeper of the gate is a term sometimes used in Japanese Buddhism to denote the head of a monastery, as in the case of Jōdo-shū and Tendai Buddhism, but in the case of the Nishi Hongan-ji sub-sect of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism, it refers to the spiritual leader of the sect, and direct descendant of its founder Shinran.

Oshō

Oshō (和尚) is a Buddhist priest ; honorific title of preceptor or high priest. The same kanji are also pronounced kashō as an honorific title of preceptor or high priest in Tendai or Kegon Buddhism and wajō as an honorific title of preceptor or high priest in Shingon, Hossō, Ritsu, or Shin Buddhism.

Rōshi

Rōshi (老師) is a title in Zen Buddhism with different usages depending on sect and country. In Rinzai Zen, the term is reserved only for individuals who have received inka shōmei, meaning they have completed the entire kōan curriculum; this amounts to a total of fewer than 100 people at any given time. In Sōtō Zen and Sanbo Kyodan it is used more loosely. This is especially the case in the United States and Europe, where almost any teacher who has received dharma transmission might be called rōshi, or even use it to refer to themselves, a practice unheard of in Japan.

Sensei

, Seonsaeng,Tiên sinh or Xiansheng, corresponding to Chinese characters 先生, is an East Asian honorific term shared in Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese; it is literally translated as “person born before another” or “one who comes before”. In general usage, it is used, with proper form, after a person’s name and means “teacher”; the word is also used as a title to refer to or address other professionals or persons of authority, such as clergy, accountants, lawyers, physicians and politicians or to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill, e.g., accomplished novelists, musicians, artists and martial artists.

Ubasoku

Upāsaka (masculine) or Upāsikā (feminine) are from the Sanskrit and Pāli words for “attendant”. This is the title of followers of Buddhism who are not monks, nuns, or novice monastics in a Buddhist order, and who undertake certain vows. In modern times they have a connotation of dedicated piety that is best suggested by terms such as “lay devotee” or “devout lay follower”.

Unsui

, or kōun ryūsui (行雲流水) in full, is a term specific to Zen Buddhism which denotes a postulant awaiting acceptance into a monastery or a novice monk who has undertaken Zen training. Sometimes they will travel from monastery to monastery (angya) on a pilgrimage to find the appropriate Zen master with which to study.

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