|Chapter 4. Master Rennyo's Virtuous Legacy|
Page 1 of 5
Master Rennyo was born in the Otani Hongwanji located in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto on the 25th day of the 2nd lunar month of the 22nd year of Oei (1415 AD), the first son of the Seventh Spiritual Leader of the Hongwanji, Master Zonnyo (1396 - 1457 AD).
The name he was given at birth was Hotei but during his childhood he was referred to as Kotei.
His father, Master Zonnyo, was then 20 years of age, and had yet to succeed his own father Master Gyonyo (1367 - 1440 AD) as Spiritual Leader of the Hongwanji.
Master Rennyo’s birth mother is considered to be a servant who served his grandmother (Master Gyonnyo’s wife). According to the work “Gathering Dust Record” (Shunjin-ki), written by Master Rennyo’s tenth son, Jitsugo, when Master Rennyo was six years of age, his birth mother left the Hongwanji, leaving the following words:
I am from the Western Provinces and not meant to be here...
It is said that she left on the 28th day of the 12th lunar month during the 27th year of Oei (1420 AD). No one knows where she went.
There are many theories as to where Master Rennyo’s birth mother was born. They include Bingo-no-tomo, Ono-michi, Shiga, and Bungo-no-tomo, but at present there is no way to determine with absolute certainty just where.
After Master Rennyo’s birth mother left the Hongwanji, his father, Master Zonnyo, married a woman named Nyoenni, who was from a warrior-class family named Ebina. Accordingly, it can be assumed that Master Rennyo was raised by her.
Tradition has it that Nyoenni was very cold towards Master Rennyo. She gave birth to her own son, Ogen, during the 5th year of Eikyo (1433 AD), when Master Rennyo was 19 years of age. The relationship between Master Rennyo and his step-mother seems to have become fixed from that time on, with his step-mother far more concerned about her own son than with Master Rennyo.
I should add that this was when the fortunes of the Hongwanji were at its lowest point. The years of Master Rennyo’s childhood and youth were spent in very unfavorable circumstances, both materially and emotion-ally. But as I have already related, even in such difficult circumstances, “Renjun’s Record” (Renjun-ki) states:
At the age of 15, Master Rennyo fervently expressed his desire to rebuild the Venerable Master (Shinran’s) “dharmaflow” (horyu, i.e., the Jodo-Shinshu teaching).
And in “A Record of Master Rennyo’s Meritorious Deeds” (Rennyo Shonin Itoku-ki), it states that:
From the age of 15, the former master (Rennyo) repeatedly expressed his determination to bring about the prosperity of the (Jodo-) Shinshu teachings.
That was during the 1st year of Eikyo (1429 AD). During the 3rd year of Eikyo (1431 AD), when he was 17 years of age, in accordance with the custom of the Hongwanji then, he received tonsure at Shoren Temple, a high-ranked temple within the Tendai denomination of Buddha-dharma. He was given the Dharma name of Rennyo and the secular name of Kenju. During this period, he dedicated himself to studying the Venerable Master Shin-ran’s writings.
In “Renjun’s Record,” is the following passage: He constantly read the “Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attain-ment” and “Essence of the Kyogyoshinsho” (Rokuyosho), and also wore out three copies of “Notes on Settled Peace of Mind” (Anjin Ketsujo-sho). In this way, he ceaselessly studied the sacred literature.
Again, in “Eigen’s Record” (Eigen-ki) it states:
I also heard for certain that Master Rennyo wore out seven copies of “Notes on Settled Peace of Mind.”
As indicated in the above passages, Master Rennyo studied works such as the Venerable Master Shinran’s “Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment,” Master Zonkaku’s “Essence of the Kyogyoshinsho” and other works such as the “Notes on Settled Peace of Mind.” The fierce study during his youth which allowed Master Rennyo to correctly understand the Jodo-Shinshu teaching was the impetus for his actively spreading the Nembutsu teaching in later life.
During the 6th lunar month of the 3rd year of Kojo (1457 AD), when Master Rennyo was 43 years of age, his father, Master Zonnyo, the Seventh Spiritual Leader of the Hongwanji, passed away.