- The Hon(ji)-(sui)jaku 'root essence and trace manifestation' doctrine was developed by Tendai and Nichiren Buddhist 'chroniclers' (kike) to explain the relationship between the eternal Buddha and the Indian Buddha Shakyamuni in Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra 'The Life-Span of the Tathagata'. Late ninth century Japanese texts began to assert that the native kami were trace manifestations (suijaku) or temporary manifestations (gongen) of the Indian Buddhas and bodhisattvas, thus assimilating them, albeit at a low level, to the Buddhist pantheon. By the eleventh century specific associations were made between local and Buddhist divinities, e.g. Amaterasu with Dainichi (Mahavairocana) and Hachiman with Amida which raised the status of the kami within the Buddhist world-view. (See Ryobu Shinto, Sanno ichijitsu shinto). From the thirteenth century the esoteric (Shingon and Tendai) teaching of 'innate enlightenment' made it possible to view the trace manifestation (e.g. a native kami) as the body of enlightenment, superior to the 'basic essence'. This esoteric Buddhist doctrine enabled Yoshida, Kanetomo to develop highly syncretistic Yui-itsu Shinto teachings which reversed the honji-suijaku hierarchy, asserting that worship of native deities (Shinto) was the root, Confucianism the branches and leaves and Buddhism the flowers and fruit.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.