Docho (Certificate of entering the priesthood) (度牒)

Docho is an identification card issued by a state organization to a priest or a nun who has newly entered the priesthood, in the system of entrance into the priesthood that is officially recognized by the state. Certificate of entering the priesthood. The certificate is also called Kugen, Kokucho, or Doen (each meaning an official certificate of entering the priesthood).


The institution originated in the Northern Wei Dynasty, China. In China, since priests were given the privilege of exemption from yoeki (corvee under the Ritsuryo system [a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code]), some people became priests in order to avoid the yoeki. It then became necessary for the national authority to implement limitation and regulation by measures including quotas on people who were to become priests or to enter the priesthood (nenbundo-sha [approved people who enter the Buddhist priesthood]). Thus, the state strengthened the regulation by compiling a registry of officially recognized priests and the same time issued Docho official certificates as certificates of priesthood with official government permission. Since the certificates were issued by Shibu (department of worship in Chinese Ritsuryo system) during the period of the Tang Dynasty, they were also called Shibucho (Official certificate by Shibu). However, this institution became only a nominal existence because of the social upheaval after the Anshi War. During the period of the Northern Sung Dynasty, a number of so-called 'empty-title official certificates' started being sold, which contained no description of the names of people entering the priesthood. Thus, even a total lay person, who was not a trainee entering the priesthood, was then able to enjoy the interests as a priest by buying this Docho official certificate (baicho [sale of official certificate]). The purpose of selling the Docho was to contribute to the fiscal policies of the Sung Dynasty, which had constantly suffered financial difficulties since its formation, and the sales actually served as an important source of revenue together with the state monopoly on salt.


In Japan, the institution was brought about together with the Ritsuryo system during the Nara period. Although there were provisions for this institution in the Taiho Ritsuryo code, it was implemented slightly later and the description in "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) shows that the first official certificate was issued in 720.
In Japan, it was common to call the certificate 'Doen' in the sense of a document describing 'the origin of the entering the priesthood.'
The official certificates were issued by Daijokan (the Grand Council of State) and rendered valid by the signature of an official in charge at Jibusho (the Ministry of Civil Administration) and Genba-ryo (an office in charge of temples and priests and the reception of foreign envoys), or of a Sokan (an official position given to a Buddhist priest by the Imperial Court) like a Sogo (a priest of a managerial post). The certificates were disposed of after the death of the people who had entered the priesthood or when they returned to secular life. The initial arrangement was that a Docho official certificate should be disposed of at the time of Jukai (handing down the precepts) and a Kaicho (certificate of reception of Buddhist commandments) should be issued instead.

In 813, after 'the Doen Kaicho Rules' (rules on official certificates of entrance into the priesthood and certificates of reception of Buddhist commandments) were revised, it became a norm to add the date of the reception of the religious precepts at the end of a Doen official certificate so that the certificate would serve as a Kaicho certificate. Since the disposal provisions for the Docho certificate were abolished, too, and the affixation of the seal of Minbusho (Ministry of Popular Affairs) was substituted for it, real certificates in the subsequent period have been preserved, though very few. Enchin's Docho official certificate remaining in Onjo-ji Temple is a national treasure today.

The Kamakura New Buddhism (new schools of Japanese Buddhism founded during the Kamakura period) and the Shingon Ritsushu Sect, which had been established independently of the Imperial Court, started to issue their original official certificates in the name of their respective sects instead of the Daijokan. The Edo Shogunate approved the issue of original certificates by each sect, but controlled the system by limiting the source of issue to their head temples. After the Meiji Restoration, these provisions were abolished and each sect has issued Docho official certificates (mostly at the time of entrance into the priesthood) on the basis of their respective stipulations.

[Original Japanese]