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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Doctrines and Theories
The Unity of Shintō, Confucianism and Bhuddism
The notion of shinjubutsu itchi held that Shintō, Confucianism and Buddhism are ultimately identical. Ideas of the one-ness of Shintō, Confucianism and Buddhism saw their greatest expansion during the medieval period and into the early modern period, and it is thought that there were two main intellectual strands out of which this particular idea was formed and through which it spread. The first is the Chinese idea of the unity of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism, which reached Japan through the Gozan Zen temple system of the late Kamakura and Muromachi periods. At that time, the idea of the unity of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism (jubutsudō itchi) was adopted mainly by the intellectual class and the view that perceived the different teachings as having developed from the same source came into being. The second strand out of which shinjubutsu itchi thought was formed, was a development in Shintō theories that began in the period of cloistered emperors and the Kamakura period. This strand of thought rearranged the relationship between kami, buddhas and Chinese thought (Confucianism and Daoism). The Japanese idea of the unity of the three teachings formed out of a combination of these two strands, so it is necessary to consider both of them.

Unity of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism Jubutsudō itchi
We can find the origin of the idea of jubutsudō itchi in the dispute between Daoism and Buddhism during China's Six Dynasties period (the third to sixth centuries). From the Daoist side came the story of "Laozi's transformation," in which Laozi went to India and became Shakyamuni (or the teacher of Shakyamuni). The Buddhist side fabricated the sutra Qingjing faxing jing that portrayed key figures of Confucianism and Daoism as Buddhist figures, arguing that Confucius was in fact the bodhisattva Judō, Yanyuan (Confucius' foremost disciples) was the bodhisattva Kōjō, and that Laozi was Mahakashapa (a prominent disciple of Shakyamuni). However, it was not until after the Tang period that the of idea of the unity of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism was advocated in a definite way. The idea was especially discussed among Chan monks of the Song dynasty. Their speculations were motivated by anti-Buddhist Confucian theories. In opposition to these anti-Buddhist ideas, Chan monks propagated the unity of Confucianism and Buddhism in self-defense and for the goal of reconciliation. The forerunners in this effort were Zhiyuan (976-1022) and Mingjiao Qisong (1007-1072) of the Northern Song. Qisong argued for the unity of the three religions in his Fujiaopian. The notion of their unity was generally accepted in Chan Buddhism at that time. It was then brought to Japan during the Kamakura period by Chinese monks who stayed in Japan, such as Lanxi Daolong (Jp. Rankei Dōryū; 1213-1278) and Yishan Yining (Jp. Ichizan Ichinei; 1247-1317), and by those Japanese monks who traveled to Song China, like Enni Ben'en (1202-1280). There were also those, such as the founder of the Japanese Sōtō-Zen Dōgen, who opposed the idea of unity, but most readily accepted it. As early as 1351, the Fujiaopian was published in Japan. Thereafter, successive generations of Gozan monks showed great enthusiasm to argue in favor of the unity of the three teachings. Particular attention was given to the unity of Buddhism and Confucianism. Their propensity to argue the unity of the three teachings originated in an attemtp to give legitimation to the scholarship produced at the Gozan temples which was influenced by Confucianism (especially the Neo-Confucianism of the Song) and Daoist thought (in particular the philosophies of Laozi and Zhuangzi).

Unity of Shintō, Confucianism and Buddhism Shinjubutsu itchi
The second strand of shinjubutsu itchi thought was formed by ideas that emerged within medieval Shintō. The forms of Shintō dominant during the Kamakura period were ryōbu shintō and Ise shintō. Of these, ryōbu shintō viewed Japan as a land suited to the Buddhist law. It sought to further develop theories concerning the relationship between the Buddhist law and the local kami. This relationship had so far been explained based on the honji suijaku theory which held that the kami where local manifestations of Buddhist deities, but ryōbu shintō sought to develop a more organic theory. A representative assertion of ryōbu shintō is the effort to identify the two shrines of the Grand Shrines of Ise (Ise Jingū) with the two central mandalas (the womb world and the diamond world mandalas) of Japanese esoteric Buddhism. However, as an explanation that also takes Confucianism into account, there existed the konpon-giyō-kajitsu theory that likened the three teachings to different parts of the same plant. In this scheme, Shintō forms the root and stem (konpon), Confucianism represents the branches and leaves (giyō), and Buddhism is the flower or fruit (kajitsu) of the plant. The first to articulate this idea was the Bikisho, compiled in 1324, and the concept can be found in later texts such as Jihen's Kuji hongi gengi, Jindai hiketsu, and Kokua shōjin eden. Later, Yoshida Kanetomo (1435-1511) inherited this view and used it as the basis of his Shintō-centrism. On the other hand, although Ise Shintō frequently cited Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist texts in its doctrinal explanations, its view regarding the relationship between the three teachings was not clear. The first to clarify this issue was Kitabatake Chikafusa (1293-1354), a follower of Ise Shintō. In his Jinnō shōtōki he identifies the three divine regalia (sanshu no shinki) respectively with the values of honesty (shōjiki), compassion (jihi), and wisdom (chie) and also with the sun, moon, and stars, while comparing them to the three virtues of knowledge (chi), benevolence (nin), and courage () in his Tōka hiden. Based on these theories, he argued for the unity of the three teachings. Ichijō Kanera (1402-1481), who followed in Chikafusa's footsteps, had a more active interest in this issue. In his Nihon shoki sanso, he assigned the three regalia to the three virtues, as well as to the three origins of the Buddha nature (the three sources of Buddhahood). He saw the three teachings of Shintō, Confucianism, and Buddhism as being of one mind: one was three and the three were one. He further argued that the three regalia were also expressions of one mind. Kanera received the scholarly traditions of the Ichijō house, which drew on teachings of the Yoshida house, and was close to the Zen temples of the Gozan system. It can be said that it was Kanera who first fused Zen and Shintō theories concerning the unity of the three teachings and completed the medieval notion of the unity of Shintō, Confucianism and Buddhism. Kiyohara Nobutaka (1475-1550), who was born into the Yoshida house (see also Yoshida Shintō) and eventually became the heir of the Myōgyōdō house (a family who traditionally conducted studies of Confucian texts at the imperial court), also argued that Zen and Confucianism were identical and that Confucianism and Shintō were identical. The thought of his father Kanetomo, who propagated a Shintō-centric philosophy which stressed that the various teachings shared the same origins, is a prime example for Shintō theories of the unity of the three teachings.
       The notion of the unity of the three teachings was accepted by a wide range of social classes from the Warring States era (the late 15th to the very early 17th centuries) to the early modern period. It appeared often in vulgate literature (such as the Gion monogatari), and even the Heavenly Way thought (tendō shisō) — which held that human fate was determined by Heaven (ten), was mostly propagated by warrior households, but also spread among the common population — was premised on the unity of the three teachings. In addition, ideas of the unity of Shintō and Buddhism and the unity of Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintō were widely discussed as a response to anti-Buddhist theories centered around Confucian Shintō (Juka Shintō) in all Buddhist schools. These discussions had previously been mostly limited to the Shingon and Tendai schools. The notion of shinjubutsu itchi was at its most widespread during the early modern period when it was invoked by thinkers from various social classes, as can be seen in the teachings of Shingaku (Mind Learning) adherents like Ishida Baigan and Teshima Toan, the theory of the "combination of the three teachings to create the perfect medicine" (shinjubutsu-shōmi-ichiryūgansetsu) of Ninomiya Sontoku, and the idea that one should not place disproportionate weight on only one teaching advocated by Ōhara Yūgaku.

— Itō Satoshi
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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