Also known as the Vinaya school. A school based on the vinaya, the Buddhist rules of monastic discipline, or precepts. Vinaya was translated in Chinese scriptures as ly, pronounced ritsu in Japanese, meaning rule, statute, or principle. The Precepts school emphasizes strict adherence to the rules of monastic discipline. In Japan, the Precepts school was one of the six schools of Nara. In China, the most prosperous branch of the Precepts school was the Nan-shan school founded by Tao-hsüan in the seventh century and based on the work The Fourfold Rules of Discipline, the vinaya text of the Indian Dharmagupta school.
The Chinese priest Chien-chen (known as Ganjin in Japan), who had studied the teaching of the Nan-shan school, went to Japan in 753, entered the capital, Nara, in 754, and founded the Precepts school there. He built an ordination platform at Todai-ji temple and founded Toshodai-ji temple as a center for the study of the monastic rules of discipline. Thereafter ordination platforms were built at Yakushi-ji temple in Shimotsuke Province and at Kanzeon-ji temple in Chikuzen Province as branches of the ordination center at Todai-ji. Priests and nuns in Japan were ordained at one of these three platforms, and the Precepts school flourished as a major school of Japanese Buddhism.
During the Heian period (794-1185) the school gradually declined, but it reemerged during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when the priest Shunjoin Kyoto strove to revive the practice of the precepts. He founded the Precepts school of the Northern Capital (Kyoto). Kakujo and Eizon also worked to revive precepts practice, and their lineage was known as the Precepts school of the Southern Capital (Nara). Eizon advocated the practice of both the precepts and the esoteric teachings, a conviction that later led to the founding of the True Word Precepts (Shingon-Ritsu) school based at Saidai-ji temple in Nara. There are two major precepts-based schools in Japan today: the Precepts school, whose head temple is Toshodai-ji, and the True Word Precepts school, whose head temple is Saidai-ji.