Did all eight Mahayana schools decline?
No. The Ch'an and Pure Land schools survived and continued to flourish. Most Ch'an practitioners lived in mountains and woodlands, growing their own food. They didn't rely much on either society at large or the Buddhist texts. The Huichang Persecution and chaos of the Five Dynasties had a limited impact on the Ch'an and its transmission continued. (Many Ch'an temples have been preserved all over China.) As for the Pure Land school, though the writings of Master Shandao were lost, his thought and advocacy of rebirth in the Pure Land through Amitabha-recitation survived, because of their simplicity and ease of practice. However, the school's teachings later merged with those of other paths. The convergence made them different from the thought of Master Shandao.
Fortunately, many of the scriptures lost in China had been passed to Korea and Japan, and were preserved there. During the Five Dynasties, the works of Tiantai school were transmitted back from Korea, as were some of the Huayan school. The two lineages revived. Towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, many texts of the Sanlun, Yogacara, Esoteric and Vinaya schools, together with the works of Master Shandao, returned to China from Japan.
From Buddhism for Beginners – Questions and Answers
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings