Three Letters of Master Shinran's
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.
[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
who are without parents, are here, and also the children of Masukata
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.
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 
2d month, 10th cay
On priest Zenshin [i.e., Shinran]
On the fourteenth day of the fourth month in the third year of Kangi
, 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
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 , so this year he is fifty-three, I believe.
3d year of ocho 
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.