Dharma (Sanskrit) or dhamma (Pali) is a word Buddhists use often. It refers to the second gem of the Three Jewels of Buddhism–Buddha, dharma, sangha. The word often is defined as “the teachings of the Buddha,” but dharma is really more than just a label for Buddhist doctrines, as we shall see below.
The word dharma comes from the ancient religions of India and is found in Hindu and Jain teachings, as well as Buddhist.
Its original meaning is something like “natural law.” Its root word, dham, means “to uphold” or “to support.” In this broad sense common to many religious traditions, dharma is that which upholds the natural order of the universe. This meaning is part of the Buddhist understanding, also.
The Word Buddha Dharma is the natural law of how things work universally as they are true to reality.
Mahayana Buddhism generally uses the word dharma to refer to both the teachings of the Buddha and the realization of enlightenment. More often than not, use of the word incorporates both meanings at once.
To speak of someone’s understanding of dharma is not to comment on how well that person can recite Buddhist doctrines, but on his state of realization.
When the Buddha told Ananda that the entirety of the practice lies in having an admirable friend, he wasn’t saying something warm and reassuring about the compassion of others. He was pointing out three uncomfortable truths — about delusion and trust — that call for clear powers of judgment.
The first truth is that you can’t really trust yourself to see through your delusion on your own. When you’re deluded, you don’t know you’re deluded. You need some trustworthy outside help to point it out to you. This is why, when the Buddha advised the Kalamas to know for themselves, one of the things he told them to know for themselves was how wise people would judge their behavior. When he advised his son, Rahula, to examine his own actions as he would his face in a mirror, he said that if Rahula saw that his actions had caused any harm, he should talk it over with a knowledgeable friend on the path. That way he could learn how to be open with others — and himself — about his mistakes, and at the same time tap into the knowledge that his friend had gained. He wouldn’t have to keep reinventing the dharma wheel on his own.
So if you really want to become skillful in your thoughts, words, and deeds, you need a trustworthy friend or teacher to point out your blind spots. And because those spots are blindest around your unskillful habits, the primary duty of a trustworthy friend is to point out your faults — for only when you see your faults can you correct them; only when you correct them are you benefiting from your friend’s compassion in pointing them out.
Buddha warned of people who would teach false Dharma’s. People who would slander the teachings. Like teaching of an Amida God or Actual Pure Land Heaven. The Buddha never spoke of Reincarnation either.
One of the 12 Metaphysical questions he would not answer. Like is there a God? This There an After life? What Happens when I die? Shinran Shonin even rebuked Taoism for Magical practices and seemable similarity to Mahayana ideals.
After Honen’s death, disputes over the proper doctrines and practices of Jodo Shu broke out among his followers, leading to several divergent factions. One faction was the Chinzei, headed by Honen’s disciple, Shokobo Bencho (1162-1238), also called Shoko. Shoko also stressed many recitations of the Nembutsu but believed the Nembutsu did not have to be one’s only practice. Shokobo is considered to be the Second Patriarch of Jodo Shu.
Another disciple, Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), was a monk who broke his vows of celibacy to marry. Shinran stressed faith in Amitabha over the number of times the Nembutsu must be recited.
He also came to believe that devotion to Amitabha replaced any need for monasticism. He founded Jodo Shinshu (True School of the Pure Land), which abolished monasteries and authorized married priests. Shodo Shinshu is also sometimes called Shin Buddhism.
Today, Pure Land–including Jodo Shinshu, Jodo Shu, and some smaller sects–is the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan, exceeding even Zen.