How is Buddhism structured? All I really know if you have lay people, priests, monks, and in some places masters or grand masters (I don't know if these are the same), and there are various different variants of the religion, each with their own clergy etc..

So, by analogy, Britain has the arch bishop of Canterbury, and he's the principle "head of the Church" of England. What equivalent formal positions exist in Japanese Buddhism?

Google wasn't much help! All I found out was that e.g. Soto zen has two principle temples, Eihei-ji and Sōji-ji. Do they have heads? Soto's - democratic - head is the "Shūmusōchō"; where can I read about this position?

Are the other subsets of Buddhism structured similarly?

  • The word 'Buddhism' encompasses an extremely wide and varied set of disciplines. As such, their structures also differ - some not even having a structure, like in some Zen traditions. I wonder if your question is too broad?
    – user17652
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 8:57
  • yeah i was wondering that, but perhaps not @Max
    – user23322
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 8:58
  • 1
    It is broad, but could be answered shallowly (i.e. without much detail), or in part.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 11:24
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    i narrowed focus down to one nation @ChrisW
    – user23322
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 11:56
  • Good question +1.
    – user23951
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 15:49

2 Answers 2


My Zen teacher was Tanouye Rotaishi of Chozen-ji. In Japanese Buddhism, lineage is paramount. Tanouye Rotaishi's lineage teacher was Omori Sogen Rotaishi. That lineage continues back to China and ultimately via Ananda to the Buddha. Wikipedia explains the lineage principles of Dharma transmission that guide Japanese Buddhism. As you can see, lineage defines formal relationships. Major lineages of Zen include Soto and Rinzai. Informally, as a Rinzai Zen student, I would feel welcome and comfortable in any Zen lineage center. Formally, one relies on the guidance of one's own lineage teacher.

The formal system of lineages is common to Japanese Buddhism as explained in Wikipedia: Buddhism in Japan. Over years the traditions of each lineage have evolved in different ways. The differences are simply accepted and respected as they are: they are independent and different formal ways to teach Buddhism. The hierarchy of the Church of England is quite different.

  • how does this relate to temples, the laity, ordination, etc,? i didn't bring up catholicism haha
    – user23322
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 14:09
  • People often mistake High Church Anglicanism for Catholicism. It's often even called "Anglo-Catholicism." Because you said "Archbishop," OyaMist assumed you meant Catholic. That word is much more common in Catholicism than Protestantism. All in all, other than that tiny inconsequential mistake, it's a good response.
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 14:41
  • Maybe you don't know that "ji" means "temple" in Japanese. The answer mentioned a temple, and it also mentioned lineage trees, something that was very important in establishing legitimacy in Medieval Japan.
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 14:43
  • Apologies. I had forgotten that the Church of England is not Catholic (and I went to British schools). Updated answer.
    – OyaMist
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 15:36
  • @Caoimhghin it's fine. i tend to not understand it when people answer with stuff i already know, that's all.
    – user23322
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 17:12

By qualification

Discriminator, Supernatural Knoledge Attainer, General Noble One, whole Tipitaka Memorizer, Whole Sutta Memorizer, Nikaya Memorizer, Sutta Memorizer, Vinaya Memorizer

See VN Commentary https://5000y.men/?rm.r.63.55

and Path of Purification https://5000y.men/?rm.r.150.94.visuddhimagga

By ordaining

Later ordained monk must prostrate oneself to the earlier ordained monk if the earlier monk is good in virtue, even the later monk has higher qualification.

See VN https://suttacentral.net/pli-tv-kd16/en/horner-brahmali?reference=none&highlight=false#Kd.16.6

  • i am interested not in historical answers but in the contemporary / modern world, so stuff like "the archbishop of canterbury". i imagine the info exists in e.g. japanese language wikipedia
    – user23322
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 11:55
  • not asking about spiritual attainments, but formal positions. you seem to have listed obscure spiritual possessions we can label ourselves as enjoying. that's not really what i had in mind
    – user23322
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 12:01
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    It's depending on each country. However, we still use same as what I answered above in strictly theravada nowaday.
    – Bonn
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 12:44
  • ok well i kinda believe you, so i apologise for the hasty vote if necessary
    – user23322
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 13:45
  • @Bonn. I think your answer is great so I upvoted it +1.
    – user23951
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 14:06

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