In 8th centurty, Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Nara to Kyōto, marking the beginning of the Heian era. Looking for a way to challenge the corrupt Office of Monastic Affairs in Nara, the Emperor organised a mission to China, requesting a young monk, Saichō, to recover a pure lineage of Buddhism. In China, Saichō received the T’ien T’ai lineage and the Bodhisattva Precepts from Tao-sui at Mount T’ien T’ai, the headquarters of T’ian T’ai Buddhism founded by Zhiyi in the 6th century. He also received the Ox-Head School of Ch’an from Hsiu-jan and initiation into the esoteric teachings from Shun-hsiao at a temple east of Chig-hu in Yuch-chou.
After his return to Japan, Saichō laid the foundation of Tendai Buddhism on Mount Hiei. The study curriculum at Mount Hiei encompasses the four types of teachings imported from China: the Perfect Teaching of the Lotus Sūtra, Esoteric Teachings, Zen Meditation, and Mahāyāna Precepts. Saichō adhered to the Ekayāna or One Vehicle doctrine according to which all are equal and anyone can attain spiritual awakening. He was authorised to educate and train monks in order to spread this worldview and hoped that the various schools of Buddhism in Japan would co-operate in order to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings.
Tendai was officially recognised by the Japanese Imperial Court on 26th January 806.
It was the deepest wish of the Venerable Founder to establish an exclusively Mahāyāna ordination platform for the first time in the history of Buddhism. In 822, only seven days after his death, Emperor Saga granted this request and up to this day, Tendai ordination is based solely on the Bodhisattva Vows of the Brahmajāla Sutra rather than the Vinaya.
The work of Saichō was continued by his successors, especially Ennin, Enchin and Ryōgen who further assimilated Esoteric Practice to Tendai. In the 10th century, Genshin, a disciple of Ryōgen, promoted devotion to Amida Buddha and the doctrine of original enlightenment.
The Head Temple of Tendai Buddhism in Japan is Hieizan Enryaku-ji.
Through our teachers, we belong to the Sanmon-ha lineage of Tendai. This line comes from Ennin and Ryōgen and is the branch that currently resides in Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei.