Tendai was founded by the Japanese monk, Saicho (767-822). During his Buddhist training in Japan, he familiarized himself with the Chinese T’ien-t’ai school’s works about the Lotus Sutra, and he went to China to further his studies. He returned to Japan in 804 with what should later become known as “The Four Pillars of Tendai”:
- T’ien-t’ai filosofi
- Zen meditation
- The Bodhisattva precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra
- Mikkyo; the esoterisc practices.
Tendai has only been present in the West for a relatively short period of time. In Japan, Tendai has a long and colorful history, closely connected to Japanese history. Prior to the 20th century, Tendai Buddhism could only be found in the West in the Asian immigrant’s community on the American West coast. In the beginning, Tendai in the West was mainly focused on Hawaii, where a temple was opened in 1918.
In 1986 Ganshin Rock was ordained in Japan, and returned to England. Here he started the Yakushi-do in Romsey, which is still active today.
Up through the 1970′ and -80′, more and more Americans learned about Tendai, and four Americans were trained and eventually ordained in Japan; Jikai Clark Choffy, Daishin David Hall, Joshin Jonathan Driscol, and Monshin Paul Naamon.
In 1995, Monshin and his wife, Shumon Tamami Naamon, was asked to formally bring Tendai to USA. Monshin is a student of Masao Shoshin Ichishima, one of the Japanese priests who has done most to help bring Tendai to the West. Monshin and Shumon opened Karuna Tendai Dharma Centre in Canaan, New York, which now serves as ordination platform for all Western students. The Dharma Centre, Tendai Buddhist Institute, is also the gathering point of the many Tendai sanghas in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Albany, Buffalo, New York, Germany and Denmark. In 2001 Karuna Tendai Dharma Centre was appointed Betsu-in; official sub-temple of the main temple in Japan, Enryaki-ji.