An Illustrated Biography of Shinran, Honganji Shonin
(Honganji Shonin Shinran Denne)
Compiled by Kakunyo
Introduction, translation and notes
by Zuio H. Inagaki
Shonin's family comes from the Fujiwara clan.1) He was the son of Arinori,2) the third official at the Empress Dowager's
office, who was the descendant in the sixth
generation of Lord Arikuni, the Police and
Judicial undersecretary. Arikuni's ancestor
in the sixth generation was Lord Uchimaro3) of the second grade of the first court rank
[General of the Imperial Guards, Vice-Minister
(posthumously, Chief Minister), who was called
Minister Gonagaoka and also Minister Kan'in
and was the son of Matate,4) head of the Ceremonial Office, the chief
state counselor, and was the grandson of
Lord Fusazaki,5) Prime Minister (posthumously, granted the
first grade of the first court rank)]. Uchimaro
was the great-grandson of the Privy Minister
Kamako,6) Holder of the Grand Crown. Kamako who was
the descendant in the twenty-first generation
of the August One Amatsu-koyane.7)
Considering Shonin's distinguished birth,
there may have been high expectations from
him to serve the Imperial Court until old
age or enjoy fame and prosperity at the Ex-emperor's
Office. However, his emphatic desire to promote
Buddhism and benefit living beings led to
his ordination at the age of nine. Accompanied
by his uncle and foster father, Lord Aritsuna8) [of the second grade of the third court
rank (then the second grade of the fourth
court rank), who was formerly the feudal
lord of Wakasa Province and a close retainer
of the Ex-emperor Goshirakawa], Shonin visited
the residence9) of the former great archbishop [Master Jien,10) also Jichin, who was the son of Lord Hosshoji11) and the elder brother of Lord Tsukinowa].12) At this temple, Shonin had his head
shaved and was given the Buddhist name Hannen,
with the title 'minor state counselor.'
Henceforth, Shonin delved into the profound
teaching of Master Nan-yueh13) and Master T'ien-t'ai,14) and reached the truth of Buddha-vehicle
through the triple contemplation.15) He also studied the tradition of Master
Genshin16) [who dwelled at Shuryogon-in in Yokawa Precinct],
and became thoroughly acquainted with the
doctrine of perfect fusion embracing all
the four distinct teachings.17)
1. Shinran's genealogy presented here may
be summarized as follows:
Amatsu Koyane - (20 generations) - Fujiwahara
no Kamatari - (4 generations) - Uchimaro
[grandson of Fusazaki] - (5 generations)
- Arikuni - (4 generations) - Hino Arinori
In the earlier text, Shinran's genealogy
was much simpler.
2. Hino Arinori: Dates unknown; the father
of Shinran and his four younger brothers.
He is said to have died when Shinran was
four years old, but it is more likely that
after he retired from his post at the Empress
Dowager's office, he lived in seclusion until
an older age.
3. Fujiwara no Uchimaro: 756-812; a grandson
of Fusazaki and a son of Matate; ever since
he was appointed to Vice-Minister in 806,
he held an important government position.
4. Fujiwara no Matate: 715-766; he was granted
the first grade of the third court rank in
764, and the chief state counselor in 766.
Eight of his poems are found in the Man'yoshu (A Collection of Ten Thousand Poems).
5. Fujiwara no Fusazaki: 681-737; a grandson
of Kamatari; the founder of the northern
family of the Fujiwara clan. Appointed to
Inspector General, he traveled about in the
whole country; later he assumed the helm
of military power of the state as General
of Imperial Guards.
6. Fujiwara no Kamako (Kamatari): 614-669;
the grand ancestor of the Fujiwara clan.
He sided with Prince Naka no Ohe, who later
became Emperor Tenchi (624-671), to kill
Soga no Iruka ( -645), and successfully carried
out the Taika Renovation, thereby centralizing
the government so that it had the imperial
household as its center. In 669, he was given
the title 'Holder of the Grand Crown' (taishokkan).
7. Amatsu Koyane: The ancestral kami of the Fujiwara clan. When Amaterasu, the
Sun Goddess, hid herself in a cave behind
a huge rock, he played music to appease her
mind. At the time of descent from heaven
of August One Ninigi, he followed him. His
descendants were successively in charge of
ritual affairs in the imperial court.
8. Noritsuna: Hino Noritsuna; a court official
attending the Ex-emperor Goshirakawa; the
elder brother of Shinran's father who became
his foster father after his father left him
when he was very young. When, in 1177, the
anti-Heike faction led by close attendants
of the Ex-Emperor Goshirakawa plotted to
overthrow the Heike power but failed in their
attempt, the leaders were either executed
or exiled. At that time, Noritsuna was put
to torture on suspicion of his part in the
plot, and was exiled to Harima Province (present
Hyogo Prefecture). When the Ex-Emperor Goshirakawa
died in 1192, he renounced the world to become
a Buddhist recluse. He reputedly accompanied
Shinran to the Shoren-in when Shinran was
9 years old.
9. Jien's residence is now known as
Shoren-in; in those days Shoren-in was on
Mt. Hiei, and Jien was living in his residence,
called Shirakawa-bo, which was near where
Shoren-in now is.
10. Jien: 1155-1225; also Jichin; a younger
brother of Kujo Kanezane; while serving as
the abbot of Shoren-in, he was in charge
of Hosshoji and Mudoji; he was appointed
zasu (head priest) of the Tendai school as many
as four times. He acted as the precept master
when Shinran was ordained. Reputed to be
the author of theGukansho (A Foolish Man's Narrow View)(1220), 7 fascicles, a book describing the
history of Japan from the viewpoint of mappo (age of the decadent Dharma).
11. Lord Hosshoji: The popular name of Fujiwara
12. Lord Tsukinowa: Kujo Kanezane, 1149-1207;
the third son of Fujiwara Tadamichi and the
founder of the Kujo family. Under the patronage
of Minamoto Yoritomo, he became Regent in
1186 and Chancellor in 1186. He was a patron
of Honen; at his suggestion, Honen wrote
the Senjakushu. His diaries during the period 1164-1200
were compiled into theGyokuyo (Leaves of Gem), 66 fascicles; it is a rich source of information
about the political situation and court ceremonies
of the late Heian and the Kamakura period.
13. Nan-yueh: Refers to Hui-ssu, 515-577,
the second patriarch of the Chinese Tendai
school. Because he lived on Mt. Nan-yueh,
he was popularly called 'Master Nan-yueh.'
14. T'ien-t'ai: Refers to Chih-i, 538-597,
the third patriarch of the Chinese Tendai
school; he laid a firm doctrinal foundation
by writing many works, including Meanings of the Lotus Sutra, Essentials of
the Lotus Sutra, and Mahayana Method of Cessation
and Contemplation. He is commonly regarded as the founder
of the Tendai school.
15. The Tendai method of contemplation on
the triple truth: contemplation on voidness
of all existence, contemplation on the temporariness
of all existence, and contemplation on the
truth of the middle.
16. Genshin: The sixth of the seven patriarchs
of Jodo Shinshu, 942-1017; a great Tendai
master and exponent of Pure Land thought;
popularly called 'Master Eshin' because he
lived in the Eshin-in at Yokawa on Mt. Hiei.
His Ojoyoshu (A Collection of Essential Passages Concerning
Birth in the Pure Land) was a great epoch-making work discussing
fully the Pure Land teaching by quoting more
than 160 sutras and discourses. This work
won him great renown not only in Japan but
also in China.
17. In the Tendai doctrine, two kinds of
four teachings are distinguished. First,
the four teachings distinguished according
to different methods of presentation: 1.
the teaching for abrupt enlightenment, 2.
the teaching for gradual enlightenment, 3.
the teaching for different understandings
which the pupils attain without their knowledge,
and 4. the teaching for different understandings
which the pupils attain while fully aware
of this. Second, the four distinct teachings
which the Buddha expounded: 1. the Hinayana
teaching, 2. the teaching applicable to both
Hinayanists and Mahayanists, 3. the Mahayana
teaching, and 4. the ultimate and perfect
teaching. All the teachings of the Buddha
distinguished as above are perfectly fused
in the Lotus Sutra.
In the spring of the first year of Kennin
(1201), when Shonin was twenty-nine
years of age, the desire for renunciation
of the ephemeral world drew him to Master
Genku1) at his hermitage in Yoshimizu.2) Since in the latter days people's spiritual capacities
are inferior and the narrow streets of Difficult
Practices are too confusing for them, he
had been seeking the Great Path of Easy Practice.3) As Master Genku, the great patriarch who
promulgated the True Teaching, explained
to him the intrinsic depth of the teaching
and the breadth of the doctrinal principle,
he instantly realized the essential way of
salvation by the Other-Power and attained
True Mind which is the direct path to the
Pure Land - the path which accommodates ordinary
1. Genku: Refers to Honen-bo Genku, 1133-1212);
the founder of the Jodo school, Shinran's
teacher, and the author of the Senjakushu (A Collection of Passages Concerning
the Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal
2. Yoshimizu is in the eastern side of Kyoto,
the area where Maruyama Park now is. In An'yoji
temple located to the east of Maruyama Park
is believed to be the place where Honen's
hermitage was; wooden statues of Honen and
Shinran are enshrined by the side of the
main object of worship.
3. The Great Path of Easy Practice: The Nembutsu
practice based on the Other-Power.
On the fifth day of the fourth month in the
third year of Kennin (1203)[metal/cock],1) Shonin had a vision at night in the
hour of tiger.2) According to the record,3) the World-saving Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara,
of the Rokkakudo4) manifested himself in the form of a holy
monk of dignified appearance, wearing a white
robe and sitting in a proper posture on the
pedestal of a huge lotus flower. He said
"If you, practitioner, are obliged to
have a sexual contact with a woman through
some past karma,
I will transform myself as a beautiful woman
and become your partner.
I will adorn you with virtues throughout
And at your death I will guide you to the
Land of Utmost Bliss."
The World-saving Bodhisattva added, "This
is my vow. Zenshin, proclaim the main point
of my vow to all the multitudes of beings."
At that time, while still in a dreamy state,
Zenshin looked eastward from inside the hall,
and saw a lofty mountain, on which thousands
of millions of people were assembled. He
proclaimed to them the essential point of
the message as related in the vision. When
he thought he had finished this, he awoke.
As I read this record and think about the
vision he had in a dream, I see that this
is an auspicious sign foretelling the growth
of Shinshu and an indication of the Nembutsu
spreading further. In this connection, Shonin
later remarked, "Buddhism arose in the
Western Land (i.e., India) and its scriptures
have been transmitted to the Eastern Land
(i.e., Japan). This is due solely to the
great virtue of Prince of the Jogu Palace,6) which is higher than a mountain and deeper
than the ocean. These scriptures were brought
here during the reign of the Emperor Kinmei
of our imperial dynasty,7) and the authentic sutras and discourses
of Pure Land Buddhism were transmitted at
that time. If the Imperial Heir (i.e., Shotoku)
had not bestowed great benevolence upon us,
how could we, ordinary, ignorant people,
ever meet the Primal Vow? As the World-saving
Bodhisattva is the original state of the
Imperial Heir, he manifested his original
august body to reveal his vow of incarnating
himself in human form and spreading the Dharma.
If the Great Master (Honen) had not been
banished,8) how could I ever have had a chance to go
to a place of exile? If I had not been sent
to the place of exile,9) how could I have converted multitudes of
people living in the remote countryside?
I am indebted to the Master's benevolence
for this, too. The Great Master was an incarnation
of Mahasthamaprapta, and the Prince was a
manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. Through
the guidance of these two bodhisattvas, I
am now transmitting the Tathagata's Primal
Vow. Thus Shinshu is growing, and the Nembutsu
teaching is spreading. I have, however, simply
followed the instructions of the holy ones,
not my own foolish notions. The weighty vows
of these two bodhisattvas are to recommend
single-hearted recitation of the name of
one Buddha. Practicers today should not mistakenly
take refuge in the attendant bodhisattvas.
They should go straight to the primal Buddha
(i.e., Amida) for refuge."
Accordingly, Shinran Shonin worships the
Imperial Prince by the side of the Buddha.
He does so in order to acknowledge his indebtedness
to the Prince for spreading the Buddha Dharma.
1. The Third year of Kennin should be corrected
to the first year of Kennin (1201) when Shinran
was 29. The year metal/cock(kanoto-no-tori ) corresponds to the first year of Kennin,
2. The hour of the tiger corresponds to 4
o'clock in the morning.
3. The record here may refer to Shinran muki (A Record of Shinran's Dream) preserved at Senjuji temple of the Takada
4. In the Rokkakudo temple originally built
by Prince Shotoku, a statue of Avalokiteshvara
Bodhisattva is enshrined.
5. Zenshin: The name of Shinran used after
he became Honen's disciple.
6. The Prince of Jogu Palace: Refers to Prince
Shotoku, 574-621 or 622. He made an alliance
with Minister Soga Umako to eliminate the
anti-Buddhist minister Mononobe Moriya, establishing
thereby Buddhism on a firm basis. He became
the Prince Regent in 593, and assisted his
aunt, Empress Suiko. He promoted Buddhism
in various ways, such as writing commentaries
on three Mahayana sutras, sending students
to China, and founding many temples, including
the Shitennoji, Horyuji, Chuguji and Rokkakudo.
7. Buddhism was first brought to Japan from
Korea during the reign of Emperor Kinmei;
according to tradition, the year of transmission
was 552 A.D., but it is to be corrected to
8. When the Nembutsu teaching was persecuted,
Honen's two disciples were executed and Honen
himself was banished to Shikoku in 1207.
9. Shinran was exiled to Kokubu in Echigo
Province (present Niigata Prefecture) in
1207, where he married Eshin-ni; he was pardoned
in 1211, but having heard of the death of
Honen, he stayed on until 1214.
On the ninth day of the second month in the
eighth year of Kencho (1256),1) at the hour of the tiger at night,2) Shaku Ren'i3) had a vision in a dream: Prince Shotoku
bowed in worship to Shinran Shonin and said
"Adoration to Amida Buddha of Great
You have appeared in this world (as Shinran
Shonin) to spread the excellent teaching;
You lead people of the evil world in the
evil period of the five defilements4)
To definitely attain the supreme enlightenment."
Hence, it is clear that Shonin, the Patriarchal
Master, was an incarnation of Amida Tathagata.
1. At that time, Shinran was 84.
2. About 4 o'clock in the morning.
3. Ren'i-bo was a native of Hitachi Province
(present Ibaragi Prefecture); he came to
Kyoto and lived with Shinran, attending him
in his last years.
4. The five defilements: The defilements
that mark the degeneration of living beings
and their environment; they become intense
in the period of Decadent Dharma. They are:
1. defilement of the age, in which famines,
plagues and wars abound, 2. defilement of
views, 3. defilement by evil passions, 4.
degeneration of people both physically and
mentally, and 5. the shortening of man's
When the Virtuous Master of Kurodani,1) Genku, was still in the world, he granted,
out of compassion, for Shonin permission
to copy his work,2) and on another occasion, wrote Shonin's
new name3) in his own hand. It is stated in "A
Collection of Passages Revealing the Provisional
Transformed Buddhas and Lands of the Pure
Land Way," Chapter 6, [compiled by Shinran
I, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Shakyamuni,
abandoned sundry practices and took refuge
in the Primal Vow in the first year of Kennin,
the year metal/cock.4) In the year wood/ox of the Genkyu era,5) with the master's kind permission, I copied
his Collection of Passages Concerning the Nembutsu
of the Best-Selected Primal Vow. In the same year, on the fourth day of the
middle part of the fourth month, the master
in his own hand inscribed the following on
the inside of my copy, "Collection of Passages Concerning the
Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal Vow," and the words, "Namu amida butsu: The fundamental act for
the attainment of birth is the Nembutsu,"and
also my new name, "Shakku, disciple
of Shakyamuni." On the same day, I borrowed
the master's portrait and copied it. In the
same second year [of Genkyu], on the ninth
day of the latter part of the seventh intercalary
month, the master inscribed on my copy of
the portrait "Namu amida butsu" and the passage of the true teaching:
"If, when I become a Buddha, all sentient
beings in the ten quarters who call my Name
even ten times fail to be born in my land,
may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. This
Buddha, having attained Buddhahood, now dwells
in the Pure Land. You should know that his
weighty vows are not in vain. Sentient beings
who call his Name will unfailingly attain
birth."6) On the same day, he also wrote on the portrait
my new name [Zenshin] to which my former
name 'Shakku' was changed according to a
revelation in a dream. The master was then
seventy-three years old.
The Collection of Passages Concerning the
Nembutsu of the Best-Selected Primal Vow was compiled at the request of the Chancellor,
the ordained layman [Lord Tsukinowa Kanezane,
Buddhist name Ensho]. The essentials of the
true teaching of the Pure Land way and the
profound doctrine of the Nembutsu are contained
in it. Those who read it can easily understand
it. It is indeed an incomparable and supreme
collection of fine passages, an unsurpassed
and profound scripture. Out of the thousands
of people who received his teaching, personally
or otherwise, over many days and years, very
few were allowed to read and copy this work.
Nevertheless, I was allowed to copy it and
also make a copy of his portrait. This is
the benefit of the exclusive practice of
the Right Act; this is a sure proof of my
future attainment of birth. With tears of
sorrow and joy, I have noted the above story.
1. Kurodani, lit. 'Black Valley'; the name
of a valley in the Saito (Western Pagoda)
Precinct of Mt. Hiei, where there is a temple
called Seiryuji. Those who seek emancipation
while leading a quiet life of seclusion lived
here. When Eiku ( -1179), an adept of the
Tendai precept of perfect fusion and Yuzu
Nembutsu, was living here, Honen at the age
of 18 came here and studied under him. Later,
Honen returned here and perused the whole
collection of Buddhist scriptures in the
Hoonzo Library. When he was reading them
for the fifth time at the age of 43, he came
across the passage recommending exclusive
practice of the Nembutsu in Shan-tao's commentary
on the Comptemplation Sutra; this brought him deep awareness of Amida's
Vow of salvation through the Nembutsu. For
this reason, Honen is often called 'the Master
2. Refers to Senjakushu (or Senchakushu); the full title is Senjaku Hongan Nembutsu-shu (A Collection of Passages Concerning the Nembutsu
of the Best-Selected Primal Vow), compiled by Honen in 1198 at the request
of Fujiwara Kanezane. This work justifies
the Nembutsu as the most effective method
of salvation, and its publication marked
the independence of the Jodo school.
3. Honen inscribed a new name of Shinran,
Shakku, on the copy of Honen's portrait.
4. This corresponds to the year 1201 A.D.
5. This corresponds to the year 1205 A.D.
6. The Eighteenth Vow adapted by Shan-tao.
In the bygone days, when Genku Shonin was
still alive and propagated the teaching of
birth in the Pure Land by the Other-Power,
the whole country was receptive to, and took
refuge in it. Those holding the helm of the
state in the Imperial Palace yearned for
the blossoms in the golden forests, and the
ministers and high officials in charge of
the government administration admired the
moon of the Forty-eight Vows. In addition,
country-folk in remote places and the general
public all upheld and revered the teaching.
The noble, as well as the underprivileged,
went to see Honen in great numbers. So great
were the numbers that his hermitage was crowded
as a market-place. It is said that the priests
alone, in close attendance upon him, amounted
to more than three hundred and eighty. Be
that as it may, only very few actually received
the master's personal instructions and closely
followed them. Their number was hardly more
than five or six.
One day, Zenshin Shonin [Shinran] said to
the master, "I have abandoned the Path
of Difficult Practice and come to the Path
of Easy Practice; I have left the Gate of
the Sacred Path and entered the Pure Land
Gate. Without your kind instructions, how
could I have attained the propitious cause
for emancipation? What a joy it is! Nothing
can compare with this. As I reflect, however,
although I have developed friendly ties with
many of your disciples and share with them
the opportunity to receive your teaching,
none of us do not realize who among us have
settled Faith for attaining birth in the
True Land of Recompense and who have not.
For this reason, in order to make sure who
will be my true friends in the life to come
and also for the sake of keeping the record
of happenings in this ephemeral world, I
wish to present a question at the gathering
of your disciples, asking about their inner
The Great Master, [Genku] Shonin, replied,
"Your proposal is most reasonable. You
may ask them when they come here tomorrow."
At the gathering the next day, Shonin declared,
"Today, your seats are divided into
two sides: one side is for those who are
steadfast in faith and the other for those
who are steadfast in practice. Please be
seated on one or the other side."
The fellow-disciples, numbering more than
three hundred, appeared puzzled, not understanding
Shonin's intention. At that time, it is said
that Seikaku, who held the rank of the Dharma-seal
great master,1) and Horen, Shaku Shinku Shonin, said, "I
will be on the side of steadfast faith."
Next, Novice Horiki [Kumagai Naozane Nyudo]
who came late asked, "What is your intention
of keeping a record, Zenshin-bo?"
Zenshin Shonin replied, "Two seats are
provided: one for steadfast faith and the
other for steadfast practice."
Horiki said, "Let me, Horiki, join you.
I will be on the side of steadfast faith."
Shonin wrote down Horiki's name in his note.
Although a few hundred disciples were assembled
there, no one spoke out. This probably shows
that they were clinging to the delusory mind
of self-power and so did not realize the
diamond-hard True Faith. While silence prevailed
in the hall, Shonin noted down his own name.
A little later, the Great Master said, "I,
Genku, will join the side of steadfast faith."
At that moment, some of the disciples were
overcome with the feeling of awe and respect,
while some others appeared downcast with
1) This is the highest of the three higher
ranks of priesthood, corresponding to the
older term sojo (abbot).
Shonin related the following episode.
A long time ago, when many disciples, including
Shoshin-bo, Seikan-bo and Nembutsu-bo, were
in the presence of the Great Master, [Genku]
Shonin, an unexpected dispute took place.
The dispute began when I said, "The
Master Shonin's faith and Zenshin's faith
are not different in the least; they are
one and the same," they argued against
me, saying, "Zenshin-bo's remark that
the Master's faith and his faith are the
same is unreasonable. How could they be the
I, Zenshin, replied, "Why don't you
say that they are the same? It would be preposterous
to say that the Master's wisdom which is
deep and extensive is equal to mine. As for
the faith for birth in the Pure Land, ever
since I discovered 'Faith of the Other-Power,'
I have not conceived any thought of 'I' or
'mine.' The Master's Faith has been endowed
by the Other-Power; Zenshin's Faith is also
that of the Other-Power. For this reason,
I say that his Faith and mine are the same."
Then the Great Master made a clear remark,
saying, "If one's faith is different
from another's, they are, after all, faith
of self-power. If one's wisdom of understanding
is different from other's, one's faith is
also different from another's. Faith of the
Other-Power is endowed by the Buddha to ordinary
people, whether they are good or evil; hence,
Genku's Faith and Zenshin-bo's Faith are
not different, but they are one and the same.
We do not entrust ourselves to Amida because
we are wise and intelligent. If your faith
is different from mine, you cannot possibly
be born in the same Pure Land where I shall
be born. You should discern this well."
In total consternation, those present were
speechless, and so the discussion came to
Shonin's disciple, Nyusai-bo, cherished a
desire to have a portrait of Shonin. Knowing
this, Shonin said to him, "You can ask
the Dharma-bridge1) Jozen [who lived in Shichijo] to portray
Elated by Shonin's suggestion based on deep
observation, Nyusai-bo invited the Dharma-bridge
to Shonin's abode. Jozen came at once as
requested. The moment Jozen saw Shonin, he
said, "Last night I had an inspired
dream. The holy priest I saw in the dream
is exactly the same person as I now see before
my eyes." With profound joy and awe,
he continued, "Two noble priests came
to visit me. One of them said, 'I wish to
have a portrait of this revered incarnated
one made. Please make one, Jozen.' So I asked,
'Who is this incarnated one?' The priest
replied, 'He is the founder2) of the Zenkoji Temple.' I prostrated myself
on the floor with my hands joined together,
and thought to myself in the dream, 'He must
be a live body of Amida Tathagata.' Feeling
my hair standing on end, I deeply revered
and paid homage to him. The priest added,
'A portrait of his face will be enough.'
After the exchange of these words, I awoke
from the dream. As I now see Shonin's august
countenance at this hermitage, it is not
a bit different from the holy priest that
I saw in the dream."
So saying, Jozen shed tears of great joy.
Shonin remarked, "Let my portrait be
just as you saw in your dream." So Jozen
portrayed Shonin's face only. Jozen had this
dream in the night of the twentieth day of
the ninth month in the third year of Ninji.3)
As I deeply contemplate this miraculous and
portentous event, I clearly see that Shonin
was an incarnation of Amida Tathagata. It
follows then that the teaching he promulgated
was most likely Amida's direct exposition.
Amida holds up the brilliant lamp of undefiled
wisdom to disperse the darkness of delusion
in the world of defilement; furthermore,
he showers the rain of Dharma everywhere
in order to moisten the dried-up hearts of
ordinary and deluded beings in the distant
future. Let us revere and entrust ourselves
to his teaching.
1. The Dharma-bridge: 'Hokkyo' in Japanese,
an abbreviation of 'hokkyo-shonin-i,' 'the rank of the Master of Dharma-bridge';
originally, the lowest of the three higher
ranks of priesthood, which corresponds to
the older term 'risshi'. Later, used as a title of honor for medical
doctors, painters, poets, and so on.
2. Founder; 'hongan no onbo' in Japanese; here 'hongan' does not mean 'primal vow,' but 'a founder
or promoter' of a temple, statue, or a Dharma-meeting.
3. This corresponds to 1242.
With the flourishing of the Pure Land teaching,
the Path of Sages dwindled in influence.
Enraged scholar-monks in Nara and Mt. Hiei
held Master Genku responsible for this and
appealed to the court for his expeditious
punishment. It is stated in "A
Collection of Passages Revealing the Provisional
Transformed Buddhas and Lands of the Pure
Land Way," Chapter 6:
When I humbly contemplate matters, I find
that in the various teachings of the Path
of Sages, both practice and enlightenment
have long become impossible to realize and
that the true teaching of the Pure Land way
is now flourishing as the sure way to Enlightenment.
Despite this fact, monks of various temples,
being blind in discerning the teachings,
are unable to distinguish the true way from
the provisional way. Confucian scholars in
the capital, being confused about practices,
cannot tell the difference between the right
and wrong paths. Thus, scholar-monks of Kofukuji
temple presented a petition to the retired
emperor [Gotoba-in] (Takanari by name) in
the first part of the second month in the
year fire/hare of the Jogen era1) during the reign of emperor [Tsuchimikado-in]
(Tamehito by name).
Lords and vassals who opposed the Dharma
and justice bore indignation and resentment
[to the Nembutsu teaching]. Thus, Master
Genku, the great founder who promulgated
the true teaching of the Pure Land way, and
a number of his followers were, without proper
investigation of their crime, indiscriminately
sentenced to death or, deprived of their
priesthood, exiled under criminal names.
I was one of them. Hence, I am neither a
priest nor a layman, and so I took 'Toku'
as my surname. Master Genku and his disciples
spent five years in remote provinces in exile.
The criminal's name of Genku Shonin was Fujii-no-Motohiko,
and the place of his exile was Hata in Tosa
Province. The criminal's name of Shinran
Shonin was Fujii-no-Yoshizane, and the place
of his exile was Kokubu in the Echigo Province.
I will not enumerate other disciples' death
charges and exiles.
On the seventh day of the eleventh month
in the first year of Kenryaku, the year metal/sheep2), during the reign of Emperor [Sado-no-in,
Morinari by name], the imperial order to
pardon Shonin was issued through Lord Okazaki
Norimitsu, the Middle Counsellor at the Court.
At that time, Shonin's name, with 'Toku'
(short-haired) as the surname, was announced
to the Emperor; this impressed the Emperor
and won the praise of his attendants. Even
though Shonin was pardoned, he continued
to stay on to convert country-folk.
1. This corresponds to 1207, when Shinran
2. This corresponds to 1211, when Shinran
Shonin moved from Echigo over to Hitachi
Province, and settled down at Inada Village
in Kasama County. Although he lived in retirement,
priests and laypeople followed one after
another to visit him; even though the lowly
gate was closed, people, both high and low,
crowded the cottage. Shonin's cherished desire
to spread the Buddha-Dharma was thus fulfilled,
and his long-standing wish to benefit sentient
beings was quickly realized.
Shonin remarked, "The dream of the bygone
days in which I received an inspiration from
the World-saving Bodhisattva exactly fits
what is happening now."
As Shonin spread the teaching of the exclusive
practice of the Nembutsu in Hitachi Province,
those who doubted and abused it were few,
and many accepted it in faith. However, there
was a monk [said to be a yamabushi1)], who bore a grudge against the Buddhist
teaching [Shonin was promulgating], which
culminated in an attempt to kill him; so
he was seeking an opportunity to realize
Shonin often passed through a deep mountain
called Itajiki-yama. In that mountain the
yamabushi waited for him in ambush many times,
but was unsuccessful. As he contemplated
the cause of this failure, he was struck
with a rare, strange thought. Thereupon,
he decided to go and see Shonin. When he
called at the hermitage, Shonin came out
without hesitation. As soon as he saw Shonin's
august countenance, his vicious intention
quickly disappeared and, furthermore, he
could not hold back the tears of regret and
After a little while, he confessed to Shonin
the grudge that he had entertained against
him. Shonin, however, did not appear surprised.
The yamabushi broke his bow and arrows on
the spot, threw away his sword and stick,
cast away his hood, and took off his persimmon
robe. As a result of this transformation,
he thus took refuge in the [true] Buddhist
teaching, and finally fulfilled his aspiration
for birth in the Pure Land. What a wonderful
thing! He was later known as Myoho-bo; this
is the name given to him by Shonin.
1. 'Yamabushi,' literally 'mountain sleeper';
a follower of mountain Buddhism (shugendo);
so called because he lives in the mountains
while engaged in ascetic practices.
Leaving behind the boundary of Kanto district,
Shonin took the path to the Flower Castle
of Kyoto. On the way, he came to the perilous
mountain pass of Hikone in the dusk. Following
the steps of wayfarers for a long while,
he at last found a house. The night was far
advanced and the day was about to break.
The moon had already declined behind the
edge of the mountain.
Shonin went up to the house and knocked at
the door. A very old man, dressed in magnificent
attire, quickly came out and said, "According
to the custom of this area, which is near
the [Hakone] Shrine, those engaged in service
of kami spend all night in merrymaking. When
enjoying evening festivities with others,
I fell asleep without noticing it. Unaware
of whether I was dreaming or not, I had a
vision, in which the Gongen God appeared
and said to me, "A special guest whom
I deeply revere will soon be coming this
way. Be sure that due respect and courtesy
be paid to him, and entertain him with utmost
Before I fully awoke from the inspired dream,
you suddenly appeared before me. How could
you be an ordinary person? The God's message
is indubitable. The divine working commands
our deepest reverence."
So saying, the old man respectfully ushered
in Shonin, and prepared sumptuous food of
delicate flavor for him.
After returning home to Kyoto, Shonin reflected
upon the bygone days; the years past were
like a dream or an illusion. His old abode
in the capital was hardly recognizable. Shonin
moved from one place to another, until he
found Gojo Nishi-no-toin area. Finding it
to his taste, he lived there for some time.
His disciples who had personally received
his teaching face to face yearned after the
past days of close association with Shonin,
and came a long way to flock at his door.
There was among them a man named Heitaro
of Obu Village in Nakanosai County in Hitachi
Province. He faithfully upheld Shonin's teaching
with singleness of heart.
One day, his public duty obliged Heitaro
to make a pilgrimage to Kumano Shrine. In
order to seek Shonin's advice, he called
on him. Shonin said:
"The sacred teachings are manifold.
If properly applied to the right persons,
they bring great benefit. Now in the period
of Decadent Dharma, however, the practices
in the Path of Sages cannot be accomplished.
[To quote Tao-ch'o,] 'In the present period
of Decadent Dharma, even if millions of people
set out performing practices, not a single
person attains emancipation.'Also, 'Only
the Pure Land Path is passable for us.' These
are clear testimonial passages from scriptures,
and are the Tathagata's Golden Words.
Concerning the true teaching of the Pure
Land Way, I deeply appreciate the patriarchs
of the three countries1) for developing this teaching. Hence, what
I, Gutoku, recommend is not my own ideas.
It should be noted that 'single-hearted mindfulness'
is the essence of the way of birth in the
Pure Land and the core of this school. Although
the three sutras2) have both implicit and explicit aspects,
they all clarify this either in clear terms
or by implication. In the Larger Sutra, the section on the three groups of aspirants,3) single-hearted mindfulness is recommended,
and in the section on transmission of the
teaching4) this is transmitted to Maitreya. In the Contemplation Sutra, section on the nine grades of aspirants,
the Three Minds5) are presented, and they are transmitted
to Ananda. The One Mind in the Amida Sutra
is testified to by many Buddhas.6) The Discourse-master [Vasubandhu] sets forth
One Mind,7) and the Master [Shan-tao] uses the term
'single-hearted (practice of the Nembutsu.'8)
The original state of (the God enshrined
in) the Shojoden Hall9) is the Lord Preacher under discussion.10) Out of deep compassion to establish ties
with sentient beings, he has manifested his
incarnation (as Kumano Gongen) by concealing
his original majestic body. His intention
in leaving his incarnated body as such is
to lead beings who have close ties with Amida
to the ocean-like Primal Vow.
For this reason, those who entrust themselves
to the Vow of the original Buddhahood and
recite the Nembutsu with singleness of heart
may very well perform public duties and,
by the order of the manor lord, make a pilgrimage
to its sacred site (in Kumano) and pay homage
to the God in the shrine; you do not do this
of your own accord. While entertaining vain
and deceitful thoughts, you should not show
the appearance of being wise, good and diligent
to the deity in incarnation. Leave yourself
to the Vow of the original Buddha. How grateful
I am! Your visit does not mean despising
the deity; it is most unlikely that the deity
will stare at you with an angry look."
Thereupon, Heitaro visited Kumano. He did
not observe the prescribed manner concerning
the pilgrimage. He did not hide the feelings
of an ordinary person who is eternally sinking
in birth-and-death, nor did he purify his
defiled body. Instead, he kept adoring the
Primal Vow, whether walking, standing, sitting
or lying down. Even for a short while, he
did not disobey the Master's teaching.
He reached Kumano without any incident. On
that night, Heitaro had a vision in a dream:
the door of the shrine was opened and a layman
in proper ceremonial dress and hat came in
and said to Heitaro, "Why have you come
here in such a defiled and impure state,
unafraid of the deity?" At that moment,
Shonin suddenly appeared before him and said,
"He practices the Nembutsu in accordance
with Zenshin's instructions." Thereupon,
the layman held up his scepter in the proper
way and bowed deeply to show his respect
to Shonin, without saying a word. Then I
I was struck with unspeakable wonder. On
his way home, Heitaro paid a visit to Shonin
and told him what had happened. In reply
Shonin said, "That was good." This
was also an inconceivable thing.
1. India, China and Japan.
2. The three Pure Land sutras are the Larger Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra and the Amida Sutra (or the Smaller Sutra).
3. See chapters 23-25 of the Larger Sutra (Amida Net: dai-22-25.htm).
4. See chapter 47 of the Larger Sutra (Amida Net: dai-41-48 .htm).
5. The Three Minds are sincere faith, deep
faith, and the faith that seeks birth in
the Pure Land by transferring one's merit;
see chapter 22 (Amida Net: tai-22-24.htm).
6. See chapters 5ff. of the Amida Sutra (Amida Net: ami-4-5.htm).
7. In his Verses of Aspiration for Birth, Vasubandhu professes "With singleness
of mind, I take refuge in the Tathagata of
Unhindered Light Shining throughout the Ten
Quarters." Shinran interprets 'singleness
of mind' as 'One Mind' which is essentially
the same as 'Three Minds' of the Eighteenth
Vow and is the Faith of the Other-Power.
8. Refers to Shan-tao's explanation in his
Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra, section on the Non-meditative Good: "Although
I have above explained the benefit of both
the Meditative and Non-meditative Good, from
the viewpoint of the intent of the Buddha's
Primal Vow, what is implied (in the sutra)
is that sentient beings should single-heartedly
recite Amida Buddha's Name.
9. Of all the twelve shrines of Kumano Gongen,
Shojoden is the principal one.
10. Refers here to Amida.
Towards the end of the eleventh month in
the second year of Kocho [the year of water/dog]
(1262), Shonin became ill. From that time
on, he did not talk about secular matters,
but only spoke in deep appreciation of the
Buddha's benevolence. He uttered no other
words but solely recited the Nembutsu without
On the eighth day, at the hour of the horse,1) of the same month, lying on his right side,
facing west and keeping his head to the north,2) Shonin breathed his last breath while saying
the Nembutsu. He was ninety years of age.
His hermitage was in Kyoto, south of Oshi-koji
street and east of Madeno-koji alley.3) The coffin was carried eastwards over the
Kamo River to the Ennin-ji, south of Toribeno
at the western foot of Higashiyama, where
the funeral was conducted. His remains were
collected and deposited at Otani, north of
Toribeno at the foot of Higashiyama. All
his disciples and followers, both young and
old, who witnessed his last moment, remembering
fondly the happy bygone days when he was
alive and now grieving over his passing,
cried bitterly with deep yearning.
1. The hour of the horse corresponds to midday.
It has been traditionally established in
Japan that the time of the death of an eminent
monk is the hour of the horse even if he
dies at a different time.
2. This is the posture taken by Shakyamuni
when he passed into Nirvana. So it has become
the standard posture of dying Buddhists.
Why did he keep his head to the north? According
to one theory, it is because he wanted to
show that his teaching would spread to the
north. Why did he lie on his right side?
According to one theory, it is because he
wanted to follow the posture of dying taken
by the king of lions; it was also believed
that a deity dies while lying face up, a
devil dies with its face downward, and a
greedy man dies while lying on his left side.
3. The location of this place is believed
to be Sanjo tomikoji in the Ukyo part of
Kyoto, where there was a Tendai temple called
Zenpo-in. Shinran's younger brother, Jinnu,
was the head priest of this temple, where
Shinran spent his last years and died. At
this place (i.e., Yamanouchi, Saiin, Ukyoku,
Kyoto), Honganji built its Branch Temple,
Sumino-bo, in 1857.
In the winter of the ninth year of Bun'ei
(1272), Shonin's tomb at Otani, north of
Toribeno at the western foot of Higashiyama,
was moved westwards to north of Yoshinizu.
His remains were redeposited, and a mausoleum
was constructed where his image was enshrined.
From that time on, the teaching transmitted
by Shonin grew more and more, and his doctrine
was more widely accepted than when he was
alive. Now his followers fill every province
and county, and those who belong to this
school are scattered everywhere in large
numbers. Both priests and laypeople, young
and old, who deeply revere his teaching and
are diligently committed to repaying their
indebtedness to Shonin, each make a pilgrimage
to the mausoleum every year.
Many miraculous stories were told about Shonin,
but it is impossible to relate them all.
I have presented only a selected few.