Three Letters of Master Shinran's wife, Eshinni,

to Their Daughter, Kakushinni



The Wife of Shinran Shonin

Eshinni was the wife of Shinran Shonin. Kakushinni was the youngest daughter of Shinran and Eshinni.

The existence of Eshinni was not officially recognized until 1921 with the discovery of Eshinni’s letters to her daughter, Kakushinni. Until this discovery, there were those in Japan who discounted Shinran’s marriage, those who doubted the existence of Eshinni, and those who even the doubted the existence of Shinran. Eshinni’s letters served to clarify all these disbeliefs.

In writing to her daughter, Eshinni’s letters revealed important facts of Shinran’s personal life as well as his spiritual journey.

Shinran and Eshinni had six children with Kakushinni being their youngest daughter. When Shinran died in 1262, he was virtually unknown in the Buddhist context in Kyoto.

After his death, Kakushinni wanted to keep Shinran’s teaching alive and perpetuated it for his followers. She built a temple enshrining an image of Shinran. As a result, the Nembutsu teaching began to reach more people. About 50 years later, this mausoleum became an official temple and was named the “Hongwanji.”

The Hongwanji temple has developed into the Jodo Shinshu school as one of the largest and most powerful Buddhist schools in Japan. Kakushinni’s foresight and deep appreciation towards the Nembutsu teaching saved Shinran’s work and established the foundation of Jodo-shinshu.

Letter #3

[to her daughter Kakushinni]

This letter is traditionally grouped with letters 4 and 5 as the core source on Eshinni's husband Shinran. All three are thought to have been written on the same day, 1263.2.10, less than three months after Shinran's death. Though this letter bears no date, its contents indicate that it was written in the immediate period after his death.

This letter is an account of how my husband [Shinran], when serving as a hall priest (doso) on Mt. Hiei, left the mountain and secluded himself for a hundred days at the Rokkakudo [chapel] to pray concerning his next life. At dawn on the ninety-fifth day there was a verse [presented to him] in a revelation. I am recording this and sending it for you to see.

Let me assure you that I read your letter dated the first day of the twelfth month last year, sometime after the twentieth of the same month. Above all, concerning the birth of my husband [Shinran] in the Pure Land, nothing whatsoever needs to be said anew.

[Long ago] when he left Mt. [Hiei] he secluded himself for a hundred days at the Rokkakudo [chapel] to pray concerning his next life. At dawn on the ninety-fifth day Shotoku Taishi appeared in a revelation and composed a verse for him. Straightaway he went out that dawn seeking to establish a karmic bond that would save him in the next life, and he [thus] encountered Master Honen. Just as he had secluded himself for another hundred days, rain or shine or come what may. The teaching received from him, which [Shinran] firmly embraced, was simply that there is only one path leading out of samsara in the next life for both the good and the evil person alike. People would say all types of things about where Master [Honen] might be headed. They would even say that he was headed for a benighted rebirth. Whenever people would say such things [Shinran] would reply, "I am one who believes that I would even go [along with him], since from realm to realm and from rebirth to rebirth I am lost already."

Also, [I recall] a dream I had while we were at a place called Sakai village at Shimotsuma in Hitachi [province]. It seems that there was a dedication ceremony for a temple building. The building stood facing east, and it was apparently on the eve of the ceremony. In front of the building there were lanterns [burning] bright, and to the west of the lanterns in front of the building there were [two] Buddhist images suspended from the horizontal part of what seemed to be a shrine gate (torii). In one there was no face to the Buddhist image, but only a core of light, as if it were the radiance of the Buddha's head; distinct features could not be seen, and light was the only thing there. In the other, there was a distinct face to the Buddhist image. I asked what Buddhist images these were, and the person  [who answered] - I have no recollection who the person was - said "The one that is only light is none other than Master Honen. He is the bodhisattva Seishi [Mahasthamaprapta]." When I asked who the other was, he said "That is [the bodhisattva] Kannon [Avalokitesvara]. That is none other than the priest Zenshin [i.e., Shinran]." Upon hearing this I was shocked [out of  my sleep], and I realized that it had been a dream. I have heard that such things are not to be spoken to other people, for they may not think such things spoken by this nun [i.e., Eshinni] to be true. Therefore, I [have remained] silent, not telling other people [about this]. But I did tell my husband [Shinran] the part about Master [Honen]. He said, "Among dreams there are many different types, but this dream must be true. There are many [other] instances of dreams in which people have seen Master [Honen] in one place or another as a manifestation of the bodhisattva Seishi. The bodhisattva Seishi is the ultimate in wisdom, so he [appeared simply] as light." I did not say anything about my husband being Kannon, but in my own mind I never looked upon him from that day forward in any ordinary way. You should ponder these things well. Thus, you should have no doubt [concerning Shinran's birth in the Pure Land] however his death may have been. With regard to this same matter, [I have heard that our son] Masukata was also present at his death. It is a great joy for me to know how strong the bond is between parent and child.

Also, in this province the crop was severely damaged last year. It is a deplorable situation. There are many whom I do not expect to survive. Amid this some have moved to other places. This [disaster] is not [limited to] one place either. Masukata's [place] and the allotted lands of many people on whom we rely are all like this too. Since most of our community has been ruined, there is virtually no place here or there to which one can turn. In this situation, two male servants who had served me for years passed away in the first month [of the year]. I do not know what to do to grow things, so this world seems less and less dependable. Though it is not [clear] how much longer I will live, there is no [reason] for me to feel bitter toward the world. But it is not a matter of myself alone, for the dughter and the son of Lady Oguro, who are without parents, are here, and also the children of Masukata are often here. Because of this I somehow seem like a mother to them. I fear it will be difficult for all of them to survive.

Letter #4

I am recording and sending you the verse [that Shinran reeived in the Rokkakudo revelation]. While [Shinran] was still living, it was not necessary to speak of it, so I said nothing. But now I am recording it and sending it to you so that you will know in your own heart that he was this kind of person. Please have someone who writes well write it out clearly, and keep it [safe].

Also I think I would like that scroll portrait [of Shinran].

I am [also] recording for you the incident that occurred on the fourteenth day of the fourth month in the year that you were eight [years old], when [Shinran] fell ill with the flu.

I became eighty-two this year. Between the eleventh month of the year before last and the fifth month of last year I kept waiting for my time [to come], wondering over and over if it was now, but as of today I am not dead yet. Nonetheless, I wonder whether or not I will starve to death during the famine this year. I feel upset that I do not have anything to send with this letter, but I [simply] do not have the means [to do so right now]. Please pass on this letter with these same sentiments to Masukata also. Writing is very tiring to me, so I will not [write] him separately.

3d year of Kocho [1263]
Mizunoto-i year
2d month, 10th cay

Letter #5

On priest Zenshin [i.e., Shinran]

On the fourteenth day of the fourth month in the third year of Kangi [1231], from around noon, [Shinran] felt the slight sensations of the flu, and beginning in the evening he went to bed rather ill. He lay there without making a sound, not allowing his back or legs to be massaged and silently refusing visitors. Whenever I felt his body, it was as hot as fire. [Furthermore,] the pounding in his head was extraordinary. At dawn on the fourth day of his illness [I head] him say amid his pain, "From now [on] that's the way it will be." I asked, "What is it? Are you talking gibberish?" He responded, "It is not gibberish. From the second day of my illness I have been chanting the Larger [Pure Land] Sutra wihout a break. Whenever I happened to close my eyes, the letters of the sutra would appear brilliantly and in detail, without a single character missing. This [chanting] indeed is senseless, I thought, for outside of faith [which comes] with the nembutsu, which is it that should command my attention so? As I carefully reflected on this, [I recalled] a time seventeen or eighteen years ago when I set out to chant the three [Pure Land] sutras faithfully a thousand times for the benefit of all sentient beings.  Then wondering what this was for, [I brought to mind the verse] "to have faith oneself and to cause others to have faith is by far the most difficult among [all] difficult things.' To have faith oneself and to cause others to have faith is truly the way to respond to one's indebtedness to the Buddha. With faith in this, what outside of the nembutsu could possibly be lacking that would make one feel the need to chant the sutras? Having reflected on this, I did not [continue] chanting them. Because of that [experience], should there still reman even a bit of that [compunction to chant the sutra now]? One should ponder well the attachments of human beings and the faith they have in their own power (jiriki). Once I thought that, I stopped chanting the sutra. Hence, at dawn on the fourth day of my illness I said, '[From] now [on] that's the way it will be.'" Soon after tellling me this he was dripping with sweat [as his fever broke], and [before long] he became well [again].

[The incident in which] he began to chant the three [Pure Land] sutras faithfully a thousand times occurred at a place called Sanuki in either Musashi provice or Kozuke provice when Shinrenbo was four years old. About four or five days after [he began chanting them] he had this reflection, and he did not [continue] chanting thereafter. We were on the way to Hitachi [province at that time].

Shinrenbo was born on the third day of the third month of the year of the sheep [1211], so this year he is fifty-three, I believe.

3d year of ocho [1263]
2nd month, 10th day


From "Letters of the Nun Eshinni: Images of Pure Land Buddhism in Medieval Japan," by  James C. Dobbins, Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press: 2004.

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