After Shakyamuni Buddha’s passing (around 500-600 B.C.E.), Buddhism developed along two main divisions called Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada Buddhism that emphasizes monastic practices, spread southward from India to Sri-Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes the wide popular practice of Buddhism among laity spread northward to China, Korea and Japan.
Mahayana Buddhism spread to China through Central Asia along the Silk Road, between the first century B.C.E and first century C.E. In this process of propagation, while the philosophical core of Buddhism remained consistent, various adaptations to the cultures and customs, and various shifts in doctrinal emphasis took place in the new environments. In time, a distinctive form of Chinese Buddhism evolved, and various schools of Chinese Buddhism came to be established. One such major school was the T’ien-t’ai School.
From China, through Korea, Buddhism found its way to Japan, at about the middle of the sixth century. Despite her native faith in Shinto, government officials and the upper classes soon patronised this new religion for what they believed it could ensure — personal safety and well-being of the state. Among the Buddhist schools introduced to Japan, the people found a strong appeal in the belief in Amida Buddha or the Pure Land Sect.
The social and political climate, coupled with the frequent occurrences of natural disasters such as famines and epidemics, in Japan at the time created an environment of pessimism, fear, insecurity and desperation. The people found their source of hope in the promise of an after-world paradise of the Pure Land.
While Pure Land Sect took a stronghold among the populace, Zen Buddhism that teaches the way of meditation to reach enlightenment appealed to the warrior class of samurais, the class that rose to power with the decline of the imperial court.